7 words to know when you have a cold (in Japan)

Apologies for my lack of posting as of late. I don’t think I previously mentioned, but November is a busy month due to the upcoming JLPT exam I’m attempting to study for, and the 50,000 word novel I’m trying to write in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month. Add these to my regular tasks, combine them with the nasty cold I acquired last week, and I’m little more than a lump on the couch right now.

However, I wanted to take a moment to share with you some essential Japanese words you might want to know if you come down with a cold in Japan (which seems to be going around right about now).

I tend to stick to more natural remedies when possible, but when the symptoms are bad enough, I head for the drugs (medicine). Although, and some of you may already know about this, eastern medicine, or kanpou, is used in Japan.

So where do you find cold medicine? The best places to look are your local daily goods store and/or local pharmacy - called 薬屋 (くすりや, kusuri ya) or 薬局 (やっきょく, yakkyoku). 薬 (くすり, kusuri) means drugs/medicine. Now, let’s look at some of the most common cold symptoms and the corresponding Japanese so you know what to look for (or ask for) when seeking out cold medicine in Japan.

Note: Cold medicine is 風邪薬 (かぜぐすり, kazegusuri) in Japanese. 風邪 (かぜ, kaze) means “cold” (as in common cold). The word for symptoms is: 症状 (しょうじょう, shoujou).

1. Runny nose鼻水  (はなみず, hanamizu)

鼻 means nose, and 水 is water, so you can put two and two together. Antihistamines will typically be labeled with 鼻水 (hanamizu). Sneezing, which is more typical of allergies but can occur with colds, is くしゃみ (kushami).

2. Stuffy nose/congestion - 鼻づまり  (はなづまり, hanazumari)

*Keep in mind: Over the counter (OTC) antihistamines and some other medicine are typically drowsy. Usually you need to get a prescription for non-drowsy medication from a doctor. Even then though, it depends on the doctor you see. I had one doctor who refused to prescribe non-drowsy meds to clear up my sinus congestion because he wanted me to continue the drowsy ones. Also note that they put caffeine in a LOT of medicine in Japan, although I can’t say it does much.

3. Cough - 咳   (せき, seki)

See sore throat, also. As a side note, you may notice 痰 (たん, tan) on cough syrup, which means phlegm.

4. Sore throat - 喉の痛み  (のどのいたみ, nodo no itami)

You’ll probably see のど (nodo) most commonly noted on medication. Cough medicine may mention sore throat, cough, or possibly phlegm (see cough).

5. Fever - 熱   (ねつ, netsu) or “slight fever” is 微熱 (びねつ, binetsu) or “the start of a fever” 発熱 (はつねつ, hatsunetsu)

While a fever is generally not typical with a cold, at least for adults, rest assured you can find medicine when your head gets hot (although, ibuprofen or acetaminophen will easily handle this). You can read my post on ibuprofen here.

6. Headache - 頭痛   (ずつう, zutsuu)

Again, ibuprofen will probably cover this as well, but if looking for something else use the kanji above.

7. Chills/Shakes - 悪寒   (おかん, okan)

Similar to headache and other aches, ibuprofen will cover this too. (I sound like I’m trying to sell ibuprofen, but really there are no gains for me here! I just know from personal experience and the fact that the ibuprofen boxes in Japan also have these kanji written on them, though you may want to double-check if using multiple kinds of medicine at the same time).

That should about cover it for regular cold symptoms (and then some). Hopefully you won't need to find this helpful but since most of us inevitably get those fun seasonal colds at some time or another you likely will. And now, I'm out of tissues again.

If you need to go to the doctor, try checking out the following posts for help with translating symptoms.

how to translate medical symptoms (terms) - part 1
how to translate medical symptoms (terms) - part 2

And just for kicks if you do see a doctor:

how NOT to get a diagnosis at the doctor

Stay healthy!

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