Posts Tagged ‘eikaiwa’

Healthcare in Japan

Posted 10 Feb 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo, Work

Japanese healthcare is a difficult subject that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time. For those of you living in countries without a national health service the idea of paying for hospital stays and operations may be nothing new, but until I moved to Japan I had never really thought about it. You break an arm, you go into hospital, have an operation, and come out the next day. That’s it: no bills, no nasty fees, nothing.

Most of what is written in this post is based largely on my own personal experiences. If anybody has any further information they would like to share on this subject, please do!

Oi! I thought Japan had a national healthcare system. Doesn’t that mean healthcare in Japan is free?
Yes yes, I know, no healthcare system is free: somebody has to pay for it somewhere along the line. The big difference between Japan and the UK, for example, is how far along that line healthcare is paid for. By and large, in Britain patients don’t pay up front – in part or in whole – for hospital stays or operations. Japan’s healthcare system is not so straightforward. The main Wikipedia article on Japanese healthcare says:

“Japan provides healthcare services, including screening examinations for particular diseases at no direct cost to the patient, prenatal care, and infectious disease control, are provided by national and local governments.”

Some services are “at no direct cost to the patient”, others will cost you. Generally speaking, in their various guises the national healthcare systems pay for 70% of drugs and healthcare costs. The remaining 30% is paid for by the patient.

I’ve just moved to Japan. Do I have to enrol in a healthcare programme?
No, you don’t. Broadly speaking, there are two categories of healthcare scheme: employee health insurance (健康保険 or Kenkō-Hoken) and national health insurance (国民健康保険 or Kokumin-Kenkō-Hoken). In theory all residents of Japan are required to be enrolled in one of these schemes, but for reasons of cost (either personally or to their employer) many are not. Foreigners are recommended – but not forced – to join one of them.

How do I know if I’m already enrolled in either of these healthcare programmes?
Have you got a credit-card sized piece of plastic with either 健康保険 or 国民健康保険 written on the top? If you haven’t, then you’re probably not enrolled. Also, check your pay slip for deductions under 健康保険科.

My company says I have private health insurance, and that it isn’t really worth enrolling on one of the national schemes.
If you’re coming to Japan as an English (eikaiwa) teacher then your company might have a private scheme that you automatically become part of. What this means is that every time you visit a doctor or dentist you might have to pay for the full cost of everything by yourself, rather than the 30% you would be pay under one of the national healthcare schemes. You will need to send all the medical receipts off to your insurer, who will then reimburse the cost – often several months later.

Example: You have private healthcare, but no national healthcare. You catch the flu and visit your doctor. He checks you out and prescribes some medicine. The doctor’s fee comes to ¥6,000, and the medicine costs ¥2,000. If you had national healthcare, this would have cost you ¥1,800 and ¥600, respectively.

If you’re coming to Japan for a year or two. and are fairly confident that you won’t fall seriously ill or have a nasty injury, then a private scheme might be all right for you. They are usually much cheaper (around ¥7-8,000 a month compared with ¥14,000 for national healthcare), and some paranoid twits relish the idea of not being locked into the ‘government system’. However, if you’re going to be here long-term, I strongly recommend you enrol yourself on a national healthcare scheme.

Whoa there, Silver. Let’s go back a step: I thought all companies had to enrol their students on a national healthcare scheme anyway…
All full-time workers should, in theory, be provided with employee health insurance. To get around this many of the shadier companies keep working hours at just below the full-time level. This saves them loads of money, but benefits neither their employees nor the healthcare system in general. The number of part-time workers has sky-rocketed in recent years, starving the healthcare system of much-needed funding.

What about dentists?
As long as you’re not having anything cosmetic done, the same 30% fee applies. If you’ve got national healthcare, that is.

A word of warning: enamel fillings seem to be classed as ‘cosmetic’ in Japan. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to end up looking like Jaws from James Bond, though: resin fillings are pretty decent these days.

