Being sick is one of the worst parts of daily life. With 15 million people in Tokyo, it’s important to take proper preventative measures – such as washing your hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze, and wearing masks on public transport during flu season. But sometimes, even with your best efforts, illnesses strike and you have no choice but to head to a pharmacy to pick up some medicine.
But finding the right medicine can be daunting if you don’t speak Japanese, and even if you do, it can be difficult to determine the correct medicine and/or dosage. We’ve outlined the best cold and flu medicine in Japan, as well as some top sellers for other conditions.
NOTE: This is an article intending to help identify possible remedies for those who cannot read labels in Japanese. This can not and should not be taken as a replacement for medical advice from a licensed doctor. If you are ill, please seek the help of a medical professional for advice and treatment and if you are pregnant or have other pre-existing medical concerns, please do not take anything without consulting your physician. We’re real-estate wizards, not doctors.
Where do I buy medicine?
Anywhere that says 薬 (kusuri), the Japanese word for medicine, should have a selection of over the counter products.
If you have a scrip, make sure the prescription pharmacy is open, since not every over the counter pharmacy or drugstore includes a prescription section. Since we aren’t doctors, we’ll just stick to explaining the OTC (over the counter) options for now.
Big box stores like Don Quixote and Matsumoto Kiyoshi often have full floors of cold medicines and other painkillers. Be advised; Japanese cold and flu medicines are often quite strong, as the primary goal is to continue the work ethic that Japan is famous for (unless you have influenza, in which case STAY AT HOME!).
Here are some common maladies and the top-selling Japanese cold remedies for them.
Cold and Flu:
Esutakku Eve Fine tops many charts as the best cold medicine in Japan, as well as one of the strongest and is readily available at almost every corner drugstore in Japan. It’s used to combat many symptoms of the common cold like a fever, cough, runny nose, sneezing and body aches. Esutakku Eve uses a combination of ibuprofen for pain, ambroxol hydrochloride to break up phlegm and mucus, and Isopropamide iodide to suppress a runny nose. This medicine also contains caffeine.
For something a little less strong, you can take Eve A. Eve A contains ibuprofen and caffeine. This also contains Allyl Isopropyl Acetyl Urea, a sedative that works by amplifying the effects of ibuprofen. This is most effective for pain and fever symptoms, including chills, and is also popular among Japanese women for menstrual pain. Keep in mind that it does include a sedative, so if you’re sensitive to those side effects, it may be worth giving this one a miss. Otherwise, many foreigners have said that this is on the weaker side for them, so double check your dosage with a professional if the suggested amount isn’t working for you.
LuluAttackEX is a very popular medication for cold and flu symptoms and is often the go-to for its availability and composition. It contains a multitude of medicines to combat the symptoms of a common cold– the top amount on this list, tranexamic acid, ibuprofen are the two anti-inflammatories to help joint pain, body aches, and fever, while the antihistamine clemastine fumarate stops nasal symptoms like a stuffy nose, sneezing, or runny nose; in addition, they add bromhexine hydrochloride to break up phlegm and Dihydrocodeine phosphate and di-methylephedrine hydrochloride to stop a hacking cough. Like we said before, this is potent but popular medicine.
For a wet, phlegmy cough, we recommend one of the above (especially Lulu Attack or Esatakku)– but for a dry cough, SS Bron is one of the most effective cough syrups out there. A warning, though– the active ingredient, dihydrocodeine, can be an addictive substance, so use caution when taking it and only use as much as you need.
Cold sores are an expression of the herpes simplex virus, and while a normal expression of symptoms, can be painful and unsightly, as well as contagious and/or dangerous if it comes in contact with others. Activir is a Western remedy that is somewhat common in Japan and comes at the top of lists for remedies for this common but frustrating ailment.
Just like in America and other Western countries, If you believe you have strep throat, you should go to the doctor and receive prescription medication for it, as OTC meds for Strep are not generally available.
While a possible case of tonsillitis should also be treated with care by a medical professional, Japan also has an OTC medication for more mild cases. Harenaas is a powder remedy made for mild cases of throat pain and uses a combination of Tranexamic acid and Licorice extract to give cooling relief.
Like most countries, Japanese children’s medicine is easily identified by the label or cute characters, and generally uses antipyretic analgesics, rather than harder forms of medicine that make up adult OTC medications.
We recommend either Pabron kids (if your child can take pills), or the Muhi granules, which contain acetaminophen and Vitamin C. Another active ingredient is glycine, which can be a mild sleep aid– a godsend for exhausted parents of a sick little one.
Cold Medicine without Caffeine
Japanese cold medicine without caffeine is quite rare– Pabron EX is the only one that is common in most stores, though if you ask for a medicine “kaze-gusuri kafein-nashi” (cold medicine without caffeine), the pharmacist or counter representative might be able to help you.
How to Ask for Cold Medicine in Japanese?
To ask for cold medicine, the best is to go forward with your phone and the name of a medicine– if you have a picture or the name, it’s usually quite simple for them to retrieve what you need.
Cold medicine: 風邪薬 (kazegusuri)
Fever: 熱 (Netsu)
Cough: せき (Seki)
Throat: のど (Nodo)
Runny nose: 鼻水 (Hanamizu)
Sore/Pain: 痛い (Itai) sore throat：のどの痛み(Nodo no Itami)
Cold medicines are often behind the counter as well (though still considered OTC since a prescription is unnecessary), since they can contain controlled substances.
If you’re not quite sure what you need, google translate can be very helpful in this scenario. I personally have gone to pharmacies with google translate in hand to excellent effectiveness. Just make sure you’re extremely clear, and you shouldn’t run into too much trouble!
Japanese Home Cold Remedies
But what if you want something a little less strong?
Traditional Japanese home remedies rely mostly on the use of hot water, either in a steaming hot bath with pain-relieving bath salts, or Shoga yu, made with ginger juice, hot water, and honey. Yuzu and Umeboshi are also commonly steeped in water, for an added boost of citrus fruit taste and Vitamin C. If you can have caffeine, green tea is also full of antioxidants without any sugar, making it great for a morning drink with a cold.
No matter how you choose to get better, MetroResidences wishes you a restful sleep, a clear head, and a healthy everyday life!
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