I’m 35 years old. In Japan this means the start of government-recommended health check-ups. Since my birthday last June I’ve gotten two postcards from the Health Department. One of them was for a free dental checkup, which I could choose from a variety of local dentists. The other was for a $20 (1500 Yen) stomach cancer screening held October 5th (today) in a converted bus at the local elementary school.
The stomach cancer screening meant not drinking alcohol or eating after 8pm the night before. They’re held all over the city so just about every neighborhood hosts a testing point. Most people leave early in the morning to avoid crowds (we went at 5:30am), thus the crowd starts early. The test itself involves drinking a powder with water to create gas in your stomach and then downing two glasses of milky white barium-drink. The barium wasn’t as awful as I expected, though swallowing my burps for the duration of the test was a bit challenging. (I was sternly told by the doctor not to burp at all or I’d have to drink more and start over.) I think it would have been a struggle if I didn’t speak Japanese, as they make you roll around on a moving slab in various directions to get the barium coating right. People are waiting in line behind you so the nurse barks quick orders on how and which way to move. The entire process was over quickly and the results will arrive in a week or two.
Most of these public health tests that they recommend for people 35 and over are free, and even this one is free for those 70 and over. While the tests themselves are not enjoyable I appreciate the proactive role Japan takes in public health and intend to follow most (if not all) of the government recommendations for health checkups that come. I wonder if the United States has a similar system.