Japanese drugstores, or yakkyoku, can be daunting. Even if you feel pretty good about your Japanese ability, names and descriptions of medicine can be highly technical and heavy on the kanji. With shelves bursting with more products than you ever knew existed, finding the right medicine might seem like an impossible task.
And kampo-yaku, traditional herbal medicine, is viewed by most Japanese people (and doctors) as being interchangeable with Western medicine and is often stocked side-by-side. It’s a completely different scene from what you’d find in your average American drugstore.
Also, if you’re at a yakkyoku looking for Nyquil, you can stop searching, because medicine containing stimulants or codeine is illegal in Japan. You can’t bring them into the country, either.
If all this gives you a headache (on top of what you’re already suffering from!), don’t worry, this handy guide to Japanese OTC (over-the-counter) medicine will help you find what you need for those common ailments, and explain how to take them safely.
*Note: The following is intended to be advice. It is not intended to be medical treatment or information. The writer is not a doctor or healthcare professional. Please follow the directions of a medical professional a all times. Always follow the directions on any medications that you take.
1. Loxonin S (ロキソニンS)
Loxonin is one of the most popular painkillers in Japan, and possibly one of the strongest over-the-counter meds. It’s great for all kinds of pain, but it’s advertised as being most effective for headaches and menstrual pain.
Compared to other medicines, Loxonin S is gentle on the stomach, and non-drowsy.
For adults and children over 15, take one tablet a day. If symptoms persist, you can take up to 3 tablets a day, taken at least 4 hours apart.
You can find it in Japan on Amazon Japan here: Loxonin X Plus ロキソニンSプラス 12 Tablets
2. Ringl IB (リングルアイビー）
Ringl IB’s main ingredient is ibuprofen, which treats all kinds of pain and reduces fever.
Each gel capsule contains liquid ibuprofen so it works fast, and because the capsules are small, they’re easy to swallow. Ringl is also non-drowsy.
For adults and children over 15, take one capsule every 4 hours, and up to 3 capsules a day. It can be hard on an empty stomach, so definitely eat something before you pop one.
If you’re in Japan, you can buy in on Amazon Japan here: Ring IB (リングルアイビ_ーα200 36 Capsules
3. Bufferin Premium (バファリンプレミアム）
Bufferin Premium contains both ibuprofen and acetominaphen, a strong combo for pain relief. Ibuprofen works on the source of the pain, while acetominaphen works to keep the pain from spreading. It dissolves quickly for fast relief, and it’s also an anti-inflammatory that reduces and prevents fever. Bufferin is very gentle on the stomach.
For adults and children over 15, take 2 tablets, up to 3 times a day. Avoid taking on an empty stomach, if possible.
If you live in Japan, you can get it on Amazon Japan here: Bufferin Premium (バファリンプレミアム) 40 Tablets
Cold Medicine: Kaze-Gusuri (風邪薬)
1. Pablon Gold A (パブロンゴールドA)
Pablon Gold A is popular for colds, and comes in packets of powdered yellow medicine. The main ingredient, acetominaphen, is great for headaches and other pain that comes with colds, while secondary ingredients like dihydrocodeine (a codeine alternative) help with cough. It’s a good all-around cold medicine to reach for when you’re feeling under the weather.
It’s also one of the few cold medicines that can be given to very young children, as long as they are over 1 year old and don’t have any allergies/reactions from any of the ingredients.
For adults and children over 15, take 1 packet, 3 times a day. For 11-14 year olds, take 2/3 of a packet, for 7-10 year olds, take 1/2 of a packet, for 3-6 year olds, take 1/3 of a packet, and for 1-2 year olds, take 1/4 of a packet, 3 times a day. Not to be used by children under 1 year old.
You can find it on Amazon Japan here: Pablon Gold A (パブロンゴールドA) – 44 Packets
2. SS Bron L (SSブロンL）
SS Bron L comes in syrup form, and is great if you have a bad cough and dealing with a lot of phlegm. It also treats sore throat, fever, and a stuffy/runny nose. Main ingredients include ibuprofen and dihydrocodeine, which, respectively, treat pain and cough.
For adults and children over 15, take 5ml, 3 times a day. For 11-14 year olds, take 3.3ml, and for 8-10 year olds, take 2.5ml. If symptoms persist, it can be taken up to 6 times a day. Not to be used by children younger than 8 years old.
If you’re in Japan, you can get it at Amazon Japan here: SS Bron L (エスエスブロン液L) – 120mL
3. LuluAttack Ex (ルルアタックEX)
Another popular cold medicine, LuluAttack Ex gets to work on all the major symptoms of a cold – fever, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, cough and phlegm. Its main ingredient, tranexamic acid*, helps with sore throat and inflammation, and ibuprofen helps with pain and fever reducing.
* Interestingly, tranexamic acid is used in the U.S. mainly to prevent prolonged bleeding (e.g. during menstruation), but in Japan it’s an effective ingredient in cold medicine.
For adults and children over 15, take 2 tablets, 3 times a day. Best if taken within half an hour after eating.
You can find it on Amazon Japan here: Lulu Attack Ex (ルルアタックEX) 24 Tablets
Stomach Medicine: I-Gusuri (胃薬)
1. Gaster 10 (ガスタ−１０）
The main ingredient in Gaster 10, famotidine (also known as a type of H2 blocker), helps to control excess stomach acid. It’s similar to drugs like Pepcid AC, and helps with stomachache, upset stomach, vomiting, and heartburn.
For adults and children over 15, take one tablet, up to 2 times a day. Not to be used by children under 15, or by adults over 80 years old.
