Yakkan Shoumei, or How to Import Medications

Thinking of bringing medication with you to Japan? I know I most definitely am… I had pretty bad acne and have to take medication every once in a while to deal with occasional flareups. I also am planning on bringing a year’s supply of birth control with me when I come. And I already have a bunch of ibuprofen/miscellaneous over the counter meds that I’ve gathered in preparation for the move. Though none of those things *seem* particularly harmless (disclaimer: I’m not a pharmacist), Japan has some pretty strict rules for bringing any kind of medicine into the country.

Here’s a handy list of the types and amounts you can bring into Japan without the Yakkan Shoumeisho (Certificate to Import Medication):

Prescription Medicines: 1 month supply or less
(includes birth control pills)
Non-prescription Medicines:
(e.g. hair dye, eye drops)
 2 month supply or less
(includes contact lenses)
Vitamins: 4 month supply or less
Over-the-counter treatments:
(e.g. cosmetics, sanitary items)
24 pieces or less per item
(for external use only)
Asthma inhalers: 1 per person
Psychotropic drugs:
(e.g. Ritalin)
1 month supply ONLY if it contains 1.7g or less of methylphenidate
Syringes None without prior permission
(i.e. the Yakkan Shoumei)

In addition, there are some medical products that are restricted, meaning no amount is permitted in Japan:

  • Products containing more than 10% pseudoephedrine
  • Methadone
  • Stimulants (amphetamine and methamphetamine, including Adderall)
  • Psychotropic drugs containing more than 1.8g of methylphenidate

This also includes a bunch of common over the counter medications:

  • Tylenol Cold
  • Nyquil/Dayquil and their Liquicaps (I packed some of these in my bag! Someone remind me to take them out!!)
  • Actifed
  • Sudafed
  • Advil Cold & Sinus
  • Dristan Cold (“No Drowsiness”)
  • Dristan Sinus
  • Drixoral Sinus
  • Vicks brand inhalers

I know, right? Looks like a lot of us may need the Yakkan Shoumei… However, I do know many people who brought more than this amount into Japan without a Yakkan Shoumei. (They weren’t trying to smuggle anything into Japan; they just weren’t aware that it was necessary. I mean, when I was studying abroad I had never heard of this before either!) You can take that risk, but know that if your bags get inspected and you’re found with more than the permitted amount without the Yakkan Shoumei, customs officials have the right to confiscate your medication… And you’re not getting it back. (I also know a few people who have had this happen to them. Yikes.) However, this only applies to medications that aren’t illegal in Japan (so, items in the table, not in the bulleted “restricted” list). Recently, an American ALT was jailed in Japan for her Adderall. In the Interac seminar, they also told us a story about how police raided an ALT’s house and arrested him after his friends mailed him some joints hidden in a stuffed animal as a joke.

That being said, obtaining a Yakkan Shoumei takes 3-4 weeks. It’s not a particularly difficult process. You can find a full walkthru from the MHLW here. When applying, you need to submit these documents:

  1. Import Report of Medication (two copies for each medication)
  2. Explanation of Pharmaceutical Product (one for each medication you’re planning to import)
  3. Medical Prescription (one for each medication, which includes your doctor’s signature)
  4. Document indicating arrival time and place (such as your airline ticket or itinerary)
  5. Return envelope

If you’re landing at Narita Airport, send your information here:
Pharmaceutical Inspector
Section of Inspection and Guidance,
Kanto-Shin’etsu Regional Bureauof Health and Welfare
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Saitama-Shintoshin Godochosha 1, 7th floor,
1-1 Shintoshin, Chuo-ku, Saitama City,
Saitama Prefecture, JAPAN 330-9713

If you’re landing at Kansai/Chubu Airport, send your information here:
Pharmaceutical Inspector
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

For a more comprehensive list and further explanation, please also see the US Embassy and Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Again, it’s just a lot of paperwork. It’s a fairly easy process, you just need to gather a bunch of the proper documents! I haven’t started my application yet (and probably won’t be able to start until June or so since I need to know my placement/which airport I’ll be flying into as well as dates!) but I’ll let you know how it goes once I do. 🙂

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