You can buy medicines in Japan either at a drugstore (ドラッグストア) or a pharmacy (yakkyoku, 薬局). Drugstores are places that typically sell everything from daily supplies to cosmetics and even food. Pharmacies sell only medicines and are typically adjunct to a clinic or a hospital and you will need a doctor’s prescription to buy medicines there.
Type of Medicine
Medicines in Japan are classified in three main categories:
Class 1 (第１類医薬品)
These require a consultation with a pharmacist, as they might have impairing side effects. You may find empty boxes of medicines in this class in drugstores, which you will have to take to the counter. Your empty box will be replaced with the medicines by a licensed pharmacist.
Class 2 (第２類医薬品)
These don’t require a consultation. These are the category many OTC allergy and cold meds fall under. You can buy these online or at your local drugstore.
Class 3 (第３類医薬品)
These don’t have known side effects. Buy at any drugstore.
For regular cold medicine, sore throat lozenges, cough syrup, eyedrops, painkillers, hay fever medicines, bandaids etc., stop at your local drugstore. If your condition doesn’t improve though, see a doctor and get stronger medicines at a pharmacy.