Universal access — if you speak Japanese

Despite 2 million foreign residents and calls for internationalization from within, Japan has a long way to go before becoming a multilingual society. The current state of health care is no exception. Be it university hospitals with cutting-edge research facilities or your neighborhood dental clinic, few medical institutions in Japan are capable of serving patients in a foreign language.

The gap between Japanese doctors and foreign patients can have serious repercussions. According to a 2005 report on maternity care for foreigners written by Dr. Hiroya Matsuo, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Kobe University, foreigners are “a high-risk group in health care,” due to language and culture problems. The report stated that the mortality rate among foreign pregnant women and infants here is “two or three times higher” than that of Japanese.