Japan is very strict about over the counter drugs, so many of the North American brands don’t make it onto Japanese pharmacy shelves. Japan has different brands, and more often than not, different active ingredients.
So if you have a particular brand of medication that you like, I recommend that you bring it with you.
Headache, Fever & Cold Medications
If you get sick during your trip to Japan and don’t have any of your go-to decongestants or fever reducers with you, don’t expect to find them at the drug store.
If you’ve got a headache or a fever, most drug stores carry Bufferin and Tylenol.
I’ve been traveling and living in Japan since the late 90’s and have only recently seen Tylenol available in a few drug stores. It’s labeled the same as regular Tylenol, but it’s only 300 mg and costs about $10 USD for 20 tablets.
I’m pretty sure Tylenol in the US is 500 mg, so you’d have to take two tablets to match the strength. That takes the price to about $1 USD per dose.
For headaches, many drug stores do carry Excedrin. I personally don’t use Excedrin, so I’m not sure if the ingredients and doses are the same or not. But it is here.
If you have a cold, I can guarantee that you won’t find Robitussin, NyQuil, DayQuil, TheraFlu or just about any other cold medication you like to use back home. Instead, you’ll be stuck buying some random Japanese brand that may or may not do what you need it to do.
Medicine is already a complex subject at home; translations and language barriers only make a difficult situation worse.
If you have allergies, I recommend bringing enough medication to get you through your holiday. Japan is covered in Cedar trees, and it wreaks havoc on most visitors. Even people that claim not to have allergies find themselves suffering from stuffy heads and sneezing fits.
You can buy Claritin, but I’m pretty sure it’s more expensive than it is back in the US. Don’t expect to find Fexofenadine, the main ingredient in Allegra. So if you’ve got something that works for you, BRING IT!
If you have a prescription drug that you must take, make sure you bring enough for the duration of your trip. Japanese pharmacists will not fill a non-Japanese prescription.
Be sure to have your medication in the pill bottle with the prescription information and your name printed on the label. Customs officials may confiscate the pills if you cannot prove what they are and that they are prescribed to you.