The question of birth control is a common one among foreigners in Japan (or those moving to Japan). While there are various forms of contraception, in this post I want to focus solely on birth control pills. (Though, no worries, I will write a post sometime after this about other forms of birth control). So for those of you heading to Japan (or perhaps in Japan but wondering about it), I rolled up my sleeves and did some research (in addition to what I've already been aware of) to give a more in-depth overview of "the pill" in Japan.
Birth control pills are much less popular in Japan than in Western nations, and were only recently legalized in 1999. The only pill you can get a prescription for, in principle, is a low-dosage pill. Supposedly medium-dosage pills exist, but it seems that only certain clinics or online pharmacies offer them.
The patch is technically not available, except at online pharmacies and perhaps a few choice clinics - the only brand I found was Ortho Evra. (If you have found otherwise, feel free to share).
Some doctors don’t prescribe birth control pills, so if you aren’t sure where to go, you might want to read how to find a clinic or hospital that prescribes birth control pills or emergency contraception.
Birth control pills, or oral contraceptives, are called "経口避妊薬" (けいこうひにんやく, keikouhininyaku) in Japanese, but they are more commonly referred to as "ピル" (piru).
Keep in mind that the prescription brands are all low dosage, as mentioned above. It may be most useful if you bring your prescription from your home country with you, to show a doctor here in Japan. At the very least, they should be able to find a close enough match to what your body is accustomed to.
The down side of using birth control pills in Japan is that you typically have to pay for one month's prescription at a time, which is about 2000 - 3000 yen or so. And, the national insurance does not cover it (though your insurance should cover the appointment).
This also means that you have to go back to the doctor's office to renew your prescription each time, typically one month as mentioned above, but maybe two months for some. (Others have mentioned being able to get more than three months at a time.) Yes, it is a pain, but in my experience at least, I have to go back frequently to get most prescriptions refilled - this includes simple allergy medicine.
Types of birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
Here are the common brands/types in Japan - you can find others at online Japanese pharmacies, but you typically need a prescription for that. (Or, they are shipped from outside of Japan, so who knows how legal or safe they are...). I haven't tried it, so I can't say if it's a process worth trying. If you have tried it, feel free to let us know. If you're wondering about specific hormone amounts, you can search most of these brands in English and find their corresponding information.
Monophasic pill - 1相性ピル (1いっそうせいピル - sousei means "phase")
Both types are 21 active (21錠タイプ).
1. Marvelon (マーベロン)
2. Ortho M-21 (オーソ M-21)
Multiphasic pill - 2 or 3相性ピル
21 active - (21錠タイプ)
1. Triquilar (トリキュラー)
2. Ange (アンジュ)
3. Ortho 777 (オーソ 777)
28 active - (28錠タイプ)
1. シンフェーズ ("New Phase" is what it means but nothing in English about this one, that I could find)
2. Triquilar (トリキュラー)
3. Ange (アンジュ)
4. Marvelon (マーベロン)
Emergency Contraception (morning after pill)
This one is prescription-only and sometimes more difficult to locate. The price ranges seemingly from 1000 yen on up to 20,000 yen. This likely depends on where you go and where you purchase the pills. The official Japanese for emergency contraception is 緊急避妊法. 緊急 (きんきゅう, kinkyuu) is emergency, and 避妊法 is contraception. However, it can also be referred to as モーニングアフターピル (mo-ningu afutaa piru, morning after pill) or アフターピル (afutaa piru, after pill).
To find a clinic or hospital that prescribes emergency contraception, please read this.
Mini pill (Progestin-only)
The mini-pill (ミニピル) has not been approved in Japan, and does not seem to be available except in online stores/pharmacies. If anyone has had a different experience with this, feel free to share.
I tried looking for extended-cycle pills, but didn't find anything. As you can see, your choices are more limited than in Western countries, but, there are available options. And of course, as I'll get to soon, there are other options in Japan for birth control/family planning, for those wondering about other options.
Have something to add, or want to share your own experience? Would love to hear it in the comments below. (Or on Facebook, if you prefer).
If you want to find clinic or hospital in Japan that prescribes birth control pills or emergency contraception, check out this post for a how-to.
For a few other contraception ideas, check out Contraception in Japan: Condoms, IUDs, and Calendar-based Methods.