A Gaijin’s Guide to Japan

Posted 19 May 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Books, Entertainment, News, Tokyo

For many English-speaking folks looking to spend a few years in Japan two of the most popular routes are the JET programme and the eikaiwa. Both offer sprightly young university graduates the opportunity to immerse themselves in Japanese culture, learn a new language and get wasted on a regular basis. You could also put your mind to writing a book about Japan an’ that, which is exactly what Ben Stevens did and, look, here it is:


Rather than go for your chapter-by-chapter insight into various aspects of life in Japan, Ben’s opted for an A-to-Z of some of the more intriguing customs, people, places and things that westerners may have heard of, such as fugu, salarymen, the yakuza, and even the phenomenon that is/was Cameron Diaz (although I have to admit her shiny gob has been conspicuously absent from Softbank adverts recently).

For the entry on chikan we have a wonderful quote from economic pundit Kazuhide Uekusa, who was accused of molesting a schoolgirl on a train in 2006:

“My hand touched the student when the train rattled and I may have been misunderstood.”

Misunderstood indeed! What did he intend her to “understand”, exactly?

Anyway, A Gaijin’s Guide to Japan is a lively, entertaining read that remains good-natured when explaining obvious targets of frustration for the “The Problem With Japan Is…” crowd. You can get your mitts on it via Amazon or your local high street bookshop. Retail price: £7.99.

Is Japan Expensive? Part 4: Housing and Accomodation

Posted 19 Jul 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Photography, Tokyo, UK

Our final post in the series covers probably the single biggest living expense: accommodation. Tokyo, and London especially have a reputation for being two of the most expensive places in the world in terms of rent, so they will be our “test sites”, as it were, for investigation today.

As in earlier posts I’m going to compare the cost of living in two areas: Southgate in north London and Kichijoji in western Tokyo. Let’s begin by finding two relatively decent-sized flats:

For Southgate, I’ve chosen a nice little place in Haddon Court (N1), 0.4 miles from Oakwood station and 0.7 miles from Southgate station:

Southgate flat - outside

For Kichijoji, I’ve chosen this imposing-looking flat in the Honcho 1-chome area, just 7 minutes walk from Kichijoji station:

For Southgate, we have the added bonus of a nice selection of photos of the inside:

Sadly, the website I’ve used to search for flats in Tokyo ( doesn’t usually post photographs of interiors. They do, however, always have a floor-plan. People often search for places to live in Tokyo by the overall size of the flat (in square metres) and their proximity to the station. The closer to a train station you get, the more expensive rent becomes.

Let’s look at the floor-plans, starting with the Southgate flat, which is 56 sq m:

And the Kichijoji flat, which is slightly bigger at 56.4 sq m:

As you can see, the layout of both is quite different. The Southgate flat has a proper kitchen, where the Kichijoji flat has a combined kitchen and living room (known as a LDK, or “living dining kitchen” – bit of a mouthful). Personally I prefer the separate kitchen offering, as watching TV while someone else (ie the wife) is doing the cooking in the same room is a pain in the arse.

One important factor to note is that the Southgate flat comes fully-furnished at no extra cost. For those who have no furniture of their own this is a great bonus. Unless you’re coming across to Japan with a company your Tokyo flat is highly unlikely to be furnished. People who have been transferred to Japan do very well in this regard, as they are usually placed in ridiculously expensive serviced flats in Azabu-Juban; for those coming across as English teachers, well, you’re not quite going to have the same level of luxury; and with some English schools you may find yourself sharing accommodation with one or two others.

But how about the cost? In basic terms, this is how much each flat will cost you per month:

  • Southgate: £964 (£225 per week ÷ 7 days = £32.14 per day)
  • Kichijoji: £926 (JPY168,000 for rent, plus JPY3,000 for management fees)

So, that’s pretty even, but! there’s one nasty surprise in store if you want to move into the Kichijoji flat: two-months rent in advance as a security deposit! Actually, this flat is much better than many others, which often require an additional two-months rent as “key money”: a non-refundable “thank  you” to your landlord, leaving you paying out a total of four-months rent before you even have your foot through the door.

