Japan is (fairly) quite strict about what drugs you can import, and in what quantities you can import them. The Ministry of Health has guidelines on what you can bring, and if want to bring anything more, you’ll need to apply for a Yakkan Shoumei (Certificate to Import Medication), which basically gives you permission to do that.
I personally had a bit of a nightmare trying to get my medication together before I even got to apply for the Yakkan Shoumei. I’m severely allergic to fish, and haven’t purposely eaten it since I had a massive reaction when I was two. Doctors told me in the past that I absolutely need to carry an EpiPen at all times because it’s so severe, but I never did because I knew what to avoid, and I’ve only ever reacted to things that were mislabelled (curse you, school canteen “Cheese and Tomato Pizza Pinwheel (Vegetarian)” that for some reason had a massive random glop of tuna in the middle). However, when I did decide that I wanted an EpiPen for Japan, my doctors’ surgery had conveniently lost all records of me ever having had a fish allergy so I wasn’t allowed an EpiPen so I had to wait two weeks for blood test results to prove that I did in fact have a fish allergy and thus was allowed to be prescribed an EpiPen. Nightmare.
On the bright side – applying for and receiving my Yakkan Shoumei was comparably easy and quick to sort out! Unfortunately, I didn’t find The Ministry of Health’s website that helpful, so here’s a handy dandy guide to legally importing your medication. Cheeky disclaimer, this is all stuff I found out by pulling together a few different sites. If you have questions, it’ll be a whole lot faster to just e-mail the relevant authority rather than ask me.
What can I take with me?
This is what you can bring into Japan for personal use only without needing to apply for a Yakkan Shoumei (from what I can find, a month’s supply is equivalent to 30 tablets, 1 inhaler, or 1-2 syringes):
(Note: I’ve been told this table doesn’t work very well on mobile, so if you can’t see it either go on a bigger screen or request the desktop site, there’s a button for that on iOS)
|Prescription Drugs||< 1 month’s supply||Includes contraceptive pill|
|Drugs for External Use||Up to 24 per item||I presume this means creams and things like that, as long as they aren’t prescription|
|Injectable Drugs and Syringe for the drug||< 1 month’s supply||“Pre-filled Syringe” or “Self-Injection Kit” only
(Some sites say none at all but the official site only states the above, so it would be worth checking)
|Other Drugs/Quasi Drugs (Skin lightening drugs)||< 2 months’ supply||Includes hayfever tablets, paracetamol, ibuprofen, hair dye, eye drops|
|Cosmetics, Sanitary Items (Anything non-prescription and externally applied)||Up to 24 per item||e.g: You can bring a maximum of 24 lipsticks, regardless of brand or colour, in case you were thinking you could cheat the system by bringing your entire J*ffr*e St*r collection (although why would you want to do that? why would you give that lizard so much of your money eeww gross) just because he sells some mattes and some metallics|
|Home Medical Devices||1 set||e.g: electric massaging tools
(Note: this doesn’t include medical devices used under doctor’s orders, such as CPAP machines)
The Japanese embassy in Australia puts EpiPens and insulin pens in this category, and says you can have 1 or 2 without needing to apply for a Yakkan Shoumei.
|Disposable Contact Lenses||< 2 months’ supply|
|Vitamins||< 4 months’ supply|
|Asthma Inhalers||1 per person|
|Psychotropic drugs||< 1 month’s supply||ONLY if it contains 1.7g or less of methylphenidrate|
You must apply for a Yakkan Shoumei if you intend to take any more than the above stated into the country.
The rules are also a lot stricter when it comes to other medicine:
- You must apply for a Narcotic Certificate if you intend to take any amount of narcotics (codeine, morphine, etc.) into Japan, and you must have a prescription to certify that they are for personal use (you’ll need to have this too for any other medication you’re declaring, but y’know, it bears repeating after all)
- Some medicines, such as Roaccutane, still require a Yakkan Shoumei regardless of how much you intend to take with you.
- Some psychotropic medicines may require a Yakkan Shoumei, depending on how much you intend to take with you. A guide can be found here on page 6. However, you do need a Yakkan Shoumei if you take the Psychotropic in injection form.
