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Thread: Getting the Birth Control Pill in Japan

  1. #1
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    Default Getting the Birth Control Pill in Japan

    (I posted this on big daikon last summer. thought it might help some girls here on itil, so I'm copying it here)

    So you just got accepted to the JET Programme, and are now faced with the task of moving your whole life from wherever you are now, to wherever you end up after stepping off that plane in your prefecture and getting picked up by your supervisor. You can find plenty of information on what clothes to bring, what food you can buy here, what kinda school you'll be at, but there's still one thing that you can't really find any reassuring answers on.

    BIRTH CONTROL! Specifically, THE PILL!!

    (Or maybe you're a second year JET who's just run out of your smuggled 1-year's worth, and are wondering how to get more without having to fly all the way home?)

    Maybe you've googled it, or checked out a few random websites, and found such "helpful" information such as "Japan is a male-oriented society; they approved Viagra in a week yet didn't approve the Pill until 1999," "there's a huge stigma associated with taking The Pill, everyone in town will gossip about you behind your back," "You can only get The Pill from a few select clinics in Tokyo, so smuggle in as much as you can when you come," "The Pill isn't covered by insurance and is exorbitantly expensive," "You have to get a sonogram once a month just to keep getting your prescription filled" etc etc etc.

    Rest assured, that in my experience and the experience of many other female JETs I've talked to, all of the above statements are either grossly outdated or just completely incorrect. Sure, the Pill was only approved for use here in 1999, but they've caught up fast after that. All the girls I've talked to who have actually TRIED to get birth control in Japan have had similar experiences: The Pill is available easily and hassle-free.

    Availability
    Just to assure you, I live in a pretty inaka area.
    You can get the Pill from most women's clinic across Japan (says my doctor.) "Fujinka" is the type of clinic you'll be looking for, that means "Woman's Specialties" and they cover all the OB/GYN stuff. Often they are attached to a larger hospital, sometimes they are their own independent clinic. Below I list some ways of finding one.
    On my first visit, the doctor only sent me home with one month's worth, to make sure I had no side effects, and since then I've gotten 3 month's worth at a time. That first time, I tried to explain what I wanted using the technical Japanese word for contraception, and they just said, "Oh, you mean Za Piru?" (katakana for "The Pill") .

    Prices
    At my first visit, with my JET insurance, I paid 2000 yen for the Pill itself (1 month's worth), 280 yen for the mandatory pregnancy test (pee in a cup), and 2550 yen for the consultation. Total, including tax, was 5072 yen. At my second visit, I was able to get a prescription for 3 months worth (2000 yen/month), and also took an STD test. From now on, I will receive 3 months worth at a time, pay my flat fee of 2000 yen/month, and will have no other fees to pay. (An awesome price compared to $45.00 I was paying each month to get it from America without insurance, and not too bad compared to the $8 I was paying to get it from Student Health in college.) (eta: lately for some reason, they"ve been giving me a blood test at each visit, I'm not sure why. STDs? Anemia? Not sure. That adds another 1200 yen to the price. eta: I've asked, and it's to test my "liver function" to make sure my body is handeling the pill right. odd, but no big deal.)

    Pill Varieties
    Brand names are different here, but dosages seem to be the same. Both I and the other JETs I've talked to all get a pill called "Anju 28" from our Japanese doctors. The hormone dose is 0.250mg norgestimate and 0.031mg ethinyl estradiol. In America, mine was 0.250mg and 0.035mg, basically the same. Don't believe all those myths that you can only get high-dosage pills here, they're wrong. The pills available in Japan now are all low-dose, low-side-effect dosages.
    One problem you may find is that your options are much fewer here. The Pill they do offer is good, and they have a few back-up varieties if the Anju variety gives you side effects, but other than that, you're out of luck. They don't offer the specialty Pills designed to help with acne or weight-loss. The Birth Control Patch isn't available yet, and neither are the continuous-dose Pills that were approved in America last year that let you get just 4 periods a year. The Shot, implants, iuds, rings, etc, are also unavailable still.

    What do you need to do when you get there?
    Contrary to some hearsay I got off of Big Daikon, I didn't need to get a sonogram, and I was never in a position where lots of people were crowding around staring. In fact, I didn't even need a physical exam (although I think this is because they knew I had already been on the pill, and I could have gotten one if I wanted.) All they wanted was a urine sample to test for pregnancy, and a blood pressure test.
    In total, it only took 40 minutes from the time I walked into the clinic to the time I walked out with my Pill. I think it helped though, that the doctor knew I had already been taking the Pill, since that saved him from trying to explain all about how to take it and the health risks (bad for you if you smoke) and stuff like that in so-so English.

