It is fall again, and one thing we always do in the fall is get our flu shots. Back home in ATL, I was required by my workplace to get a flu shot every year (I worked in healthcare there) and the vaccination was provided by my workplace. My husband’s company also provided the vaccination to workers, and even scheduled “vaccine clinics” to make it more convenient for their workers to get the shot. Of course, we could also go to lots of other places to get our flu shots, and it was fully covered by our medical insurance. It was easy and convenient for us to get the vaccination.
At my husband’s workplace here in Japan, they also encourage everyone to get their flu shot in the fall, and we have been provided with a list of clinics in our area where we can go to get vaccinated. Since we are still covered by our US health insurance, we pay for the vaccine here, and then submit the bills to our insurance company back home for reimbursement. We are also covered under the Japanese National Health Insurance for most other medical expenses, but I don’t think the flu vaccine is a part of that coverage.
The first fall after we moved to Japan we were home for a visit and just got the flu shot while we were in the US. But last year — and this year — we got the vaccine here. It is not difficult… but there are some hurdles to doing anything when you can’t speak the language very well. It can seem daunting at times to do even these simple tasks. My husband’s workplace does provide us with a liaison — an employee who can help us with these sorts of communication challenges, but we do try to manage as well as we can on our own.
Once we got the list of clinics, it was simple enough to type in the address into Google maps, and find out where we needed to go. The clinic we have chosen is nearby — right here in Minato-ku (our “ward” of Tokyo). My husband did have someone from work call to make sure they had vaccine available before we went to the clinic… phone calls are especially a challenge for us. We manage day-to-day communication with a mixture of our meager Japanese, and quite a lot of pointing and gesturing. It works fine when you are face-to-face, but over the phone, communication with a non-English speaker is nearly impossible.
So… with GPS in hand, we walked to the clinic, and this is what we found:
More language challenge. The floor guide was all in Japanese. But, we are actually learning(!) and after some (rather slow) translation, we determined that our desired medical clinic was on the 3rd floor. “3F Minato-Mita (the first three are kanji characters) ku-ri-nik-ku (followed by 5 katakana characters)” — Minato-Mita Clinic! We couldn’t read all of the kanji on that sign, but we could read enough to get by. Success.
Once inside, it was very much like any clinic in the US. A waiting room and a reception desk. The staff spoke minimal English, but all we had to say was “influenza shot” and they gave us each a form to fill out (in English!) and a thermometer to take our temperature. After handing that back in, we waited for our “interview” with the doctor.
We came to this clinic last year too, and had the same doctor for this part. He speaks English, but very heavily accented, so it is sometimes hard to understand him. He goes over our medical forms and asks questions. He is elderly, and always asks us how old we think he is… lol. This year, he is 82(!) and still healthy and working at the clinic. I know they have other doctors there, but I think they always send us to him because he has the best English.
Anyway… so after our interview with the doctor, we wait out in the reception area for our turn. The nurses get everything set up, and in no time we are done and vaccinated for this year. We go to the waiting room while they prepare our bill, and when they call us up, they punch the number into a calculator so that we can read the amount we owe. Most businesses here have a calculator on the counter so that they can show us the numbers — they know we are really SLOW understanding the numbers in Japanese… lol.
Our bill was 3500 yen each — about $35 — which we will now submit to our insurance.
Sometimes I feel bad that even after 2 1/2 years here, I still can’t speak Japanese. But we do manage, and actually… I think we are understanding more that we think we are. It is a gradual process, and we have become comfortable doing this kind of day-to-day communication… even if we aren’t fluent speakers of Japanese.