Education, Traditional & Culture

What’s It Like to Have a COVID-19 PCR Test Done in Japan?

A quick but enlightening trip to our local COVID-19 testing spot.

A COVID-19 test in Akihabara. Welcome to the Akihabara Novel Coronavirus PCT Testing Center.

Ahead of a trip out of Tokyo, this February the Japankuru team headed down to Akihabara for a COVID test. The technique used for these tests is called a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a name that has caught on in Japan, where they’re usually just referred to as “PCR tests.” The prep for getting a test is easy―reservations can be made online in advance, so all you have to do is show up, spit in a tube, and wait for your results. If the center’s not too busy, you can get results in as little as three hours.

The saliva struggle.

For testing centers like this, saliva tests are the standard in Japan these days, so you won’t find many swabs probing high in your nasal cavity. Spit in a tube―easy, right? There are even posters hung on the wall showing off sour foods and puckered faces.

It turns out not everyone has such an easy time. Some of our team had enough saliva ready to be done in less than a minute. Certain dry-mouthed foreign writers on the Japankuru team, however, had a harder time with it, and easily took 20 times as long.

Everyone can imagine the sour sting of a lemon, but I wonder if the umeboshi (梅干し, pickled plums) on the right are a little less effective for foreigners.

The red line on the test tube shows how much saliva is necessary to run the test. It doesn’t look like a lot, but it turns out that this is kind of a lot of spit. We later found out that you can stimulate saliva production by pressing on the lymph nodes under the jaw. A tip we really could have used while we were at the center!

Saliva collection instructions.

While this poster had all the details we needed for how to use the little plastic test tube to submit saliva, it certainly would not have suffered from the addition of a few tips on how to make your mouth water more!

(We were really struggling!)

Planning on having a COVID-19 test taken in Japan sometime soon? Your trip will probably look something like this, too.

We wish you better luck with saliva production, though.

Remember the lymph nodes.


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