Healthcare in Japan: A guide to the Japanese healthcare system (2023)

How come Japanese people have the world’s longest life expectancy? Well, it’s a range of factors actually, including their healthy diet, but the country’s impressive healthcare system is another key reason. Here’s our guide to what you need to know if you’re heading to Japan.

Quick facts on the healthcare system in Japan

  • Public, private or universal health insurance: universal public healthcare.
  • Population % covered by health insurance: it’s compulsory, so 100% should have coverage, although a small fraction goes without.
  • Average cost of an emergency room visit: Japan Health Info (JHI) recommends bringing ¥10,000-15,000 if you’re covered by health insurance.
  • Average cost of a doctor’s visit: JHI recommends bringing ¥5,000-10,000.
  • Average cost of public health insurance for 1 person: around 5% of your salary.
  • Number of pharmacies: over 53,000, or almost 42 per 100,000 people. There are more pharmacies than convenience stores.
  • Number of hospitals: just under 8,500.

Money in Japan is denominated in yen - that’s written as JPY in trading markets. The symbol you’ll see is ¥, or 円 in Japan itself. It’s never easy to compare costs between currencies because the global exchange market is constantly changing. But an online currency converter can give you the latest figures to find out what your money’s currently worth in yen.

At the time of writing, this is approximately what the yen is worth internationally:

  • ¥10,000 = £71
  • ¥10,000 = €76.70
  • ¥10,000 = US$91.62
  • ¥10,000 = AU$115.18

Average cost of healthcare in Japan

Is healthcare free in Japan?

Healthcare isn’t free but it’s relatively inexpensive. In addition to having to pay monthly premiums into the public health insurance system, Japanese citizens pay 30% of their medical bills themselves - bills that are closely regulated by the state, so that they never become unaffordable.

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The website Japan Healthcare Info has some advice on average costs - you might be looking at around ¥10,000-15,000 at the emergency room or ¥5,000-10,000 at the clinic, although it depends on the treatment you need, so it’s hard to predict.

Getting money into Japan will be crucial at the beginning of your stay there, or even before. Wise can get your money into Japan at the rate you’ll find on Google or XE, with only one simple, upfront fee to pay. That can save you a lot of money in unnecessary, unfair bank fees. And if you get a Borderless multi-currency account, you don’t even need a Japanese bank account before you can start to hold money in yen - and up to 27 other currencies. That means you can start your trip knowing exactly how much money you have in terms of yen, without needing to fret over ever-shifting international exchange rates.

Japan’s medical system: Public, private, universal, national, state, single payer - which is it?

Japan has universal public healthcare: it’s a legal requirement for all Japanese citizens to have the health insurance provided by the state. This coverage is quite thorough and entitles people to choose their own clinics and hospitals from any of the vast majority that are part of the system. International private healthcare is the only option for short-term visitors and other private options are available in Japan to supplement the public coverage. But the system is structured around public healthcare. Here are the different types of Japanese health insurance that are available.

Social Health Insurance (SHI)

SHI is the public healthcare system for everyone who’s employed full-time by a medium to large company. While a few subtly different types exist depending on the type of job you have, it offers much the same set of benefits across the board. You and your employer contribute equally to SHI, each paying around 5% of your salary.

National Health Insurance (NHI)

NHI is for everyone else - students, freelancers, people who work for small companies, and a lot of foreigners find themselves signing up for this in the early stages of their visit. Your contribution is based on your yearly income and might cost you a little more than SHI would - although the first year is often very cheap. You have to sign up for it yourself at your local office that’s run by the regional administration.

While every member of a family has to sign up, costs are charged to the ‘head of the household’. NHI offers largely the same coverage as SHI.

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Nursing insurance

A further 1.65% of your earnings go towards nursing insurance if you’re aged between 40 and 65.

International health insurance

Japanese hospitals don’t tend to accept this themselves, so if you’re covered by an international insurer you might need to pay the hospital yourself and claim money back afterwards. Make sure you know your policy and what it covers you for.

