Learn These Japanese Kanji and You’ll Be Fine! (Drugstore Edition)
Shopping at drugstores is often on many people's to-do lists while they're visiting Japan. This article features some information on Japanese kanji (Chinese characters used in written Japanese) that will come in handy when you are trying to find a product. These commonly used kanji will be grouped by theme.
Kanji Referring to Medicine and Drugstores
In Japan, you can purchase medicine or 薬 (kusuri) at a ドラッグストア (drugstore). However, there are other establishments called 薬局 (yakkyoku) that also carry medicine. This section will provide some tidbits about all things "kusuri" and the differences between different types of drugstores and different medicine.
"Kusuri" refers to any medicine used to treat, diagnose, or prevent illness.
Any medicinal products used in the treatment, diagnosis, or prevention of illnesses are legally defined as "iyakuhin." These are further subdivided into the following three groups:
医療用医薬品 (Iryouyou iyakuhin)
These products require a prescription from a doctor to purchase.
一般用医薬品 (Ippanyou iyakuhin)
Medicine categorized as "ippanyou iyakuhin" contain less active medicinal ingredients than the above category. It is also referred to as 市販薬 (Shihanyaku, "over-the-counter medicine"), so you can choose which product you want to purchase. Based on the level of side effects that may arise from the use of these products, the pharmacist may be required to brief you about the medicine upon purchase.
要指導医薬品 (Youshidou iyakuhin)
"Youshidou iyakuhin" are products that previously required a prescription but have only recently been designated as over-the-counter medicine. You are required to receive advice and information from a pharmacist upon purchase.
・医薬部外品 (Iyakubu Gaihin)
These are not pharmaceutical products but are similarly categorized as such. While they have recognized medicinal ingredients in them, compared to medicinal products, their effects are gentler. They are sold at drugstores and pharmacies, and can also be found in general stores.
A "shohousen" is a prescription, a note from a doctor referring a patient to procure medicine.
"Yakkyoku" have pharmacists on staff and sell all three varieties of medicine introduced above: 医療用医薬品 (Iryouyou iyakuhin), 一般用医薬品 (Ippanyou iyakuhin), and 要指導医薬品 (Youshidou iyakuhin).
・調剤薬局 (Chouzai yakkyoku)
At "chouzai yakkyoku," the medicine is compounded by the pharmacists based on the doctor's prescription. These pharmacies are officially called 保険薬局 (hoken yakkyoku).
・ドラッグストア (Doragu sutoa, derived from "drugstore")
The unique aspect of these stores is that, in addition to pharmaceuticals, they carry a broad range of goods such as food, daily essentials, cosmetics, and toiletries.
There are two types of drugstores: those that can dispense medicines like "yakkyoku" and those that can not. This is the reason why the medicine that you can purchase will differ by drugstore. In the former type, if there is a pharmacist on site at the time of your visit, you will be able to purchase 医療用医薬品 (Iryouyou iyakuhin), 一般用医薬品 (Ippanyou iyakuhin), and 要指導医薬品 (Youshidou iyakuhin), but in stores without pharmacists, you will only be able to purchase medicines that do not require consultation with a pharmacist i.e. 一般用医薬品 (Ippanyou iyakuhin).
This section will introduce kanji referring to specific types of medicine. If you check this list, you will be able to figure out what type of medicine you are dealing with when you look at the package.
"Megusuri" refers to eye drops that are used in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of eye related diseases.
"Kazegusuri" are pharmaceutical products that aim to alleviate the various symptoms of colds and are generally used to treat inflammation in the respiratory system.
These are effective for different ailments in the digestive system, such as 胃腸炎 (gastroenteritis), 胃酸過多 (hyperacidity), 胃痛 (stomach pain), 下痢 (diarrhea), 食欲不振 (loss of appetite), 食中毒 (food poisoning), 消化不良 (indigestion), and 腹痛 (abdominal pain).
・乗物酔用薬 (Norimonoyoi you kusuri)
This type of medicine helps prevent car and sea sickness.
These products are used to treat diarrhea.
・水虫薬 (Mizumushi gusuri)
"Mizumushi gusuri" is used to treat athlete's foot, in which trichophyton fungus spreads between fingers and toes and on the underside of feet.
・サプリメント (Sapurimento, derived from the English word "supplement")
These are supplements for people who have nutrient deficiencies.
※These are not classified as pharmaceutical products.
Types of Medicine
The following kanji are used for different types of medicine:
・カプセル (Kapuseru, derived from the English word "capsule")
・錠剤 (Jouzai, pills)
・顆粒 (Karyu, granule)
・塗り薬 (Nurigusuri, ointment)
What Are the Symptoms?
Even if you ask a pharmacist for medicine for a particular type of ailment, you may be recommended a number of different kinds of medicine depending on your symptoms. This section features a list of commonly used kanji for various symptoms on packages of cold medicine and eye medicine.
Commonly Used Kanji for Cold Medicine
・発熱 (Hatsu netsu, fever)
・のどの痛み (Nodo no itami, sore throat)
・咳 (Seki, cough)
・鼻水 (Hanamizu, dripping nose)
・鼻づまり (Hanazumari, stuffed nose)
Commonly Used Kanji for Eye Medicine
・ただれ (Tadare, soreness)
・乾燥 (Kansou, dryness)
・炎症 (Enshou, inflammation)
・かすみ (Kasumi, hazy vision)
・痒み(かゆみ) (Kayumi, itchiness)
・乾き(かわき) (Kawaki, dryness)
・充血 (Juketsu, blood-shot)
・疲れ (Tsukare, tiredness)
・疲労 (Hirou, fatigue)
・ものもらい (Monomorai, sty)
・結膜炎 (Ketsumakuen, conjunctivitis)
・なみだ目 (Namidame, teary eyes)
The particular components used to bring about certain results in each pharmaceutical product are written on the package. Here are some examples:
・保護成分 (Hogo seibun, protective properties)
・抗菌 (Koukin, anti-bacteria)
・潤い(うるおい) (Uruoi, moisture)
・修復 (Shufuku, restoration/repair)
・冷感(クール) (Reikan (kuru), cooling)
Other kanji that you are likely to see at a drugstore include the following:
The kanji for "yobou" can be found on products that prevent or protect against particular ailments or symptoms.
The kanji for "tsumekae" can be found on refill products. "Tsumekae" doesn't come with a container, so be aware of this before purchasing.
"Menzei" refers to tax exemption for purchases made by overseas visitors. Many drugstores offer this service, and in some stores they may even have a special till set aside for it.
The above list combines common kanji seen at drugstores with the hiragana and katakana (Japanese characters) used in tandem with them. Make sure to refer to this list before you go shopping!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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