With regard to discrimination against foreigners renting flats in Japan, I can’t deny that I have heard of it happening, but most of the (single) people I know who rent flats in Tokyo have managed to do so without too much trouble. Obviously it helps to know Japanese, or have a Japanese-speaking friend help you out, but it’s not impossible to do it without either of these.

That brings the “Is Japan Expensive?” series to a close for the time being. In the future I will look at the taxation system in Japan and how it affects foreign residents, but this is a very complex issue and I simply haven’t got the time to do it at the moment!

Exchange rate used correct as of 19 July 2008 (£1=JPY213.69).

Is Japan Expensive? Part 3: Clothing

Posted 26 Jun 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Is Japan Expensive?, Shopping in Japan, UK

Part three of our “Is Japan Expensive?” series looks at clothing. For most newcomers to Japan who don’t speak the lingo the most likely line of employment will be as an English teacher or assistant, usually with one of the big “Eikaiwas” like Aeon, or through the government-sponsored JET programme. When you leave your home country you’ll have to fit all your worldly belongings in one large suitcase, and of course things can – and do – go missing. There is also the Japanese summer to contend with: 36 degree heat and 100% humidity will leave your once pristine shirts with horrible yellow stains around the armpit area, and thanks to the uselessness of most washing machines here (cold water only!) you’ll find them impossible to completely remove.

Basically, you’re going to need some new clothes.
For this week’s comparisons I’ve chosen either identical items of clothing or similar clothing from similar shops. I’ve only picked three items because, to be honest with you, the list could have gone on forever!

Jeans: Diesel Larkee

Polo shirt: M size, white

  • UK price: £12.00 – from Marks & Spencer
  • JP price: £6.06 (¥1,290) – from Uniqlo

Work Shirt: M size, white with stripes

  • UK price: £25.00 – from Topman
  • JP price: £23.67 (¥5,040) – from The Suit Company

As you can see, all items are cheaper when purchased in Japan. The Diesel jeans might be something of an exception, as Diesel stores in Japan seem to sell jeans for a significantly higher price than does (¥30,000 plus). Is this the same for the UK as well?

The polo shirt from Uniqlo is likely to be of a lower quality than its Marks & Spencer counterpart (probably a cotton/nylon mix), hence the much lower price. I highly recommend Uniqlo for basics (vests, underwear, etc) because it’s so cheap. They also have a spiffing t-shirt campaign running at the moment called UT, which has an equally spiffing website (take a look!). There are some limited-edition Metal Gear Solid 4 tees for sale at the moment (see here).

For work clothes, such as shirts and suits, Japan – or at least its main cities – provide an incredible range of shops to choose from. The Suit Company sells affordable clothing for 20-somethings who don’t wish to break the bank. One of the best features of The Suit Company is the variety of shirt sizes they offer, especially in sleeve length: compared with the average Japanese customer I have very long arms – very much like a shaved orang-utan – which has resulted in one or two disastrous purchases in the past.

In conclusion, if you’re of average height, and are not overweight, you will probably have little trouble buying clothes in Japan. Big feet can be a problem, however. Shoe shops usually stock sizes up to 28cm, which is a UK size 9. They do have sizes bigger than this, so you don’t have to wander around barefoot or anything, it’s just that your choice of shoes/trainers will be a bit more limited.

For shoes and trainers, ABC Mart is a good place to start, and if you’re a real trainer fanatic I strongly recommend exploring the streets of Shibuya (throw the map away – exploring is more interesting without one!).

Next week we’ll be looking at the biggest expense of them all: housing and rent.

(Prices calculated using 26th June’s exchange rate: #1 = 212.94)