Private health insurance

Because the public system is both compulsory and quite thorough, private health insurance isn’t as all-encompassing as it is in some countries. However, policies are available to supplement public insurance via money towards the 30% of bills you have to pay, and lump sums in the event of serious medical need.

Signing up for the healthcare system in Japan

SHI is low-maintenance for you as it’s administered through your work. NHI requires you to sign up at your local office once you have your residence card - this can take a few months. Because NHI is run by local authorities, you’ll have to do this again if you move to another area.

Once you’re registered, you’ll get sent a medical card. Carry this with you - if you don’t have it at the clinic or hospital, you’ll have to pay the full bill and you’ll only be able to claim money back later on.

In case of an emergency in Japan

If possible, it’s best to go to a clinic first - or, out of regular hours, an emergency clinic. Even they might not be open all the time, though. Check locally to find the best place to go.

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Hospitals change their services outside office hours as well, so it’s worth finding out which ones near you will be open during the night and at weekends. If you can call ahead to tell them you’re coming, do so. If you need an ambulance, the number is 119. Some operators should speak English if you’re in Tokyo. The cost of ambulance transportation is free, but the care you’ll receive isn’t.

Japan Health Info’s guide to emergency services is worth a close read.

Hospitals in Japan

The vast majority of hospitals accept standard Japanese health insurance and will bill you the standard 30%, so the financial side of your hospital visit shouldn’t be so stressful. Bear in mind though, that they often cost more if you don’t have a referral from a doctor. Also, they tend to prefer cash payments to card.

You’ll need to check each hospital’s schedules, as they can vary substantially. You might need an appointment before turning up, or you might not. And there might only be a few hours each day during which you can visit for the first time. If you come without a referral, you might be turned away and have to go elsewhere.

You might end up staying a while - even routine operations typically require a few days in a hospital bed. A hernia operation, for instance, can put you in hospital for 5 days.

Doctors and specialists in Japan

Unlike in many countries, there’s no system of general practitioners (GPs) in Japan. Instead, people head straight to a specialist, operating at a clinic. There are many different specialists available, so it pays to do your research, and checking to see who speaks English might be useful too. Japan Health Info’s list of specialisms is a great place to start.

(Video) Japan's Medical System

You should double check with your local clinic, but you’ll often find that they don’t require appointments: you can simply walk in and join a queue. Watch out for irregular opening hours though, including lunch breaks. Like in hospitals, cash is preferred and fees are generally not high.

Health insurance in Japan: Costs and plans

You can read our guide to Japanese health insurance for a thorough briefing on the system, but if you’re moving there permanently then the plan you choose will be determined by your circumstances. No need to spend long evenings poring over a thousand brochures.

Temporary health insurance for tourists

If you’re there temporarily on the other hand, it certainly pays to do your research and find the right international health insurance policy.

There are a number of options to choose from if you’re looking for international health insurance or travel insurance, although it’s worth checking if they will work in Japan and know how the system there works. Comparison websites will be a good way in if you don’t have a policy already: try Comparethemarket or MoneySupermarket, for instance.

Useful medical phrases in Japanese

Medical term Japanese translation
accident jiko
ambulance kyuukyuusha
broken bone kowareta hone
dentist shikaishi
doctor ishi
emergency hijou
heart attack kyoushinshou
hospital byouin
medical bill iryouhi
medical insurance kokuminkaihoken
pharmacy yakkyoku
prescription shohou
stroke nousocchuu

Useful links

The Japanese are understandably proud of their healthcare system. It’s not perfect though, and is arguably a victim of its own success, with medical treatment so popular that hospitals often become unsustainably busy. But once you’re set up in Japan, the benefits of its healthcare system should be plain to see.


How is Japan's healthcare system? ›

Health care in Japan is, generally speaking, provided free for Japanese citizens, expatriates, and foreigners. Medical treatment in Japan is provided through universal health care. This system is available to all citizens, as well as non-Japanese citizens staying in Japan for more than a year.

What are the disadvantages of the Japanese healthcare system? ›

Weaknesses in the Japanese health care system include an inefficient primary care system, a lack of differentiation among health care providers, and a lack of standard clinical guidelines.

