When living in a foreign country, the relatively mundane can be an adventure. That’s exactly how donating blood in Japan was for me.
Two things I learned were:
1. You don’t have to be a citizen to donate blood in Japan.
2. The blood donation process is basically the same as in the US, but less blood is donated.
As far as the “language requirement” to give blood, if your Japanese is intermediate, you’ll probably be fine donating anywhere in Japan. If you don’t know Japanese, you may want to contact the Japanese Red Cross ahead of time to see if English materials (or materials in your native language) can be provided.
In this post, I’ll talk about my personal experience giving blood in Japan and provide links to information on blood donation in Japan.
Tokyo Blood Donation
Around 5 pm on a Saturday, when I was about to head back to my apartment from a walk in Ginza, I saw someone holding a sign saying 献血 (kenketsu). As you might guess from the article title, the Japanese word “kenketsu” means blood donation. I had been vaguely aware that Yurakucho had a Japanese Red Cross Society blood donation center (called 赤十字血液センター). However, I had never given blood in Japan. Since I had time, why not give blood in Tokyo?
Reception at Yurakucho Blood Donation Center
The woman with the sign led me up to the 9th floor of the building. After putting my bags in a little locker next to the reception desk, I went to sign in.
Japanese Red Cross Screening Questions
All of the paperwork and questions were in Japanese. Fortunately, the man behind the counter explained some of the more difficult screening questions in English and Japanese. The Japanese Red Cross screening questions were very similar to the American Red Cross questions. Most of the questions had to do with:
1. Travel to foreign countries
2. Current condition, past disease or family history of disease
3. “High risk” behaviors (drug use, certain sexual behaviors, etc.)
Answering the questions is mostly done by pressing a “yes” or “no” button on a computer screen. But I had to ask the attendant about the meaning of a few of the questions. To my embarrassment, I ended up having to ask about the question involving prostitution. This has been a motivator to improve my Japanese vocabulary.
Blood Donation Medical Screening and Blood Test
After reassuring the attendant that I had not been to certain countries in South American or Europe, I was told to take my blood pressure and then go into a medical screening room. In that room, another attendant asked a few more questions about my health and gave me the go-ahead to get a blood test. In the US, they normally test your blood with a finger prick, but at this Tokyo blood donation center, they drew blood from the crook of my elbow.
After “passing” the blood test, the nurse told me to grab a warm drink from the free drink vending machines before donating. Passing up the strawberry cocoa, milk tea, and green tea, I went for the regular hot cocoa. Like in the US, they instruct you to eat before giving blood; I’d already eaten some gyudon (beef bowl with rice) just 10 minutes before but ate a free cookie for good measure.
Japanese Red Cross Blood Donation
Soon after, I was sitting in a comfortable medical chair with a tiny TV in front of me and a warm pack on my arm. I was told that in the US, often about 600 mL of blood is collected. However, in Japan, only 400 mL is collected. The blood donation probably took only five minutes.
I was then told to wait in the lobby for about 30 minutes. This was to make sure I wouldn’t pass out or anything. The blood donation center provided cookies and cream Haagen-Daaz ice cream to all blood donors. Interestingly, I also got a package of instant rice. The ice cream and Japanese Red Cross reading materials kept me busy while waiting.
In all, blood donation in Japan was pretty painless!
Have you ever donated blood in Japan?
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Japanese Red Cross Society and Japan Blood Donation Links
GaijinPot’s Blood Donation information (includes info about screening conditions) [in English]
Tokyo Japanese Red Cross Society’s Blood Donation Site [in Japanese]