Living or traveling abroad can be challenging at times, but especially when you’re sniffling or suffering from a stomachache in bed. Japanese drugstores are stacked with all types of remedies for your maladies, and we’re here to help you navigate them.

This article outlines a short history of Japanese medicine and introduces the best drugs according to your ailments, with Japanese vocabulary to aid you. We also dive a little bit into the resurgence of kampo, or traditional Japanese medicine, in modern practice.

Note: Please consult a physician or doctor before using any of the medicines listed here. While our goal is to help navigate the shelves of Japanese drugstores, this article does not provide medical advice. 

A Short History of Japanese Medicine

In the early days, being sick was seen as a godsend so it was through prayers, incantations and other religious practices that ailments were cured. In the 5th and 6th centuries, Chinese medicine was brought to Japan, and through the years these practices slowly evolved into what is known as kampo medicine which uses herbal ingredients such as Ginseng and Rhubarb.

The medicine we see in Japanese stores now is largely influenced by Western medicine, however. In the 16th century, European medicine was introduced by Jesuit missionaries, and in the 17th Century through Dutch physicians anew. This European-imported medicine and its production has gradually taken over traditional Chinese-influenced medicine (although both still exist) and a large effort was made by the Japanese government to Westernize their medicine.

The Best Japanese Medicines for Any Ailment

Having covered a little bit of the history of Japanese medicine, it will come to no surprise that a lot of the drugs you find in stores include herbs. Although these are not necessarily labeled as Kampo medicine, the influence of herbal medicine is apparent. To easily navigate the aisles of your nearest drugstore, we have compiled a list of all the best over-the-counter medicines you can find in Japan, alongside handy vocabulary to help explain your problems to a shop assistant or pharmacist.

Best Japanese Medicine for a Headache

Bufferin A (バファリンA) is a combination of aspirin and antacid. Antacid reduces heartburn you may get from aspirins. It’s a general pain reliever and works quickly.

Another very popular option is Eve Quick Headache Medicine (イブクイック頭痛藥). It can also be used to treat other symptoms like toothaches or period pains.

Vocabulary

頭が痛いです atama ga itai desu I have a headache

頭がガンガンします atama ga gangan shimasu I have a pounding headache

Best Japanese Medicine for a Fever

Loxonin S (ロキソニンS) is one of the most effective fever medications on the Japanese market. It’s known to be very effective and fast.

Another recommended fever medication is Bufferin Premium (バファリンプレミアム) which has a combination of Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen.

Vocabulary

熱があります netsu ga arimasu I have a fever

38度の熱があります san juu hachi-do no netsu ga arimasu I have a temperature of 38 degrees

目眩がします memai ga shimasu I feel dizzy

Best Japanese Medicine for a Cold

Esutakku Ibu Fine (エスタックイブファイン) treats common symptoms of a cold, such as cough, fever, joint pains, headache and phlegm.

Pabron Ace Pro Tablets (パブロンエースPro錠) are also recommended for common colds. They combine seven active ingredients. 

Vocabulary

風邪をひいています kaze o hiite imasu I have a cold

鼻水が出ます hanamizu ga demasu I have a runny nose

寒気がします samuke ga shimasu I feel chilly

Best Japanese Medicine for Throat Pain

Throat lozenges can help heal throat pains. Vicks Medicated Drops (ヴイックスメディケイデットドロップ) relieve your throat pain and suppress coughs.

Ryukakusan Direct (龍角散ダイレクト) is another option that can be taken without water and includes Chinese herbal medicine. It works for inflammation of the throat, coughing and phlegm.

If you want to try something else, you can opt for a spray, which is what a lot of Japanese people use. Matsukiyo’s Purple Shot Plus (パープルショットプラス) throat spray has a component that sterilizes the affected area and works directly on it to reduce inflammation.

Vocabulary 

喉が痛いです nodo ga itai desu I have a sore throat

咳が出ます seki ga demasu I have a cough

痰が出ます tan ga demasu I have phlegm

Best Japanese Medicine for Stomachaches and Gas

The Guard (ザ・ガード) is a medicine with live bacteria that improves the condition of your stomach and digestive system, helping to heal stomach bloating or gas and irregular bowel movements. 

If you suffer from diarrhea, you should opt for Seirogan (正露丸) which effectively treats runny stomachs and symptoms of food poisoning.

Vocabulary

お腹が痛いです onaka ga itai desu I have a stomach ache

お腹がキリキリします onaka ga sugoku kirikiri shimasu I feel a stinging pain in my stomach

食欲がないです shokuyoku ga nai desu I have no appetite

下痢をしています geri o shite imasu I have diarrhea

便秘しています benpi shite imasu I am constipated

お腹が張っています onaka ga hatte imasu I feel bloated

Best Japanese Medicine for Toothaches

If you suffer from a toothache, you could try using a painkiller. Mentioned before for headache pain, Eve Quick Headache Medicine (イブクイック頭痛藥) also helps to reduce toothaches.

Vocabulary

歯が痛いです ha ga itai desu I have a toothache

歯茎が出血をしています haguki ga shukketsu o shite imasu My gums are bleeding

Best Japanese Medicine to Protect You From Covid

Although there’s no drug that we can confidently recommend, there is a new Japanese drug called Xocova (ゾコーバ) that was recently approved as a Covid medicine for mild symptoms but is only administered for emergency use.

If you suspect you may have Covid, please take a self-test and contact your local public health center or a coronavirus hotline.

Vocabulary 

新型コロナウイルス shingata-koronauirusu Coronavirus

高熱があります kounetsu ga arimasu I have a high fever

体温計を貸してください taionkei o kashite kudasai Could I borrow a thermometer?