Why is Japan's healthcare system so good? ›

Japan's healthcare system operates on a national fee schedule and is universal in nature. The fee schedule allows healthcare in Japan to be equitable as well as cost-efficient, ensuring that medical care is available to everyone. It also keeps total health expenditures at a minimum due to its set, uniform fees.

Are the Japanese satisfied with their healthcare? ›

Japan's universal health care system provides many advantages for its users, including affordable health coverage with free and equal access to medical institutions. However, the Japanese population's satisfaction with the health care system is among the lowest internationally.

What are some facts about Japan's healthcare system? ›

Every Japanese citizen is eligible for medical treatment through universal health care with a coverage of nearly 100 percent, and medical costs are strictly regulated by the government. A minimum of 70 percent of healthcare costs are covered by health insurance provided by the government or an employer.

How is Japan's healthcare system different from the US? ›

Japan's Universal Healthcare System is far from ideal

While all prices are fixed and everyone has access to care, the quality of care is lower, wait times are higher and further medical innovation is reduced. Japanese are less likely to have heart attacks than Americans, but their chance of dying is twice as high.

What is the most common health problem in Japan? ›

The top cause of death and disability in 2019 is Stroke, of type Non-communicable diseases, which has increased by 3.55 percent since 2009. The axis shows the percent change from -30 percent to 42 percent.

Why is Japan healthcare better than America? ›

Compared with the US system, Japan's healthcare system costs half as much and produces better medical outcomes. It provides a more effective and equitable system that protects many vulnerable patients while controlling healthcare costs.

Does Japan have one of the best healthcare systems in the world? ›

Japan's first form of public healthcare began in 1927. In 1961, they adopted a universal healthcare system. Today, this system is one of the best in the world, placing special emphasis on preventative care.

Why does Japan spend so little on healthcare? ›

Japan's health care expenditures seem low when compared to those of other countries, in part, because official expenditure accounts do not include many personal expenditures that are often counted in other countries' health care statistics.

What country has the best healthcare system and why? ›

South Korea tops the list of best healthcare systems in the world. It's been praised for being modern and efficient, with quality, well-equipped medical facilities and highly trained medical professionals. Generally, treatment in South Korea is affordable and readily available.

Are Japanese people health conscious? ›

Traditionally, the Japanese tend to have a healthy attitude to food and eating. They have a saying, “hara hachi bu”, which means to eat until you are 80% full, and it's not uncommon to teach children this philosophy from a young age.

Do Japanese people have health problems? ›

Japan's three major diseases are: cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular diseases (CVD), for which a high number of deaths have occurred and have been Japan's three leading causes of death since the 1950s.

Are Japanese people healthy? ›

Foods part of the traditional Japanese diet eliminate most risk factors of heart disease like sugar and fat, therefore it helps to maintain heart health. All these factors culminate to maintain elite body health, which in turn is responsible for a longer life expectancy.

How does Japan have free healthcare? ›

Japan's statutory health insurance system provides universal coverage. It is funded primarily by taxes and individual contributions. Enrollment in either an employment-based or a residence-based health insurance plan is required.

What is the secret of Japanese health? ›

One thing that makes the Japanese diet so healthy is its focus on seafood. Japan has among the world's lowest levels of heart disease and middle-aged Japanese men, compared to their white American counterparts, have much less cholesterol build up in their arteries, which is attributed to their high seafood consumption.

What does Japan spend on healthcare? ›

Japan healthcare spending for 2017 was $4,121, a 1.28% decline from 2016. Japan healthcare spending for 2016 was $4,174, a 11.81% increase from 2015.
Japan Healthcare Spending 2000-2023.
Japan Healthcare Spending - Historical Data
YearPer Capita (US $)% of GDP
17 more rows

How did Japan's healthcare system develop? ›

In 1973, Japan forged a unique health insurance structure for its older population, reallocating public funds to subsidize the 30% of costs typically covered by patients within the NHI cost-sharing scheme and effectively making healthcare free for people aged 70 and over.

