How to Handle Pregnancy in Japan
Konnichi-wa, Little One!
Maybe you've been living in Japan for years...or maybe you've only just arrived. Regardless of your situation, it can be a scary situation if you find yourself pregnant and don't know what to do next. Here are some tips that might assist from my own experience.
First, you might realize you're pregnant once you've missed your period or maybe you're even feeling some symptoms at this point. The first thing to do will be taking a pregnancy test. You can find these over the counter at any drug store, such as Aoki. Pregnancy test is "Ninshin Kensayaku" (妊娠検査薬) in Japanese. The way this test works is very similar to American pregnancy tests. The window on the right is the control window, and the window on the left is the hCG detector.
Japanese Women's Clinics
When you are about six to eight weeks pregnant, you should go to a women's clinic. These clinics are often open around 9 AM, close for lunch, then reopen for the afternoon. (Every clinic is different though, so be sure to check before you arrive!) You don't need an appointment, but it's recommended to go right when they open so you don't fall to the back of the line.
Even if you speak some Japanese, you should bring along some sort of electronic dictionary (I recommend an iPhone app). You can type in medical words that are asked of you, or you may even find someone as patient enough as I did who will type in the words for you. This process isn't impossible to do without a translator!
At the clinic, you will be asked to pee in a cup then go in to see the doctor. The doctor will ask you a few questions at his or her desk before you go in for an ultrasound. The ultrasound is done in a chair that raises and rotates electronically. You are completed separated from the doctor by a curtain and have a private television screen to watch of the ultrasound in progress.
Pregnancy-related costs are not covered by Japanese health insurance because it's not a form of "sickness." However, clinic costs are decently low in comparison to the US. For example, a checkup and ultrasound are less than $40. Also, Japanese women's clinics are very female-oriented. This might be expected since it's for women, but the Japanese take it to another level. Just be prepared for medical help with a "kawaii" (or cute) influence.
Reporting Your Pregnancy
Once you have your pregnancy confirmed by a doctor, you need to report it to your city office. You will receive a Mother and Child Handbook (ぼしけんこてちょ) that records all of your prenatal visits and the child's well-being to six-years-old (or the age of primary school). You can also ask to receive the English bilingual copy of this book. (It's available in English, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Tagalog, Portuguese, Indonesian, and Spanish.)
The city office will give you information about your prenatal checkups and possibly even vouchers for some of the fees. In this packet of information, you will also receive the document you need to register your child's birth (within fourteen days).
Japanese Attitude Towards Pregnancy
The Japanese maternity package is very different from America. In fact, many working Japanese women will quit their jobs once they find out they're pregnant and stay home. It's still very traditional to only be pregnant if you are married, so the father can continue working. If the mother chooses to continue working, she usually goes on maternity leave about a month before the baby is due at 100% pay. Additionally, after the baby is born, she will continue to receive 60-100% of full pay while on maternity leave for three months. If that's not enough, you can also take what's called a Child Leave of Absence for up to three years at about 50% of your pay.
There's also a different attitude towards pregnancy. Many people will treat you very "carefully" and recommend you don't do any strenuous activity. Pre-natal vitamins are not stressed as much here, but they can still be found in drug stores if you look hard enough in the "baby" section. Also, there isn't the same stigma towards eating sushi while pregnant as there is in America.
If you do find yourself pregnant while living in Japan, take care to follow what YOU think is best. Try to stay in contact with a doctor from your home as much as possible to answer your questions according to your own culture. Be prepared for extra fuss and many unique experiences. But remember this isn't a cultural experience, it's a personal one!