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Useful Phrases for the Japanese Drug Store

May 10, 2019

Though you can hopefully stay healthy during your trip to Japan, if you do start to feel ill then the first place to go is the drug store. However, if you don’t understand Japanese it’s difficult to know where to start. In this article, we will introduce you to phrases that can help you communicate with the pharmacist and let them know what you are looking for.

A Note on Japanese Pronunciation

All Japanese words include what English speakers recognize as a vowel. Unlike English, where “a” can be pronounced in a variety of ways (such as “ah” as in “apple” or “ay” as in “cake”), Japanese vowel sounds are the same in every word.

Japanese vowel pronunciation: 
A – Ah (as in “Augmented”)
E – Eh (as in “Everybody”)
I – E (as in “Egypt”)
O – Oh (as in “Orange”)
U – Ooh (as in “Crude”)

It’s difficult to convey pronunciation with text, so check out this cute song on Youtube to listen for yourself.

Please also note that “ka” at the end of a sentence indicates a question. It is OK to raise your inflection as you would when asking a question in English.

Now let’s get on to the phrases!

Useful Phrases

1. 薬剤師はいらっしゃいますか?・薬剤師ですか?
Yakuzaishi wa irasshimasuka? / Yakuzaishi desu ka?
Is there a pharmacist here? / Are you a pharmacist?
In Japan, most drugs cannot be sold without a pharmacist present in the facility. If there is no pharmacist available, then you will not be able to buy medication. In drug stores, pharmacists are usually available during opening hours, but if you’re going to a convenience store with a medicine section then this is the first question to ask. When visiting a drug store, note that not all members of staff are pharmacists, so ask the second phrase to ensure that you are talking to one.

2. ◯◯が痛い。
◯◯ ga itai.
My ◯◯ hurts.
Though you may have a fever, cold or another ailment that does not fit in this sentence, if you do have any pain then this is the phrase to use. Insert the name of the body part that hurts in English (or Japanese if you know it) and point to it, this way the pharmacist can understand what you are looking for quickly.

3. ◯◯ はありますか?
◯◯ wa arimasu ka?
Do you have OO?
Say the name of whatever item you are looking for. Though it may seem obvious, we recommend saying the generic name of what you are looking for in English instead of the brand name. This is because the brand names of medicine available in Japan are quite different from those in English-speaking countries. So, for example, asking for a “pain killer” instead of “Tylenol” or “Advil” will help you get your point across faster.

4. おすすめはありますか?
Osusume wa arimasu ka?
Do you have any recommendations?
After asking for what you are looking for, the pharmacist is sure to tell you about several medications. The quickest way to narrow it down is to ask the pharmacist for their recommendation.

5. 何日分ですか?
Nannichi bun desu ka?
How many days’ worth of medicine is this?
Next, you may want to know how long this medicine will last. The cost performance is typically better if you buy a larger amount, but if you feel like your symptoms won’t last that long then buying fewer days’ worth might be better.

6. 薬はいつ飲みますか?
Kusuri wa itsu nomimasu ka?
When do I take this medicine?
When to take the medicine varies with each type. Some can be taken three times a day, some twice a day, and some can be taken as needed. Additionally, a lot of the medication in Japan comes with instructions to take it 30 minutes before or after you eat. In order to confirm when to take the medication you selected, ask the above phrase.

7. いくらですか?
Ikura desu ka?
How much it this?
Once you’ve selected the medication you want, be sure to confirm the price!

8. 免税はできますか?
Menzei wa dekimasu ka?
Is tax-free service available?
If you have your passport on you, and your passport has a temporary visitor sticker in it, then you can get tax-free service when you spend over 5,000 yen at the same store or shopping facility on the same date. Items that are classified as general goods, such as clothes and electronics, can be used right away. However, medicine is considered a consumable item which means that it will be put into a sealed plastic bag that you cannot open until you get back to your home country. If you need to use the medicine right away, you will have to pay tax on it. However, if you are looking to buy cosmetics or snacks, both of which are also classified as consumable items, then this question is definitely worth asking.

Useful Words for Explaining Your Situation

As you would imagine, the words for many ailments are completely different in Japanese and English. The following is a list of common ailments that may happen during your travels. Hopefully, these words will come in handy!

風邪
Kaze
A Cold


Seki
Cough

鼻水
Hanamizu
Runny Nose

頭痛
Zutsu
Headache

腹痛
Fukutsu
Stomachache

乗り物酔い
Norimono yoi
Motion sickness


Netsu
Fever

便秘
Benpi
Constipation

げり
Geri
Diarrhea

If you find yourself unable to recall any of this vocabulary, remember that “OO ga itai” is the way to say “my OO hurts”. Inserting the English word and pointing to the part of your body that is in pain is an efficient way to get what you want to say across to the pharmacist.

When you’re traveling, you hope that you won’t get sick but sometimes it does unfortunately happen. Although it is intimidating going to pick out medicine in a country where you don’t speak the language, hopefully this article will help you out!

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