Does Japan have a benefits system? ›

Primary programs to support low-income people in Japan

The programs provide money management support as a condition for full benefits for a minimum income.

What are the 2 major problems in Japan? ›

The biggest problems it faces – sinking economy, aging society, sinking birthrate, radiation, unpopular and seemingly powerless government – present an overwhelming challenge and possibly an existential threat.

What are health risk factors in Japan? ›

Overall, the three risk factors that account for the most disease burden in Japan are dietary risks, high blood pressure, and tobacco smoking. The leading risk factors for children under 5 and adults aged 15-49 years were zinc deficiency and dietary risks, respectively, in 2010.

How does Japan view illness? ›

A common view is that accidents and illnesses are divine punishment (tatari) or even can be understood as a form of revenge. Such a view presumes in most cases that there is a relation between the afflicted person and the spirit, which in many cases clearly is not the case.

Which country is #1 in quality healthcare? ›

1- Denmark

All permanent residents are entitled to a national health insurance card, and most examinations and treatments are free of charge.

What is Japan's healthcare system ranked? ›

In 2021, Japan ranked first with a health index score of 86.6, followed by Singapore and South Korea.

How much does Japan spend on healthcare compared to America? ›

People's lifestyles are an important element that affects the level of healthcare expenditure. According to the data of the World Bank, in 2014, the healthcare expenditure in Japan comprised 10.3% of its GDP while in the USA the healthcare expenditure was 17.1% of its GDP (Health expenditure, 2015).

How often do Japanese go to the doctor? ›

In Japan, people usually go to their doctor 13 times a year. Why? It isn't so much a case of being scared of the doctor, it really boils down to price and trying to save a few extra bucks. Healthcare is outrageously expensive in the United States.

Where does America rank in healthcare? ›

Overall Ranking of Health Care System Performance in 11 Industrialized Nations
United States11
7 more rows

Who has better healthcare than the US? ›

Key Findings: The top-performing countries overall are Norway, the Netherlands, and Australia. The United States ranks last overall, despite spending far more of its gross domestic product on health care.

Does the US have the best healthcare system? ›

Hawaii is the top state for health care. It's followed by Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and California to round out the top five. Learn more about the Best States for health care below.
Health Care Rankings.
StateCalifornia California
Health Care Access21
Health Care Quality6
Public Health1
51 more columns

Who has better healthcare US or Japan? ›

Compared with the US system, Japan's healthcare system costs half as much and produces better medical outcomes. It provides a more effective and equitable system that protects many vulnerable patients while controlling healthcare costs.

What rank is Japan's in healthcare system? ›

In 2021, Japan ranked first with a health index score of 86.6, followed by Singapore and South Korea.

Do you have free healthcare in Japan? ›

Is healthcare free in Japan? Healthcare isn't free but it's relatively inexpensive. In addition to having to pay monthly premiums into the public health insurance system, Japanese citizens pay 30% of their medical bills themselves - bills that are closely regulated by the state, so that they never become unaffordable.

Which country is No 1 health care system in the world? ›


Is Japan more affordable than us? ›

In the US, the average price per square foot to buy a residence in the city center is around $335, whereas in Japan a comparable figure is $760. This is an approximate 57% increase. However, on the whole, house prices are generally lower in Japan than the US, especially since the Covid pandemic.

How do people pay for healthcare in Japan? ›

Medical fees are strictly regulated by the government to keep them affordable. Depending on the family's income and the age of the insured, patients are responsible for paying 10%, 20%, or 30% of medical fees, with the government paying the remaining fee.

Does Medicare work in Japan? ›

In this installment we look at Medicare. Traditional Medicare does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States (although Medicare does cover residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands).

Can I use Medicare in Japan? ›

Remember, you can have Medicare while you live abroad, but it will usually not cover the care you receive. Most people qualify for premium-free Part A, meaning you will pay nothing for coverage. If you must pay a premium for Part A, be aware of the high monthly cost for maintaining Part A coverage.


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