Our baby’s first tattoo…and navigating vaccinations in Japan

Well, we survived V day last week. Praise the Lord. Haha…ok, so it really was not as dramatic as I would have you believe. Luckily, she does not yet have the capacity to recognize the doctor’s office and associate it with pain. In fact, she flashes the sweetest of smiles and gives the cutest of chuckles to the doctor as he arranges her on my lap, thinking she’s won over a new friend to cuddle and fuss over her. Talk about leading a lamb to the slaughter. Talk about the guilt I feel in my gut when she looks up at me with those big brown watery “woe is me” eyes after the fact. Ouch. I have noticed though, that my attempts to cuddle and soothe after the “little” prick have become of less and less effect each time as she becomes more aware of what is happening. On this last occasion she hiccuped and sobbed for a good 10 minutes afterwards and was a little, shall we say, emotionally fragile for the remainder of the day. Oh my heart!

But, it was a noteworthy day because last week’s screeching and sobbing episode was the last of such episodes to be had for 6 months! That’s right, LA has completed her first year vaccinations. Congratulations little girl! And look…complimentary tattoo! This is the stamp of a Japanese bred baby!

Believe it or not, things such as figuring out when and where and how to get vaccinations in Japan were what I was most anxious about when I became pregnant. Thoughts of the delivery and how to take care of a breathing, real-life little human didn’t phase me initially (!), but “cracking the system”, as it were, sure did! I think it was just the fact that all that stuff seemed like a big administrative and unknown black hole to me that was outside of my control…and native language.

Anyway, being Japan, which is well known for being meticulously organized and efficient in many areas (I can’t say all..there are some very inefficient beauracratic processes I really scratch my head at), it was very simple and quite idiot- (non Japanese-lingual-) proof. Here’s how it works*:
*disclaimer: this is how we did it in our city anyway. Whether we did it “correctly”, or whether it varies from city to city is another question, but our baby is all up-to-date  so it worked for us!

Step 1: Registering bubs at the city/ward office

As with all new residents, it is necessary to register bubs at your local city/ward office. If you gave birth in Japan, you are meant to do this within two weeks. All you need to do is take baby’s birth certificate (出生届 shusseitodoke),  your hanko and your Mother and Child Health Handbook (母子手帳 boshiteccho) down to your ward office and fill out the necessary form.  The staff at my local ward office are pretty helpful, so if you don’t speak Japanese, I’m sure you could find your way just by waving the birth certificate at the nearest staff member and they will help you out.

After this has been completed, you should be entered into the system for vaccinations, health checkups and welfare payments. You should also receive your baby’s medical certificate (医療証 iryou shou).

Step 2: Sit by your mailbox and wait for your vaccination book!

If you have correctly completed Step 1, around the time your baby turns 2 months, you will receive a package in the post with everything you need for your baby’s first year of routine (aka free) vaccinations. This will differ from city to city, but in Kawasaki this included a sheet of sticky labels with a barcode for each injection to be received (these are your coupons), a booklet of forms to fill out, a schedule for routine vaccinations and a list of local family medical clinics.

Step 3: Choose a clinic and book an appointment for the first injections

You should explain that this is the first lot of vaccinations (予防接種 yobousesshu), and they will then confirm with you the vaccinations to be received on this first visit. If your baby is 2 months old, she can receive both Hib(ヒブ Hibu) and Pneumococcus
( 肺炎球菌 haienkyukin) on the first visit.

Step 4: Fill out the forms for the first injections

For each injection to be received you need to fill out a form that includes a questionnaire about your baby’s birth, general health and condition that day. You also need to take the baby’s temperature on the day of the injection, and note it on the form. In my case, I just do this at the clinic as they ask all patients to take their temperature upon arrival anyway. If your baby’s temperature is above 37.5 or she isn’t feeling well that day, they will ask you to reschedule.

After filling out one form for each injection, you stick the corresponding sticky label coupon onto the correct form.

Step 5: Turn up for the shots!

You will need to take your completed forms, Mother and Child Health Handbook and Medical Certificate with you to the clinic.

From there, the clinic staff will take care of everything else. In my case (and I expect this would be the same at most clinics), the staff organized our vaccination schedule and booked us in for our future appointments. So from there, all I needed to do was turn up on the right day with the right forms (I always took the whole book of forms and coupons with me anyway, in case my poor baby brain got confused). There are certain rules as to how much time you need to wait in between each shot, so I was glad I didn’t have to figure this out for myself!

In the first year, the only exception to the above is for the BCG shot (aka Japanese baby tattoo), which takes place at your local ward office health centre. For this you will receive a notification in the mail as to the dates available (your baby can get the BCG, I think, between 4 months and 12 months – you just choose the date you prefer). This is also explained at the 3 month health check-up. In my city, I did not need to make an appointment – I could just turn up on one of the dates indicated. I have to say, this was a bit of an experience…a whole room full of naked crying babies is not something you see every day!

Note that there are routine vaccinations, which are free, and also voluntary vaccinations that are available, but cost money. My doctor stresses to me every time I visit that Japan is a late adopter of many vaccinations and that it is worthwhile paying for some of the voluntary ones. For example,  Hepatatis B is voluntary in Japan, while it is often a fully-funded vaccination in other countries.

I haven’t sat down to do a proper comparison between Japan and New Zealand vaccinations yet…but it is on my (ever expanding) to do list! So maybe our first year of needle pricks is not quite done after all…



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