Check your travel list:
Change of clothes? Certainly.
Over-the-counter medication? Hmm…
Seasoned travelers probably know to always have some OTC meds on hand, but sometimes we forget, run out, or encounter unexpected medical problems abroad. Some OTCs also cannot be carried into Japan. This often leads to frantically Googling translations of medicines, trying to figure out which brand matches which, or trying to find a foreign-language friendly pharmacy, all while battling bodily discomforts.
So let’s do a quick brush-up on some common OTC drugs in Japan, with help from Drug Store Sugiura!
Drug Store Sugiura is a small pharmacy in Morishita, Koto City. Run by Ms. Sugiura, the owner, and Ms. Isogai, her long-time friend and work partner, this beloved neighbourhood store offers the basics of household pharmaceutical needs.
1.Common Colds and Fevers
Let’s start off easy: if you feel like you might be coming down with a cold, you’ll want to get your hands on some “kakkonto”.
Kakkonto is an herbal remedy hailing from Traditional Chinese Medicine. There are many brands available, all with similar ingredients, namely: Japanese arrowroot (kudzu), ephedra, cinnamon, peony, ginger, jujube (Chinese dates), and liquorice. This is the go-to for many people in Japan when they want to nip a cold in the bud.
If your cold has already settled, then you can ask for “kaze-gusuri” (cold medication).
“Seki-dome” in particular is helpful if you’ve got a bad cough or built-up phlegm…
While all-rounders will target the throat, sinus, and help lower any fevers.
The anti-inflammatory agent in the top two products shown above is Acetaminophen (アセトアミノフェン), while the third one contains Ibuprofen (イブプロフェン, pronounced “ee-buprofen” in Japanese). If you’re allergic to or intolerant of common anti-inflammatory agents*, be sure to check with the pharmacist before your make the purchase!
* Aspirin (アスピリン) and Naproxen (ナプロキセン) can also be found at most stores.
The other common travel sickness is digestive trouble. If your stomach is having a hard time coping with different foods/diet or the stress of travelling, you can ask for some “igusuri” (stomach medication) to help alleviate the pain.
Japanese pharmacies tend to be very well-stocked to handle stomach problems. Some help strengthen stomach linings to prevent pain from excessive stomach acid (top), remove gas and treat heartburn (middle) or simply assuage feelings of heaviness after eating and drinking a little too much (bottom).
There are plenty of kanpo/Traditional Chinese Medicine options too, if you prefer something gentler. This one helps protect your stomach against irritations caused by stress.
If you’re not used to braving hot summers (like me), Tokyo’s heat and humidity might feel nigh intolerable. While hydrating regularly and staying in the shade is important, you’ll want to grab a bottle of “OS-1” if you’re seeing signs of dehydration or heatstroke.
“What makes OS-1 different from regular electrolytic drinks?” I asked Ms. Sugiura.
“Those electrolytic drinks you see in the supermarkets are really more like soft drinks or juices,” she said. “This formula of various salts, on the other hand, is approved by medical professionals. Regular water or soft drinks might be enough if you’re trying to prevent heatstroke, but if you’re already seeing symptoms, this is what we recommend as a first-aid solution.”
Aside from heatstroke, this drink is also recommended anytime you’re experiencing rapid water loss.
Lastly, don’t forget to protect yourself against the myriad bugs that come out during the summer months! Drug Store Sugiura has a display specifically dedicated to bug repellants and treatments for bites, including sprays, gels, creams, and products safe for children.
“We’re an independent store so we’re not big and we don’t carry as much variety as the giant pharmacies,” Ms. Sugiura said. “But we try to cover our bases. There are household products like detergents and soaps, as well as cosmetics.”
Hair care products also abound, including brands that promise to help keep your head cool during these sticky months.
Ms. Sugiura and Ms. Isogai have been co-workers for more than thirty years, first at a different drug store, then at Drug Store Sugiura.
“We do our best, but we can only speak Japanese, so it would help greatly if you know what you’re looking for before you come in,” Ms. Sugiura said kindly. You can also describe your symptoms to get recommendations.
Getting sick is never fun, but getting sick in an unfamiliar land can be downright scary. If you’re having mild medical issues while travelling, don’t hesitate to look for help from your local friendly pharmacists!
Story and Photos by Xianru Shen（Koto City Office Coordinator for International Relations）