    Finding a Fujinka
    First, check and see if your prefecture has a JET homepage. These often have listings and recommendations for doctors. Also, Miyazaki Prefecture's International Center (unrelated to JET) has a website where you can search from among a listing of English Speaking Doctors according to specialty and location. This is how I found my Fujinka. You may have a similar service offered by ICs in your prefectural capitol or other large city. And of course, you always have all the other female JETs in your prefecture as resources. Ask around the 2nd and 3rd years to see if they have any recommendations.

    Stigma?
    I myself never ran into any problems at the Fujinka, and at no time did the doctor/nurses seem condescending or question why I wanted the Pill. It was all very matter-of-fact. A couple of my Japanese friends know I'm on the Pill, but that's a non-issue since they'd hardly been aware it existed (this is probably specific to them, not the culture, as they both seem pretty naive about everything).
    Still, when looking for a fujinka, you may want to avoid asking your teachers or office for help. People who understand what the Pill is will assume that if you are on the Pill, you are having sex with someone (There's not much awareness about how it helps with PMS and stuff). In rural Japan, it's often the norm to not even be seen in public with your S.O. until the engagement is announced (without asking directly you often won't know if someone's single or not until you get invited to their wedding. And my office flipped out when they heard from someone else that I had been regular staying over at the apartment of my JET-boyfriend from the same town).
    You may not want your office to start drawing any conclusions about your personal life. If they know you're on the Pill, they won't necessarily think badly of you, but they may jump to conclusions about the seriousness of any relationship you are in. Unless you want all that to be open for discussion at any office party, it'll probably be less complicated to keep it private. Search the Health website, ask a JET or your prefectural advisor for help, or ask a non-office Japanese friend.

    So, that's it. You'll probably want to bring a few month's worth with you to tide you over till you get settled here, but after that you should be fine finding it here.

    Good luck and enjoy your time in Japan!

  2. #2
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    Since writing that post, I've moved down the highway to a JET job in a more rural area. I live way out in the boondocks in southern Kyushu, in the mountains, in a super-stretched out rural ricefarming town of 18,000. Still, we have three women's clinics within a 10 minute drive of my house that will prescribe them (I've gone personally and asked, out of curiosity). Anyways, according to my doctor, any clinic in Japan should offer them. Even if you're even MORE isolated (village of 10 people?) if you can get to even a slightly larger town, you should be able to get them. ask for it in katakana "Piru" and you'll be fine. if you have trouble finding a women's clinic, get in contact with your prefectural international center or PA or someone and ask.


    As the only japanese-speaking female JET in my area, the other girls sent me on a mission to the clinic with a list of questions to ask for them. here's some other useful information:

    -Morning After Pill- Should be offered at any woman's clinic in the country. Just walk in, wait your turn, ask the doctor for it, and you get it. Easy as pie. There's no huge political controversy surrounding it here like it is in the states. if you need it, it's yours for the asking. I asked how much it would cost, and the doctor couldn't remember off the top of her head, but she said "not expensive." it's called the same thing in japanese, just katakana-cized: moo-ningu-afutaa-piru. My clinic is only technically open from 8:30-noon Monday-Saturday, but there is staff there on call every day of the week (they also birth babies), so you can walk in any time for an emergency consultation.

    -STD testing- also available, no appointment needed. I've gone as translator with a female JET in the area when she wanted this, it was easy.

    -Birth Control Patch, Birth Control Shot, the birth control pill where you take it continuously and only get 4 periods a year: not yet available in Japan. The pill is the only option at the moment.

    Any other questions? I have an appointment to go pick up pill refils in a couple of weeks, good Japanese speaking ability, and a nice doctor. any other questions you want me to ask? Always nice to get answers straight from a doctor, rather than "some JET who went to Japan 5 years ago.."

    Once you arrive in Japan, you'll get your 'JET Diary,' a handy little dayplanner with tons of info in the back. It has an English-Japanese medical glossary, with all the neccessary words in it (Morning after Pill, contraception, std test, etc. If you're nervous about your Japanese ability, you can bring this along and point at what you need.

    There's a good chance that none of the nurses, etc, will speak english, but happily, most doctors have at leasta basic mastery of medical english.

    other female JETs have posted their own experiences getting the Pill on the big Daikon forum, check out the original post and its replies here:
    http://bigdaikon.org/board/viewtopic...351384#1351384

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the information...I had been wondering about pill costs.

  4. #4
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    Julie -

    Thank you for the thoughtful post! Very informative! You've relieved some of my concerns!

