Being pregnant and giving birth in Japan was kinda surreal. That’s probably how it is for anybody who goes through the whole process in a foreign country where you don’t know the language. I was fortunate in that Geordie is nearly fully conversable in Japanese. I would never have made it through the experience (in many ways) without him. He was my personal translator, advocate, and troubleshooter the whole time. I might have been able to manage at the Shoji Clinic on my own (with the doctors, that is; the nurses and reception staff would have been beyond my ability), but once we moved to Susono, I needed him to guide the way. And he did so admirably.

Geordie doesn’t blog much, which is too bad, because he’s a good writer (punctuation issues aside). Recently, he posted a list of Japanese words and phrases that were essential to our birthing experience. In his own words, here it is:


Not long ago, I compiled a big list of Japanese words related to pregnancy and child-birth.  I thought these words might be useful to other foreigners planning to have a child in Japan.  As a caveat (though it should go without saying) this is not an all-inclusive list, neither is it any replacement for good language skill.  If you don’t have much Japanese ability, try printing this list and keeping it handy for you (or the OB/GYN staff) to point out the appropriate word.  Or, who knows, if you are Japanese and living in an English speaking country, you might be able to get some use out of this as well.

Feel free to share this list; if it helps just one couple, it will make me a VERY happy man.

The lay out will be: Japanese word – reading – meaning (any comments). [Sara’s note: yeah, I’ll be adding some notes too. Editor’s prerogative.]

産婦人科 – sanfujinka – OB/GYN

妊娠 – ninshin – pregnant

妊婦 – ninpu – pregnant women

赤ちゃん – akachan – baby (more than just ninshin people, including medical experts, will use this: “you have a baby” or “a baby is in there,” etc.  I have not bothered to include “embryo” or “fetus” because akachan is almost always the only word I’ve heard used.)

双子 - futago – twins

分娩 – bunben – labor/childbirth

分娩誘発 – bunben yuuhatsu – induce labor

出産 – shussan – give birth

検査 – kensa – inspection [as in, vaginal examination. Funny-as-in-weird story: when I was in labor with Lauren, every time the doctor wanted to examine me, the nurses would try to make Geordie leave. Apparently, having a non-doctor man in the room was an invasion of the woman’s privacy, even if that male was the husband. We had to expain that I wanted him there to at least four different nurses. Also, during regular pre-natal exams, a curtain was always drawn across my knees so that I couldn’t see what the doctor was doing. We eventually told them to please stop doing that. Most doctors will be totally understanding and try to make you comfortable if you tell them you’re not. I only met one doctor who was a complete jerk.]

助産師 – josanshi – midwife [They’re called that, but they don’t really fulfill the same role as they do in Western countries. I didn’t meet mine until she was standing by the delivery table and telling me how to breathe. I disliked her a great deal. I’ve read that there are a few clinics in Japan run by midwives, but the rule seems to be that doctors must attend births. Midwife-attended homebirths are practically unheard of.]

立会い – tachiai – be present/take part (that’s the literal meaning, but in this case it means for the husband (or someone else) to be present in the delivery.  立会い分娩 (tachiai bunben) is also used) [This was important for us, because many Japanese hospitals do not allow “outsiders” present during the birth – and that includes husbands. The reason we settled on a hospital 90 minutes away from us is that it was the closest one that allowed husbands to be present. And even then, it was restricted to husbands only.]

息をして – iki o shite – take a breath

深呼吸 – shinkokyuu – deep breath

息を吐いて – iki o haite – exhale

フーと(出して)– “Fuu”to (dashite) – blow out

息む – ikimu – to push/bear down (only used in labor, the command form (ikinde) is what’s used during delivery)

陣痛 – jintsuu – labor pains (this, and the next few, are tricky.  To the best of my knowledge this is the most commonly used word, it’s probably been used for years.  BUT, the correct medical term is, to the best of my knowledge, 収縮 (shuushuku).  Expect to hear the term jintsuu, but don’t be thrown if a doctor uses shuushuku.)

前駆陣痛 – zenku jintsuu – pre-labor pains

収縮 – shuushuku – contraction

ブルクストン・ヒックス収縮 – Braxton-Hicks shuushuku – Braxton-Hicks contractions

妊娠糖尿病 – ninshin tounyoubyou – gestational diabetes

予感 – yokan – eclampsia

予感前症 – yokan zenshou – pre-eclampsia

逆子 – sakago – breach baby [Lauren was breach until about the 32nd week. It was first pointed out to us by the jerk doctor, who offered no suggestions or assurances about it. He merely stated that I was destined for a C-section. We decided not to go back to him, for many reasons. But that was a big one.]

骨盤位 – kotsubani – breach position (this is the technical term, and there are many variants on it depending on the baby’s position)

産褥 – sanjoku – post-partum (many hospitals supply post-partum underwear (産褥ショーツ – sanjoku shootsu (aka ‘shorts’) or a post-partum belt (産褥帯 – sanjokutai) after delivery.  How useful these are . . . I don’t want to comment on.  They’re part of the service, I recommend not arguing about them.) [First, neither of these fit me, because the majority of Japanese women have tiny, tiny hips and waists. Second, they were weird. The first is a pair of panties with a velcro crotch. Apparently, this is supposed to be helpful during the post-partum bleeding phase because you don’t have to struggle with the underwear and pad when you go to the bathroom. I’m only repeating what I’ve been told. The post-partum belt is intended to help the uterus return to its normal size faster and keep you from being flabby. You can order these online, but I’ve heard that they’re not that useful and some doctors think they’re unhealthy. On one forum, a woman complained that they made her bleed heavier and cramp harder. She said it wasn’t worth it.]

子宮 –shikyuu – uterus

搾乳機 – sakunyuuki – breast pump

母乳 – bonyuu – mother’s milk

帝王切開 – teiousekkai – caesarian section

絵陰切開 – einsekkai – episiotomy

麻酔 – masui – painkiller

無痛分娩  – mutsuu bunben – painless childbirth [Not very common in Japan, apparently. Of all the places we contacted, only one offered pain relief, and they were booked full up when we called (about two months before our due date). I’m glad now that I didn’t have medication, but when I was working on my birth plan, I at least wanted the option. Turns out birth plans aren’t very common in Japan either.]

硬膜外麻酔 – koumakugai masui – epidural

流産 – ryuuzan – miscarriage

死産 – shizan – still-birth

There are plenty of other words that I left out because they are generically medical (draw blood, hospitalize, etc.).  Many guides for foreigners in Japan already have a good sampling, though I may get around to my own list another day.

I am not perfectly fluent in Japanese, so I apologize for any errors or oversights.  I am tolerably good at Japanese, and handy with the on-line dictionary (specifically, I can weed out the stuff that is overly technical, slang, dual-meaning, or just plain wrong), so if there are any words you’d like me to include please ask.

Whatever else, if you are using this list due to a pregnancy overseas, I wish only the best for you and your child.  Feel free to share your feelings and questions and advice as well.  Please take care of yourself, your significant other, and your baby.

[Geordie’s original post can be found here.]