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Drugstores in Japan are an integral part of daily life, especially when you’re a foreigner who’s not ready to visit a hospital or clinic in Japan (yet). But did you know that Japanese drugstores are different from those in other countries? They offer a wide range of products from skincare and beauty to household daily necessities. But what about pharmacies? Are they different from drugstores?  In this article, we will explore the difference between drugstores and pharmacies, the best things to get in Japanese drugstores, and introduce 5 of the best drugstores you can find in Tokyo and around Japan. 

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Difference Between Drugstore and Pharmacy in Japan

In Japan, drugstores and pharmacies are two different types of establishments that offer different services. 

Drugstore (ドラッグストア)

A drugstore is called ドラッグストア (doraggu suota) in Japanese and written in katakana. A drugstore is a retail store that sells a wide range of health and beauty products, including over-the-counter medication, toiletries, cleaning products, cosmetics, and more. 

Drugstores generally do not handle prescription medicines, the exception being larger drugstore chains. A drugstore that handles prescription medicine will display a sign saying 処方せん受付 (shohousen uketsuke), which means “prescription reception”. 

The interior of a drugstore is similar to that of a supermarket, with products displayed on shelves. If the drugstore handles prescriptions, there will be a counter in the store manned by pharmacists. 

Pharmacy (薬局)

A pharmacy is called “yakkyoku” in Japanese and written in Kanji. In Japan, hospitals and clinics do not dispense medication. After seeing a doctor and receiving treatment, you will be prescribed medication, the prescription is called “処方箋” (shohousen) which is accepted at any pharmacy. Pharmacies are healthcare establishments that specialize in dispensing prescription medicine. Pharmacies are usually located inside hospitals and near clinics. 

Since pharmacies mainly handle prescriptions, their interior is different from a drugstore. There will be a reception counter for receiving prescriptions and insurance cards, separate counters are available for medicine pick-up and payment. Some pharmacies may sell a small selection of health products like energy drinks, cold compresses for fever, etc.  

Best Things to Get in Japanese Drugstores

Japanese supermarkets mainly sell food and drinks but rarely household supplies which are largely found in drugstores. Some supermarkets do sell household supplies but usually in limited numbers and choices. Larger supermarkets may have a separate floor or dedicated area that caters to these items, the so-called “drugstore” area of the store, but again, these are rare. 

Japanese drugstores offer a wide range of products, such as:

  • Skincare Products (facial cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, mask, sunscreen, etc.)
  • Cleaning Products (laundry detergent, dish soap, bleach, etc.)
  • Kitchen Items (cling wrap, aluminium foil, kitchen towel, stove top cover, etc.)
  • Health and Wellness Products (dietary supplements, pain relievers, cold and flu remedies, pain patches, etc.)
  • Food & Snacks (chocolate, throat sweets, biscuits, gummies, energy bar, jelly, etc.)
  • Drinks (water, energy drinks, soft drinks, tea, etc.)  

Among these, here are the best items you should try getting at Japanese drugstores:

Skincare and Beauty Products 

Japanese skincare products are famous for their high quality and suitability for sensitive skin. While you are in Japan, consider trying some Japanese skincare brands that may only be available in Japanese drugstores. Furthermore, drugstore-available skincare products are usually cheaper than branded ones but do not lack in quality.

Popular Japanese Brands: Curel, Biore, Hada Labo, Nameraka Honpo Soy Milk, Keana Nadeshiko, SK-II, Minon, DHC, Kose, Sekkisei, and more. 

Cosmetics Products

Japanese makeup is known for being lighter and more natural looking. Drugstores are a great place to browse for cosmetic products with many brands gathered in one area for easy viewing. There are also testers so you can try it on. 

Popular Japanese Brands: Canmake, KATE TOKYO, Cezanne, Lunasol, Majolica Majorca, Isehan, and more.

Hair Products

With famous hair product brands like Shiseido and Kao that are well known even outside Japan, browsing drugstores for all kinds of hair products is highly recommended. There is usually a whole section dedicated to shampoos, conditioners, treatment, and hair styling products like wax, gel, balm, and more. If you are interested in dyeing your own hair, there are also numerous local Japanese brands to consider. We also recommend getting shampoo to help maintain dyed hair. 

Popular Japanese Brands: Shiseido, Kao, Botanist, Oshima, Tsubaki, & Honey, Diane, Ichikami, and more. 

Bath & Shower Products

Body wash and soap aside, one of the best things to get at drugstores is Japanese bath salts. Soaking in a hot bath after a shower is a huge part of Japanese culture, the same custom as washing yourself before entering a hot spring, which is why most Japanese bathrooms come with shower and bathtub facilities. Part of the fun of enjoying a hot bath is trying different bath salts each time. You can also buy bath salts as souvenirs from hot spring towns to use at home. 

Popular Japanese Brands: Kao Bub, Onpo, Shokubutsu, Biore, CareCera, Botanist, Cow Brand,  Bouncia, and more. 

