Finding English-speaking medical care in Japan is important. While I can carry on a conversation in Japanese, I’ve still a ways to go before I can discuss detailed medical matters. It’s caused some real problems, because even conversation-level English is beyond most doctors in Yamanashi. This is Japan, after all. They speak Japanese here. And it’s when you go to the doctor that you really feel the language barrier. I’ve been misdiagnosed, misunderstood, laughed at, and even given up on. Eventually though, I met an English-speaking dentist who knew what I’d been going through, one who helped me.
He properly diagnosed me when doctors couldn’t. Aside from being a dentist, Motoaki Ishibe, D.D.S., also knew what it’s like to deal with medical problems abroad. He’d had some of his own when he studied dentistry in the United States. Having experienced being both dentist and patient, I asked him to talk about English-speaking medical care and dentistry in Japan.
Nathan: Why is it important for an English speaker to find an English-speaking dentist in Japan?
He asked me to called him “Moto:” Well, dental or medical care needs language. Communication is important between patient and doctor, and explaining your symptoms or problem in your primary language is much easier. Unfortunately, English-speaking interpreters are very limited in Japan.
Nathan: What can an English-speaking dentist provide that a non-English speaker can’t?
Moto: An explanation the patient can understand. If the problem is serious, we also need to know the details. If the dentist doesn’t understand English, that’s impossible. It’s not just language either, but the culture. Having lived in the states, I learned that cultural backgrounds are different. I had friends from the U.S., Africa, Korea, and many other Asian countries. All of them expected different things because of their cultural backgrounds. For medical care you need to understand people, not just symptoms.
Nathan: How many overseas patients do you see?
Moto: About 20 regulars. New patients show up every 6 months to a year, quite regularly.
Nathan: Tell me about your experiences as a patient in the states.
Moto: I was a grad student and really stressed sometimes. So I when went to the doctor at that time, English was a problem. It was hard to explain my condition.
In the states, hospitals provided an interpreter–I could call the medical center for one. I didn’t know that the first couple of years though, which made things difficult. But here in Yamanashi, there’s nothing like that, so a lot of people don’t have a good experience at the hospital.
So, I understand that when you guys live in Yamanashi, it’s fun, but stressful. In your case, you came mentioning you had a problem that I felt was caused by stress. I went to the doctor in the states too, but they also couldn’t find anything. But I felt something wrong. It was kind of similar.
Nathan: One last question. Why did you become a dentist?
Moto: Easy. My parents were dentists.
Nathan: Ha, okay. So, on a final note, do you have any message for English-speakers looking for a dentist in Yamanashi?
Moto: Well, just that with my experience as a dentist and patient, I believe that I can provide you with the care you need.
Dentistry in Japan
Finding an English-speaking dentist (or doctor) in Japan can be the difference between getting diagnosed or not. If you live in a major city like Tokyo or Osaka, it likely won’t be a problem: just check out your country’s embassy and they‘ll have a list. But in the inaka (country,) the best way is to ask around. Other non-Japanese usually know. Also just asking a Japanese friend to call around or do an internet search will likely come up with a hit or two.
Just try and do it before you have a problem. Know where to find an English-speaking doctor or dentist in advance and you can just go when you need to go. You don’t want to waste time looking around, or risk miscommunicating, not when it comes to your health.