Privacy please?

By Michelle

From my experience, there is very little privacy in Japan compared to the U.S. You want to take some time off during the summer break to go on a vacation? You better write down where you’re going and for how long so that information can be distributed to not only your boss, but everyone in the office. Make a big mistake at work? You’re purposely going to get scolded about it in front of your coworkers. A close family member passed away? You’re going to have to make a public announcement about it whether you want to or not (at least that’s what I was forced to do at work when my grandmother passed away and I had to suddenly go back to America).

The oddest invasion of privacy that I have ever encountered here in Japan is always during the yearly health examinations. Since I’m a public worker, once a year I am required to have a full physical. This sounds awesome, I get a free health check-up and I don’t even need to make an appointment.

Wrong, it is awful.

Here in Chibu, our health check is held in the town hall and it takes up most of the second floor. To start off, you are brought into a big room with many different health screening stations set up. You give the guy at the reception desk your form, and he immediately takes your height and weight in front of everyone. I’m not too self-conscious about my weight (although I’m on the heavier side compared to the ultra-skinny Japanese women), so this wasn’t too big of a deal, but I did find it a little strange. You are then told to get an X-ray of your chest. OK, cool, no problem. Except when I stepped into the mobile X-ray machine in preparation for the X-ray to be taken, no protective belt was put over the lower half of my body. Hmm…that’s a little weird, but it’s only a once yearly X-ray, I guess my goods will be intact for when I want to have kids later.

And then the urine test happened. This was my second time having a health check in Japan, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. The lady at the urine test station hands you a cup. No, this isn’t one of those thick plastic medical cups with the lid that securely fastens. This is just a flimsy paper cup, colored green on the outside, with a little green dashed line on the inside asking you to “only fill to this line please.” There is no lid. There is no way to hide your pee from the eyes of your peers. Last year, I had to ask the lady three times, “so I’m supposed to pee in this cup and then bring it back to you, right?”

I didn’t want to be the crazy foreigner who misheard the nurse and showed everyone her pee. But that’s exactly what I was supposed to do. To make matters even more embarrassing, the urine test station wasn’t even conveniently located next to the restrooms, you had to walk down to the other end of the hall, pee in your paper cup, and then carefully, without spilling and while trying to prevent any of your neighbors from seeing your pee, walk all the way back down the hall.

Had I not been taking part in the ordeal, it would have been a comical sight watching everyone carefully trying to not bump into each other and spill open cups of urine all over the floor. It reminded me of the little old man at the Hiroshima Carp’s baseball game trying to navigate the crowds with his steaming hot bowl of udon noodles…except we were carrying a different kind of yellow liquid. Once I made it back to the urine test lady, she immediately tested it and commented, “Oh, your pee is very clean, isn’t it.” I hope the 5 or 6 people around me were impressed with this because they all heard it.

I then continued to run the gauntlet of other medical tests, all done in front of my coworkers, people of the village, and random doctors who came to the island for this wondrous occasion. There was a hearing test, eye exam, blood pressure test, blood test, EKG, and teeth check. I was hidden behind a screen during the EKG which required my shirt and bra to be pulled up, but there was nothing stopping anyone from accidentally coming in.

The first time around, this experience was very surprising and may have even scarred me a little. Having only been living in Japan for less than a year at the time, I was still the freedom loving American who was used to her privacy. This time around, it was still a little jarring, but not quite as bad. From taking embarrassing medical tests in front of everyone, to always being asked “where are you going?” whenever I leave the island, to the myriad of over the top and overly personal questions that come my way, I’m starting to get used to the group-oriented society in Japan, “letting it all hang out” and relinquishing a bit of the privacy that I once took for granted in America. Michelle is originally from California, but currently living in the tiny fishing village of Chibu, one of the Oki islands in Japan. Being one of two foreigners living in an island village of a little over 600 people presents many adventures.

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non article. This has been written about in various forms many times before. I was disappointed

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Jeez, Michelle, get over it already. Seeing your pee? Oh my!

2 ( +4 / -2 )

This should be filed under "another newbie discovers Japan."

But then again, since there are so many people coming here fresh every year, this stuff is always new.

Haters gonna hate.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I'm okay with this article. It's not the same type of boring 'newbie discovers..' and it's something that foreigners actually should be aware of before coming here.

Personally, when it comes to work, I keep almost everything truly personal completely private, especially medical issues, as I know that pretty much no-one there can be trusted to keep anything to themselves. It's gets quite aggravating sometimes how... 'talkative' some of them are.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There is privacy depending on the quality of the clinic or hospital you visit. Some are super automated and incredibly efficient. But others ancient like the ones in the countryside.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Depends on the situation for health checks. Some companies or small towns are like in the story. Some people go to a hospital with their coworkers to get it done and it is all conducted rather privately. I'm very lucky because I arrange to go by myself to a hospital I like and then just send the results to my company when I get them. But I find that most people are very understanding if you say that you rather not discuss something. But maybe I've just had good luck.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well.... if you've gone to Japan to live or work for a couple years or more - then you really should have expected beforehand that many facets of life are very different to what you are used to.

I would have thought it's common knowledge that Japan doesn't molly coddle it's immigrants - unlike Australia where you can move here, only speak your native language and still get full access to all government services.

Author needs to get over it or move back to California

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Japan is very eco here - no plastic, only paper cups (let's hope the cup is made of recycled paper). Who cares if anyone sees you pee anyway? What I find to be a real privacy problem is going to the hospital. First the nurse asks you in front of everybody what your problem is. Then the place you are being examined is only separated by a thin curtain and everybody can hear the doctor's diagnosis. That is just - shinjirarenai and shouldn't happen in developed countries.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Firstly, there's tons of privacy in Japan. It's just that they draw the boundary lines in different places.

Secondly, welcome to living in a different culture. Perhaps you should try living in a few more countries before your start writing articles Michelle.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Glad for this article because I feel the same..I've been living here jn Japan for more than 30 years now, and it's just getting not only happens in a small towns like Chibu..I live in Tokyo and it does happen here..what about when they call your name out loud and hand you the cup and tell you in detail what to do in front of prying eyes....omg, I just get so embarrassed..

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Forget about the test conditions, I have to send my full results to my company head office. I think it's none of their business. Yes they pay, but I'd rather pay and keep it private

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had a bit of a giggle when I got my flu shot in the bum and not my arm! The nurse kept telling me to 'mombu mombu'!

Yes, Japan is different in many ways

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The nurse kept telling me to 'mombu mombu'!

You've been had! The nurses just wanna see your bum!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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