Health and Wellness Products 

When first visiting a Japanese drugstore, you may be overwhelmed by the many choices available for a single item. For example, if you are looking for eye drops, Japanese eye drops come in many varieties. There are cooling eye drops to make your eyes feel refreshed, eye drops for dryness and allergies, eye drops with added vitamins to improve eye health, eye drops to protect eyes from frequent computer usage, eye drops for nighttime recovery, and more. This is just for eye drops, so imagine the many options for other products too. 

Popular Health and Wellness Products: Salonpas pain relieving patch, ROHTO & Santen brand eye drops, LION foot care patch, Lipovitan D energy drink, supplements, and more. 

5 Best Drugstores in JAPAN 

  Photo by DLKR on Unsplash

We’ve introduced so many good things you can get in Japanese drugstores, but which drugstores to go to? In this part, we introduce 5 of the best drugstores you can find in Tokyo. These are quite big-name drugstores so they are also widely available across Japan. 

Matsumoto Kiyoshi

Originally 2 separate companies, large drugstore companies Matsumotokiyoshi and Cocokara combined to become Matsukiyo Cocokara & Co. in 2021. As of 2022, Matsukiyo Cocokara & Co. have the largest number of drugstores in Japan with over 3,328 stores nationwide. In Japan, we like to shorten them to Matsukiyo. 

The yellow shop display is easy to identify and iconic. Matsukiyo has a large selection of medicinal goods, beauty & cosmetic products, food items, and daily necessities. The good thing about Matsukiyo is that they frequently have promotions and give out discount coupons for you to use on your next visit. They also have a membership system for point collection which can be beneficial if you frequent Matsukiyo Cocokara.

Welcia

Welcia is the second-largest drugstore chain in Japan with 2,667 stores nationwide. Welcia’s business is centered on having drug stores that dispense prescription medications. Some Welcia stores have 24-hour service including prescription medicine dispensation throughout the day. Welcia also has numerous subsidiary drugstores like Happy Drug and more. 

If you are taking long-term medication, it may be a good idea to compare prices between Welcia and your usual pharmacy. There is a chance that Welcia’s prices may be cheaper. 

Tsuruha

The third largest drugstore chain in Japan is Tsuruha with 2,506 stores nationwide. They have their headquarters in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Tsuruha subsidiaries include Kusuri no Fukutaro, Drugstore Wellness, Kyorindo, Kokumin, and more. In 2022, Tsuruha partnered with UberEats Japan to offer product delivery services to customers, which brings us to introduce their online shopping services. Tsuruha has 2 e-shopping services; one for drugstore products, and one for alcohol and food items

Sugi

Aside from operating drugstores, Sugi’s operating company Sugi Holdings is also involved in overall healthcare. Their brands include Sugi Yakkyoku which is a drugstore and pharmacy in one, Sugi Smile which supports the employment of people with disabilities, and Sugi Medical which is a medical institution, pharmacy, and nursing services coordinating network office. It may be worthwhile to give Sugi your business as their corporate social responsibilities and contribution to society is worth supporting. 

Sun Drug

And last but not least, we have Sun Drug which has 1,241 stores in 44 prefectures in Japan. Sundrug has drugstores and also pharmacies. Just like the other drugstores, they have a section selling pharmaceutical goods and cosmetics, and a section for selling everyday household products. They have a relatively large number of chain stores, so you are bound to come across one in Tokyo.

Conclusion

Drug stores in Japan offer a wide range of products that are necessary for a happy, healthy and comfortable stay. From skincare and beauty products to essential toiletries and bath products, and also pain relievers and cough syrups that we may find ourselves needing, there is so much that they have to offer. 

In fact, drugstores in Japan are even popular tourist shopping destinations for face packs and cosmetics which make for excellent souvenirs and gifts for family and friends. In major cities and tourist destinations, the drugstores may even have foreign language support staff due to the frequent tourist customers. Many of these drugstores also offer tax-free shopping, so look out for the sign if you are planning to bring your purchases out of Japan.

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What is the most popular drugstore in Japan?

The biggest drugstore chains in Japan are Matsumoto Kiyoshi, Welcia, and Tsuruha. These 3 drugstore chains have the largest number of operating stores in Japan nationwide.

The most popular drugstore chain in Japan is Matsumoto Kiyoshi, known as MatsuKiyo for short. 

What is the difference between a pharmacy and a drugstore in Japan?

In Japanese, a pharmacy is called “yakkyoku” while a drugstore is called “drugstore” as well but written in Katakana. The difference between them is their offered services. Pharmacies offer dispensation of prescription medicine services, while drugstores are retail shops that sell pharmaceutical products and everyday household items. It is common nowadays to find drugstores that also offer pharmacy services. 

What to buy in Japanese drugstores?

Japanese drugstores offer a wide variety of products including:

  • Pharmaceutical products & OTC medicine
  • Skincare, beauty products and cosmetics
  • Hair, bath, and shower products
  • Health and wellness products
  • Household necessities
  • Kitchen necessities
  • Cleaning products
  • Food & drinks 
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Get Started

With so many things to explore, are you considering living in Japan — perhaps to go to university or work? Enrolling at a Japanese language school might be the perfect option for you, as it will prepare you to get to your next goal.

If you are ready, let Coto School Finder assist you in finding the right program in the city of your choice and applying for a student visa — for free! Contact us by filling out the form!