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A Commentary on Pap Smears

In the States, we call the smear the Pap smear. As far as I know, most doctors in Japan understand “pap”. You can also talk to TELL about translations.

So, you want to get a smear in Japan? If you are under 35 and not married, it is considered sort of taboo (even my landlord who is the daughter of a mid-wife was shocked when I asked for one). If you are either or both of the above, congrats! It is now sociable acceptable to get one.

Sorry, I just wanted to give you some cultural background. Don’t let it scare you off. Once you say you are from a country where it is normal to get one once a year, you are okay.

You can go to a local clinic but your confidentiality may not be respected, and of course, there is the language barrier.

Private clinics can be cheap, but they do not take as much of the National Insurance. Public hospitals do, but there still might be a small consultation fee (no more than 3,000 yen).

I had to go back for the results of my Pap. Since mine was abnormal, I had the option of getting it done in Japan or waiting until I went back home in the summer. I opted for the later, but the National Insurance did not pay for it (our medical coverage will only cover emergency treatment back in our home country).

Other Paps have been okay, but I always had to go back to get the results. I finally explained to my doctor that it was difficult for me to keep coming back, so he allowed me to call to get the results.

If you need time off to go to the doctor and your supervisor pushes the issue, be prepared for questions about why you need to go. However, once you do go, they are usually too embarrassed to pursue the issue further for subsequent visits.

One big difference in the Pap is how the exam itself is conducted. Many foreign women are shocked the first time they go to a Japanese gynecologist. In the States, you lie on a table an you are able to look at the doctor the whole time in a private room.

In Japan, you only undress below the waist and sit up in a chair. There are stirrups to spread your upper thighs across and then they draw a curtain to your waist. You may also be in a room where there are six other exams going on aat the same time (thought you can not see each other).

I was not happy not being able to see the doctor, so I asked that he keep the curtain open. He says that they close it because Japanese women are shy, but if it makes you uncomfortable, speak up and ask that you can see what s/he is doing.

Another big difference from what I am used to is that there is a hose of water in you during the entire procedure, even when they are taking samples to be tested. A nurse will dab you dry when the exam is done.

If you are also interested in birth control, public hospitals have limited options. You can get the Pill at a private clinic (around 3,000 yen a month) but contrary to public belief, the dosage is actually higher, not lower, than Western countries.