- Stimulant medicines are illegal to bring into the country in any amount. This includes:
- Amphetamine (Adderall contains both these; the Japanese Embassy in Australia suggests Ritalin, Concerta, or Vyvanse as alternatives as these are classified as psychotropic medicines, and so you can still use them if you apply for a Yakkan Shoumei. Obviously it’s best to talk to your doctor if this comes up for you personally, though)
- Pseudophedrine Hyrochloride (this is in basically all cold and flu medicine – Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, Lemsip, etc… Doesn’t anyone in Japan ever get the sniffles? Oh wow)
- Any products containing more than 10% Pseudophedrine
If you take more than you’re allowed without approval, customs officials have the right to confiscate your medication, and if you try to import anything illegal, you can be arrested. (Spooky ooky)
Uuugh this blog post is so serious all this talk of importing drugs and getting arrested here’s a pug eating watermelon awwww
How do I apply for a Yakkan Shoumei/Narcotics Certificate?
Here is a Q&A by the Ministry of Health about the Yakkan Shoumei, followed by the forms themselves and a sample to help fill them out.
The application comprises three parts:
- The import report of medication (you’ll need 2 copies of this; some people fill it out for each product for piece of mind but the Q&A as far as I can tell just asks for two copies)
- Explanation of Pharmaceutical Products (you’ll need to fill this document out once per product)
- Explanation of Products (you only need to fill this in for medical devices; I think this includes EpiPens/insulin pens, if that applies to you)
You will also need:
- A copy of your prescription or a letter from your doctor stating directions on how to take the medicine (your pharmacy will take your prescription from you when they fill it so be sure to scan a copy before you take it in!). This will need to have been issued within 6 months of your application to be valid. I learned this the hard way, because obviously back in January when I got my last inhaler I didn’t think to copy my prescription, and equally as obviously, January was over 6 months ago now so I’m gonna have to get a whole new couple of inhalers, which is really sad because I put stickers on this one I have now. RIP stickers.
- Document indicating arrival date and place (so a copy of your flight itinerary, basically)
- If you want your Yakkan Shoumei to be sent to you by post, you must provide an addressed return envelope with Japanese stamps (or a Coupon – Réponse International whatever one of those is idk I’m not a postlady). The envelope should be 14~23.5cm long and 9~12cm wide. (However, it is still recommended that you clearly write down your e-mail address or fax number on your Import Report of Medication, so that they can get in touch quickly if you’ve messed up somewhere)
- If you want your Yakkan Shoumei to be sent to you via email or fax (because Japan still faxes if you’re feeling retro; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fax machine), just write your e-mail address or fax number clearly on the Import Report of Medication.
- This person also recommends writing a letter explaining that you are asking for a Yakkan Shoumei and why, while also including your e-mail, name, where you are studying, what medications you are bringing in and why, and your date of arrival and departure. While, from what I can tell, the Pharmaceutical Inspector doesn’t request this with your application, it might be a nice idea to include it to summarise your whole application, particularly if it’s quite long.
- The same person I mentioned just also recommends separating your application into several e-mails if you have quite a few prescriptions to apply for and thus will have quite a large .PDF file to submit. (Note: I applied for three different medications and personally did not do this; I just made a separate .PDF file for each application, and another for my flight itinerary, and attached them all to the same e-mail. So, up to you how you do it.)
“When emailing Japan, there is a limit on file size, so it is in your best interest to break it down. I had 3 separate emails. I asked for a read receipt. I also flagged my email as high priority. My email subject was Yakkan Shoumei number 1 of 3, next email subject was Yakkan Shoumei number 2 of 3 … you get the picture.”
If you’re submitting your application by post, the address you send it to depends on your arrival airport.
If you’re arriving at Narita International Airport or Haneda International Airport, the address/fax/e-mail you should use is:
Section of Inspection and Guidance,
Kanto-Shin’etsu Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Saitama-Shintoshin Godochosha 1, 7th floor,
1-1Shintoshin, Chuo-ku, Saitama City,
Saitama Prefecture, JAPAN 330-9713
(Note: the Kanto-Shin’etsu Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare won’t fax you your Yakkan Shoumei, so if you’re a Narita or Haneda babe, I’m afraid you unfortunately won’t be able to feel your 90s fantasy)
If you’re arriving at Kansai, Chubu, or Fukuoka Airport, you send your documents to this address:
Section of Inspection and Guidance,
Kinki Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare,
Ohue Building,7th floor,
1-1-22 Nonin Bashi,
Osaka City, Chuo-ku, Osaka Prefecture, JAPAN 540-0011
E-mail: : email@example.com
If you have any questions (because oh god don’t ask me), these are also the contact details that you can use for them.