You can find it on Amazon Japan here: Gaster 10 (ガスター10) 12錠 Tablets
2. Cabagin Kowa α (キャベジンコーワα）
Cabagin Kowa α is one of many products that help treat indigestion. Its main ingredient, MMSC (Methylmethionine Sulfonium Chloride), helps to repair damage in the stomach. Other ingredients include antacid, commonly used for upset stomachs, and an herbal powder, perilla, which is known to be good for improving stomach function.
It also contains lipase, which helps digest fats, so taking Cabagin Kowa is a good idea after eating a heavy, greasy meal.
For adults and children over 15, take 2 tablets, 3 times a day. For 8-15 year olds, take 1 tablet, 3 times a day. Best if taken after eating. Not to be used by children under 8.
You can find it on Amazon Japan here: Cabagin Kowa α (キャベジンコーワα) 300 Tablets
Travel Sickness Medicine
1. Travelmin (トラベルミン）
Travelmin is effective both for preventing motion sickness, and for when you’re already feeling queasy. The nice thing is, you don’t need water to take Travelmin – it dissolves quickly in your mouth.
There’s also Travelmin Junior for kids, so everybody can enjoy the trip without feeling sick.
For adults and children over 15, take 1 tablet for all-day prevention and treatment of motion sickness.
Dosage for Travelmin Junior: For 11-15 year olds, take 2 tablets. For 5-11 year olds, take 1 tablet. You can take up to 3 a day, spaced 4 hours apart. Not to be used by children under 5.
You can find it on Amazon Japan here: Travelmin (トラベルミン) 6 Tablets
Eye Drops: Me-Gusuri(目薬)
1. Smile 40 Premium (スマイル４０プレミアム）
Smile 40 Premium eye drops rank #1 in popularity on one of Japan’s top shopping sites. It’s effective for tired, itchy, dry and strained eyes, which describes most people’s eyes nowadays with the increased use of smart phones and computers. It’s also good for use with contact lenses.
Use 1-3 drops, 3-6 times a day. Not intended for use with soft contact lenses. Children must be supervised to use this product.
You can find it on Amazon Japan: Smile 40 Premium (スマイル40 プレミアム) 15mL
2. Soft Santear(ソフトサンティア）
Soft Santear eye drops are made specifically for people who wear contact lenses. Made with ingredients that closely resemble real tears, it helps lubricate dry eyes caused by contacts. It can be used while wearing any type of contact lenses.
Use 2-3 drops, 5-6 times a day. Children must be supervised to use this product.
You can find it on Amazon Japan: Soft Santear (ソフトサンティア ひとみストレッチ) 5mL×2
Medicine for Skin Conditions
1. Yuskin I (ユースキンアイ）
Yuskin cream helps soothe itchy skin, and helps with hives, eczema, sweat rash, and other common skin issues. Lightweight and quickly absorbed, Yuskin cream not only helps with these symptoms but is also a great moisturizer for your skin.
Apply liberally to affected areas.
You can find it on Amazon Japan: Yuskin I (ユースキンI) 110g
2. Ekitai (Liquid) Muhi S2a (液体ムヒS2a)
Liquid Muhi is a go-to product for itchiness, particularly caused by mosquito and other bug bites. It also reduces swelling and redness, and has a pleasant herbal scent.
Apply liberally to affected areas.
You can find it on Amazon Japan: Ekitai Muhi S2a (液体ムヒS2a) 50mL ×2
Traditional Chinese Medicine: Kampoyaku(漢方薬)
Kampoyaku, which is traditional Chinese medicine that is commonly used in Japan for many ailments. You’ll find it in all the drugstores, and if you have a prescription, it’s covered under national health insurance. A lot of Japanese people view kampoyaku as being just as effective as other medicine.
Some Popular Kampoyaku
1. Inochi no HahaA (命の母A)
This kampoyaku is made specifically for women. It improves blood circulation, and helps with the various health concerns that come from hormonal imbalances that arise from menopause, menstruation, postpartum, etc., that are unique to the female body.
Take 4 tablets, 3 times a day after meals.
You can find it on Amazon Japan: Inochi no Haha A (命の母A) 420 Tablets
2. Tsumura-Kampo Shakuyakukanzoto (ツムラ漢方芍薬甘草湯)
The main ingredient in this kampoyaku, peony root, is known to be effective for muscle-related issues like painful muscle spasms and cramps, as well as for pain in the lower back and abdominal areas. It comes in packets of powdered medicine.
For adults and children over 15, take one packet. For 7-15 year olds, take 2/3 of a packet. For 4-7 year olds, take 1/2 of a packet. For 2-4 year olds, take 1/3 of a packet. Not intended for use by children under 2 years.
You can find it on Amazon Japan: Tsumura Kampo Shakuyakukanzoto (ツムラ漢方芍薬甘草湯エキス顆粒) 20 Packets
Trying to find what you need in a Japanese drugstore can be an overwhelming experience.
Just being in the store, which is usually stuffed to the brim with products, can be dizzying. Japanese drugstores have a way of exhausting your senses, especially when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.
And some medicine that is commonplace in an American drugstore, like Nyquil or Sudafed, is illegal, so you’ll have to find an alternative treatment for your colds and stuffy noses.
You could try kampoyaku, the traditional herbal medicine that some people (and doctors) swear by. It’s formally recognized by the Japanese Ministry of Health, and it could be just what you need.
Being sick is awful enough, so be prepared the next time it happens by keeping this guide handy. Self-medicating can be a breeze, even in Japan. You’ll feel genki again in no time!
What are your tried-and-true Japanese OTC medicines? Any experience dabbling in kampoyaku? Let us know in the comments!
And don’t forget to share this guide with your fellow (sick) travelers!