陽性でした yousei deshita I tested positive

陰性でした insei deshita I tested negative

息苦しいです ikigurushii desu I have difficulty breathing

味覚がありません mikaku ga arimasen I cannot taste

匂いがしません nioi ga shimasen I cannot smell

Best Japanese Medicine for Muscle or Joint Pain

Although muscle or joint pain is not always a cause for concern, it can be very debilitating.  

Vantelin (バンテリン) is a body gel that works quickly to relieve muscle pain.

However, if you prefer a longer application, then the Loxonin S tape (ロキソニンSテープ) works amazingly. It also relieves other pain besides muscle aches, be it a stiff neck, joint pain, hand and wrist pain, bruises, sprains and more.

Vocabulary 

関節が痛いです kansetsu ga itai desu I have joint pain

背中が痛いです senaka ga itai desu My back hurts

Best Japanese Medicine for Hay Fever

If you suffer from hay fever, the best over-the-counter drug you can get is antihistamines such as Allegra FX (allegraアレグラFX). 

You can also get nasal drops to relieve nose issues from hay fever. One option is Sato’s Nazal Spray AR 0.1% (ナザールαAR0.1%).

Vocabulary 

花粉症です kafunshou desu I have hay fever

くしゃみが止まらないです kushami ga tomaranai desu I can’t stop sneezing

Best Japanese Medicine for Dry or Itchy Eyes 

If you suffer from dry eyes a lot, Rohto Lycée Eyedrops (ロートリセ目の充血) help to reduce fatigue and dullness in your eyes. For people who wear contact lenses, there is also a special variant called Rohto Lycée Contact (ロートリセコンタクト) which helps provide extra moisture and prevents blurry vision.

Vocabulary 

目が痛いです me ga itai desu I have sore eyes

充血しています juuketsu shite imasu I have bloodshot eyes

視界がかすむ shikai ga kasumu My vision is blurry

目がかゆいです me ga kayui desu My eyes are itchy

Best Japanese Medicine for Burn Wounds

If you suffer from a minor burn wound, then you can get Johnson & Johnson Brand Adhesive Bandages (キズパワーパッド) to help keep the area covered whilst healing. 

Vocabulary 

やけどしました yakedo shimashita I burned myself

水ぶくれがあります mizubukure ga arimasu I have (a) blisters

日焼けしました hiyake shimashita I got a sunburn

Best Japanese Medicine for Hangovers

We all know the dreaded pain the morning after a night out. Luckily, Hepalyse (ヘパリーゼ) is a true savior. Drink it before going out to prevent a hangover and stimulate liver function.

If the damage is already done, the best cure is an electrolyte drink such as Pocari Sweat. If that doesn’t work, you can try Pansilon 01+ (パンシロン01+) which helps stomach and digestive problems related to hangovers or if you ate too much the night before.

Vocabulary 

二日酔いです futsukayoi desu I have a hangover

Kampo medicine Japanese

Kampo: Traditional Japanese Herbal Medicine

Kampo is traditional Japanese medicine with unique properties and methods that were partly influenced by Chinese medicine imported during the 5th and 6th centuries. The usage of kampo medicine is related to the connection between body and mind, making it a holistic treatment. It’s been an integral part of healthcare in Japan for centuries. 

Kampo ingredients are herbal and used in various combinations to draw out their benefits. Kampo medicine was traditionally made by boiling the herbs in water to infuse them. Nowadays, they come in a variety of formulations such as granules, powders, tablets and solutions. It means they are very easy to be taken and stored.

Kampo is strictly regulated by the Japanese government, which means not every herbal medicine you’ll find in drugstores is kampo medicine. There are various companies that produce kampo medicine, the major two being Kracie and Tsumura.

What is Kampo Made of?

There are many herbs and ingredients used in kampo medicine, including ginger, licorice, cinnamon, ginseng, perilla, Magnolia bark, mushrooms and more.

These medicines often come in sachets that need to be mixed with water. Be aware that they can taste extremely bitter.

Most Used Kampo Medicine in Japan

1. Kakkonto Medicine for a Cold

Kakkonto is a liquid drink that is composed of seven ingredients effective at treating the first symptoms of a cold: shivering, chills and fever. It also helps with stiffness and aches.

2. Daikenchuto

Daikenchuto is a kampo medicine in the form of a powder and aids gastrointestinal problems. Its main herbs are Japanese pepper, processed ginger and Asian ginseng.

3. Rikkunshito

Rikkunshito is a powder form medicine that improves further gastrointestinal afflictions including heartburn and indigestion.

4. Shakuyakukanzoto

Shakuyakukanzoto is also a powder that helps with acute muscle spasms, cramps and lower back pain.

Where to Buy Japanese Herbal Medicine

Buying Kampo Medicine in Online Stores

For those wishing to purchase kampo medicine online, DokoDemo is the best place. This is also a perfect option if you live abroad. 

Buying Kampo Medicine in Person

If you wish to purchase kampo medicine in person, you can either visit the doctor for a prescription, which will make it a lot cheaper, or go to the drugstore for over-the-counter medicine. Do note that over-the-counter medicine is 1.5 to three times more expensive.

If you wish to buy in person, look for the sign that reads 漢方.

A popular brand in Japan is Ohta’s Isan, especially its kampo Gastrointestinal Medicine II. It combines kampo and Western medicine, and is a staple in every Japanese household.

Precautions When Using Japanese Herbal Medicine

Even though kampo medicine is herbal, it should still be taken with precaution. Some of the herbs may interact with other medicines you’re taking. Mixing kampo medicine is also discouraged, as different herbs can also interact with one another. Please consult your doctor if you wish to start kampo treatment.