The application form for a Narcotics Certificate can be found here:
The Japanese Embassy in Australia (it has a lot more information than the UK website, for some reason) states that the application includes an import and export form, so you should estimate how many tablets you will have left over when leaving the country (and are therefore exporting), and state this amount on the export form. If it is a take-when-needed medicine as opposed to a timed one, it says to put the full amount that you will import on the export form.
If you’re arriving at Narita or Haneda airport, then you should send your application or any enquiries to:
Narcotics Control Department
Kanto – Shin’etsu Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare
2-1, Kudanminami 1 chome, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
If you’re arriving at Kansai, Chubu, or Fukuoka airport, you should send your application or any enquiries to:
Narcotics Control Department,
Kinki Regional Bureau of Health and Welfare
1-76, Otemae 4 chome, Chuo-ku, Osaka City,
If you have any questions about anything, the Japanese embassy in Australia recommends e-mailing the pharmaceutical inspector with these details, to make it easier for them to help you:
- If your application is urgent (E.g. you are leaving in a couple of days), please put URGENT in your email subject line and mention it in your email. But please note if you sent your application a day or two before you are due to leave, you may not receive the certificate/permission in time (they receive applications from all over the world). You also need to be aware of Japan’s business hours, public holidays and the time difference between Australia and Japan.
- Medicine Name
- Active Ingredient
- Medicine Quantity (E.g. 1 month’s supply, 30 tablets or more than 2g)
- Flight details
- Travel Dates while in Japan
- Arrival/Departure Airport
- Doctors letter, certificate or prescription if you have it
What comes next?
I’ve seen a few timelines given in regards to how long everything should take, although obviously it’s much longer if you do it by post. Generally, you should give a week each way for postage, so it’s estimated 3 – 4 weeks via post. I haven’t seen much in the way of timelines for e-mail (apart from the author of this blog saying they recieved their certificates about a week after they “received [their] emails and checked everything out” so it’s perhaps more 2-3 weeks, allowing for business days and national holidays (Japan has quite a few).
Update 21/08/2017: My friend sent hers via e-mail and received it back within 12 hours. I sent mine at about 5pm on Friday and got it today (Monday) at 10am. So its quite quick to sort out! (The e-mail I received was also adorable; it began with How do you do?)
Your certificates will be your forms but with a special stamp on them, so you just print them and take them with you in your carry-on, to give to customs when you arrive at your destination. I’d say print out the scans of your prescriptions too, because better safe than sorry. I’m also gonna keep all my medication in my carry-on too. I don’t know if that’s necessary (most likely is) but I always keep my inhalers (and now, my EpiPens) on me for safety anyway.
The Japanese Embassy in Australia say that you can bring your medication in any old way you like, as long as you can explain what it all is at customs – but I imagine it’d make your life so much easier if you just leave it in the original packaging, with the box and information sheet. From this TripAdvisor thread, it might also be an idea to print off some information sheets in Japanese about your medication, although I’m not entirely sure how necessary that is if you already have your handy dandy Yakkan Shoumei to the rescue. I’m personally not going to bother, because uughh I have so much paper to carry alreadyyyy my entire baggage allowance is gonna be paperworkkkkkk.
I am by no means an expert – in truth I don’t know anything (I mean I’m a languages student, not a pharmacist, or a lawyer, or a politician, or a drug dealer). I was really confused about how to apply for the Yakkan Shoumei so I wrote this to bring all the information I could find together to clarify it all a bit before I started. This is all retrieved from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’s page on pharmaceutical importation laws, the Embassy of Japan in Australia’s guide on Bringing Medicine into Japan, some JET program guide I randomly found on Google, and a few blogs.
Congrats on getting through all this, here is another doggy:
藤本美貴 – ロマンティック 浮かれモード
Fujimoto Miki – Romantic Ukare Mode (Romantic Festive Mode)