Column #89 Kanji Clinic The Japan Times, February 19, 2008
"Learn doctor-kanji before saying 'ahhhh'"


The dreaded Japanese cold and flu season is now in full swing, and nationwide (naika, inside-specialty, ginternal medicineh) waiting rooms are teeming with tissue-toting outpatients. Fortunately, residents of Japan enjoy a relatively low-cost universal health insurance system and a wide selection of medical specialists. How adept are you at finding the right doctor for your ailments?

As its comprising kanji make clear, deals with illnesses ginside the bodyh (i.e., not treated surgically). If you canft pinpoint your sickness, a neighborhood clinic or department in a general hospital is an appropriate place to begin your medical quest. In Japan, the internist is often relied on as a family physician, or general practitioner (G.P.), who gives referrals to other specialists as necessary.

If you end up requiring surgery, the ginside doctorh will pass you along to an goutside doctorh (OȈ, gekai, outside-specialty-doctor, gsurgeonh) to do the job. Aside from performing surgery, a OȈ also treats common external injuries such as burns and cuts.

If you break a bone or suffer from a backache, you will need to seek out a `OȈ (seikeigekai, put in order-shape-surgeon, gorthopedic surgeonh). The `OȈ corrects misaligned joints, muscles, and bones, and offers physical therapy. Look for the kanji (SEI, gcorrecth), at the bottom of the first character in `O.

Like `O, the name of another specialist, `OȈ (keiseigekai, shape-give form to-surgeon, gplastic surgeonh), includes the kanji ` (KEI, gshapeh). The `OȈ repairs external physical defects caused by serious burns, automobile accidents, and the like. `OȈwho perform cosmetic surgery may refer to themselves as eOȈ (biyougekai, beautiful-appearance-surgeon) in an appeal to the vanity of potential customers. (By the way, lest youfre tempted, cosmetic surgery is not covered by public insurance).

Two other potentially confusing specialties, kanji-wise, are _o (shinkeinaika) and _ (seishinka), since they both include the kanji _ (SHIN, gmindh). _o (shinkei) means gnerve,h and thus a _oȈ is a gnerve-internist, or gneurologist.h A _oȈ treats diseases of the nervous system such as Parkinsonfs disease or multiple sclerosis. _ (seishin), on the other hand, means gsoul,h and _Ȉ is, literally, gsoul-specialisth or gpsychiatrist.h

While non-cosmetic dental care is covered by Japanese public insurance, orthodontic treatment is not, and parents who want to straighten their kidsf teeth will have to shell out a fortune. Your Ȉ (shikai, tooth-specialist, gdentisth) can refer you to a Ȉ (kyouseishikai, rectify-correct-dentist, gorthodontisth).

Allergies such as hay fever as well as childrenfs ear, nose, and throat problems are treated by the @AȈ (jibiinkoukai, often abbreviated colloquially to jibikai, ear-nose-throat specialist). The third and fourth kanji in this compound, and A, both meangthroat,h but are not general-use kanji.

A Ȉ (gankai, eye-specialtist, gophthalmologisth) treats eye problems and gives eye tests. The kanji meaning geyeh (, GAN/me) is the left-hand component of . For skin problems, consult a (畆Ȉ, hifukai, gdermatologisth). The first two characters in 畆 both mean gskin.h The second, comprised of an unwieldy fifteen strokes, is often abbreviated to its katakana manifestation, t, rendering t.

The first character in Ywl (sanfujinka, gOb/Gynh), Y, means ggive birth.h Look for the kanji representing glife,h , at the bottom of it. The next two characters, wl (fujin), mean gwoman,h with the kanji (gwomanh) standing on the left side of w.

Be prepared to deal with the creative naming employed by private clinics as you attempt to decipher their signboards. Recently, the occasional Ywl has begun to ditch the kanji and restyle itself as the ostensibly more sophisticated-sounding fB[X NjbN(gLadiesf Clinich). Similarly, some (shounika, small-child-speciality, gpediatricsh) clinics have metamorphosed into the softer-sounding ǂNjbN(kodomo kurinikku, gchildrenfs clinich). One clinic in our neighborhood styles itself as n[LbXNjbN (gHello Kids Clinich), which sounds to me more like an English conversation school.


Navigating the medical system in Japan may at first seem daunting to foreigners, but familiarizing yourself with the kanji used in medical practices will help you to quickly and confidently locate the appropriate healthcare provider you and your family need.

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