The cherry blossom, or sakura, is the lovely pale-pink flower that’s ubiquitous in the Japanese landscape each spring. Not only is it a symbol of Japan and a recurring image in the country’s art and culture, but it is actually somewhat of a cultural phenomenon: one that inspires nightly “blooming forecasts,” numerous cherry blossom festivals, and guided viewing tours all throughout the land.
As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to triple the number of annual overseas visitors by 2030 through new forms of tourism, perhaps the beauty of cherry blossom season and the sakura excursions so popular with tourists could provide a model for other types of tours to take advantage of Japan’s extreme natural beauty.
An alternative type of travel that already receives the support of Abe’s government is that of healthcare holidays, and many medical facilities and specialized travel agents are aiding the efforts by promoting Japan medical tourism in earnest. Recognizing the growing demand of people from overseas in search of more affordable treatments than what they can receive at home, key stakeholders in the medical industry are hoping to cash in on what Japan can offer to patients from abroad.
There is a golden opportunity for Japan to challenge Asian health-tourism leaders like Thailand, India, and Singapore and to become a serious competitor in this fast-growing industry. As most people know, the country is a global hi-tech pioneer and this includes their healthcare system. Medical travelers are heading there for check-ups/diagnostic exams that use the latest technology in CT (computed tomography) scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, and cutting-edge PET (positron emission tomography) scans for detecting early-stage cancer in an array of state-of-the-art healthcare facilities and numerous Joint Commission International (JCI)-accredited hospitals and medical centers.
In addition to excellence in scanning for the presence of cancer, Japan’s clinics and hospitals are also well-known for advanced cancer treatment with several facilities specializing in various forms of the disease including Tokyo’s Cancer Institute Hospital which is part of the esteemed Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research. Founded in 1934, the Cancer Institute Hospital is now an ultra-modern facility providing expert diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of cancers including pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer and more.
Other medical specialties in Japan include fertility treatments, orthopedics, cardiology, and a variety of holistic alternative techniques and treatments such as the use of traditional medicine to treat ailments such as hair loss, obesity, and impotence; aromatherapy, wellness-spa therapy, and homeopathy; and traditional Chinese medicine like acupuncture, plus traditional Japanese treatments like reiki which is where therapists transfer energy through the palms to allow for self-healing.
Visiting Japan is easy. Tourists from many countries like France, Germany, Australia, Canada, Singapore, the UK, and the US can enter for up to 90 days without a visa, and others will require a visa for their 90-days stay. And in 2011, the government introduced a Medical Stay Visa which is valid for up to three years with a maximum stay of 180 days.
So travelers aren’t just heading to the Land of the Rising Sun for sumo, sushi, cherry blossoms, and Mt. Fuji: nowadays, overseas patients recognize the vast opportunities for low-cost, world-class healthcare, too.