Doctors are addressed as “Sensei” in Japanese. That’s the same term used for teacher, professor and priest. Traditionally, people with the title of “Sensei” are not questioned. They are the keepers of knowledge, and their students/followers/patients are passive recipients. Patients who ask questions may be seen as offensive or irritating. Non-Japanese patients may think their doctors are secretive or even rude. For this reason, internationals tend to identify and seek doctors who are culturally sensitive to their needs, and some clinics specialize in treating internationals. We didn’t take that route, primarily because we didn’t have a car and don’t live near to such a place.
One more thing worth understanding is that the medical profession does not have the social standing in Japan that it enjoys in some other places. In Japan, social status is determined by the group you belong to. If you are in a more solitary profession, such as doctors or dentists, you don’t have a group to belong in that gives you status. You may earn lots of money, but you don’t have the social rewards that go with it. In short, doctors may try to preserve their authority and respect in their clinics and hospitals, because they lack status outside their own environments.
Finally, the doctors we saw were incredibly busy. They were seeing and delivering babies all day. We have never been asked to schedule an appointment to see any doctor in Japan. Sometimes you could see the doctor right away. Other times the waiting room would be packed with thirty or more women. Once when we were visiting the “famous” maternity clinic, a nurse announced to a packed waiting room that the doctor would not see anyone for the next half hour, because he was delivering a baby.
When a doctor is seeing over a hundred patients a day, and delivering five or more babies in between consultations, he/she may not have time to answer questions. Our doctor didn’t even dispense basic advice. He didn’t say anything about nutrition. There was no mention of calcium intake, and he discouraged taking vitamins. His number one response to inquiries was, “Don’t worry about it.” The next doctor, in my wife’s hometown, was easier to talk to and more forthcoming. However, he also gave no substantial suggestions beyond his plans for the actual delivery. We had one appointment in which we spent about 30 minutes asking him questions. When we left there was a line of women waiting in the hallway. We felt a bit guilty, but it was a relief to finally talk with him about the process.