  5. #5
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    IF you don't have a prescription already and want to go on for the first time, is it a big deal? What do you have to do. I read the article, but it seems a bit vague for first time users.

    Urine test and blood pressure.. nothing else at all?
    It is a solidly built word of just four letters, bracketed by rock-hard consonants. It ... explodes into space from a gate formed by the upper incisors and the lower lip. Then it slams to a dramatic glottal cough.

  6. #6
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    Quasars- good question... I don't know myself. I could ask for you when I go back in a couple of weeks... Does anyone else have any experience with getting the Pill for the first time in japan that they cuold share?

  7. #7
    K2Heinzel
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    Dear Julie,

    Thank you very much for the updated post with complete information! I, too, had this very same question, but when I mentioned that I was moving to Japan, my doctor told me I'd be better off getting an IUD. Since I had just switched from a mostly Estrogen to a mostly Progestin pill as Estrogen wasn't working well with my hormones, the Mirena Progestin-releasing IUD seemed like the perfect, and better-than-the-pill, option. Unfortunately, due to a ton of bad luck, the insertion got scheduled late and then failed with my doctor. My boyfriend didn't find your post until just now, after I have been freaking out and trying to find a doctor with access to cervical block (local anesthetic) convinced that I needed the IUD, and I'm a mere 15 days from departure. (Eep!)

    I've got a family friend who does women's health, and is trying to pull some strings so I can get a Mirena the week before departure with one of her associated health clinics. Now the flip/downside to that is, the woman normally should schedule a follow-up appointment 4-12 weeks after the insertion for what I assume to be a general check-up making sure nothing has gone terribly wrong since insertion. I know that IUDs are available in Japan, but much more limited than the pill, as I read an account from a lady in Japan who was only able to get the IUD because she was married. I'm not married, but I also understand the risks of the IUD, and will not be at risk of potential infections as I do not plan of having multiple sexual partners (or any at all for that matter, as having an IUD is usually recommended for unmarried women who are in a monogamous relationship due to increased risk of complications should the woman develop/contract any sort of an STD/STI, and will maintain my relationship with my current boyfriend in America unless something goes terribly wrong).

    Therefore, my question is: If I were able to get this IUD just days before departure, would I be able to find a doctor that, although unable to give me an IUD in Japan, would be willing to work with me on getting the proper check-ups? After the initial first check-up, then routine check-ups happen during annual pap exams. It's a huge investment of over $1,000 that, if all goes well, is totally worth worry-free, healthy, cramp-free/period-free lifestyle for 5 years of not worrying about taking the pill in a foreign country while trying to figure out what times to take them over the time zone changes, etc.

    I wish I would've found your post much earlier, but I guess I foolishly trusted my American doctor, who doesn't know much about women's health in Japan, as my only source. If you're able to find any information on this, I would greatly appreciate it! I also understand that I'm running out of time to get this device and also to find enough information to make an informed decision by the time I have to leave, so if I'm too late, I understand. But since IUDs are becoming more common amongst nulliparous women (women who have never given birth) in America, perhaps other future JETs will be interested in similar concerns if they have IUDs inserted prior to leaving for Japan.

    Sincerely,
    K2

    Edit: I have just located two fujinka in Hasama, close to my home in Toyoma, but have no other information other than their local phone numbers. I speak very little Japanese (studied for 3 years, but don't feel very confident about proper communication), and would probably need an English-speaking doctor or translator.
    Last edited by K2Heinzel; July 13th, 2012 at 17:32. Reason: Corrected wording of sentence for accuracy

  8. #8

    Default Re: Getting the Birth Control Pill in Japan

    This is a really old post, don't think the OP is going to come back.

    Check: Contraception in Japan: Getting an IUD | Surviving in Japan: (without much Japanese)

    Don't know how inaka your placement is but I don't know how easy it'd be to find someone to do check-ups on your US "inserted" (or whatever, English) IUD. Looks like it's cheaper to get it here with insurance, to boot!
    Quote Originally Posted by Ini
    If you are a empty husk of a man with no ambition come on jet, stay forever, drink yourself into a stupor every night, hurl abuse at people on itil like a roided up chimp at the feces olympics and die of thyroid cancer in your early 40s.

  9. #9
    K2Heinzel
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    Default Re: Getting the Birth Control Pill in Japan

    Thanks Page! I've posted a reply on that particular discussion, so hopefully I'm not too late there. I didn't even realize how old this was. I was too tired last night to think about that (it's exhausting calling doctors, and fighting with automated telephone services...).

    Thanks again!
    K2

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