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Keeping Healthy

Japan--A Land of Raw Fish, Cleanliness, Safety

January 19, 1986|DR. KARL NEUMANN | Neumann is a Forest Hills, N.Y., pediatrician who writes on travel-related matters

Japan, the land of Mt. Fuji, hot baths, raw fish, bullet trains and Kabuki dancers, is also the land of cleanliness, health and safety.

In Japan, there are no unusual communicable diseases or tropical illnesses. Tap water and milk are safe to drink. Sanitation is generally on a par with North America and Northern Europe. People with colds wear face masks in the street to prevent the spread of their germs, and blowing one's nose in public is considered impolite. In fact, when Japanese visit America, some find our sanitary conditions not quite up to their standards.

In Japan, you can experience a totally different culture while enjoying Western technology and comforts. But those differences in cultures can get you into hot water. (Hot water is precisely one of those problems. More about that later.)

A Few Timely Tips

Here are some tips for staying healthy, safe and comfortable.

Jet lag: Japan is practically on the other side of the globe from the continental United States and, therefore, there is an almost complete reversal of day and night. Most flights from America land in Japan in the afternoon which is early morning back home.

You can minimize jet lag by napping two or three hours when you reach your hotel. Then have a light dinner, go out and look around. Go to sleep at your customary time.

Most likely you will wake up very early the next morning, probably at 4 or 5 a.m. Get up. Visit the fabulous fish market in downtown Tokyo. Then eat breakfast at your usual time. Take an afternoon nap. Plan afternoon and evening activities. The next morning you will be almost adjusted to Japanese time.

Minimize liquor the first few nights. Alcohol delays recovery from jet lag. One drink of sake is all right. It is a wine, not a whiskey, and servings are generally small.

Check That Medication

Note: If you take medication which must be taken precisely every 24 hours, check with your physician before leaving home. The time difference of 10 to 12 hours may require your taking an extra half dose on your arrival in Japan.

Food: The more authentic your Japanese meal, the more it will consist of an infinite variety of beautifully arranged and gracefully served seaweed, raw fish and raw seafood. Gastronomically, make up your own mind. Most Americans like it.

Healthwise, in many parts of the world, raw fish and seafood are no longer safe to eat. They can cause hepatitis and travelers' diarrhea. However, Japanese health officials claim that strict controls assure that all fish and seafood come from unpolluted waters and are properly refrigerated at all times.

There is one exception: a prized delicacy, fugu. It can kill you, and does so to about two dozen diners each year. The number is down sharply from the year before. The problem: Fugu is the meat of a blowfish and many parts of the fish--the liver, for example--contain a deadly toxin. The Japanese government requires chefs who prepare it to have special licenses.

For less adventurous eaters, there is good Western-type food available everywhere.

Traffic Is the Danger

Street safety: Be alert on the streets. Not for crime. There is virtually none. But for traffic. It moves on the left as in England. Cross only at crosswalks and obey the lights. And unless you are very daring, leave the driving to others.

One minor hazard: taxi doors. Passengers doors are opened automatically by the driver. Stand clear to avoid getting hit.

Helpful telephone numbers: There are two telephone numbers for visitors in need of assistance. Operators speak English.

The Japanese Travel Phone operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The number in Tokyo is 502-1461 and in Kyoto 377-5649.

Tell-A-Phone, the Tokyo English Life Line, is a service for anyone in distress or needing a listener or counselor. The number in Tokyo is 264-4347.

English-Speaking Doctors

Medical Care: Should you need medical attention, get the name of a physician from a large Western-style hotel. These physicians are always on call, speak English, are associated with Western-style hospitals and are accustomed to the ways of Westerners.

Japanese physicians not accustomed to Westerners find foreign visitors a burden, says Robert S. Hillman MD, author of the book, "Traveling Healthy." Japanese patients are less demanding. They are stoical, do not complain, ask few questions, are willing to wait hours for a visit that lasts minutes, do not expect the physician to discuss the diagnosis and do not expect to participate in decision making concerning their treatment.

The reason for a Western-style hospital is that other hospitals are very crowded, few people speak English, the food is strictly Japanese and much of the nursing care is provided by the family of the patient.

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