From the many responses to our April 3 column, “Less-than-fluent foreigners may have trouble giving blood,” it seems that Japanese language ability is an issue at some centers, but not all. Other factors sometimes took precedence, such as medical conditions and other rules.
For some, language was clearly the reason for refusal, such as in O.K.’s case:
“A few years back while I was a student in Japan, my Japanese girlfriend and I went to a mobile unit of the blood donation service near Ikebukuro Station, only to be refused because I could not read all the kanji on the page of information they gave me. I asked my girlfriend to read it to me, and I understood it all, yet they still refused.
“I have donated blood countless times and I understand all the risks and HIV and AIDS problems. I don’t offend easily, but I am sad to know somewhere out there, somebody could have used that pint of B-positive.”
Most of those who responded were ineligible for other reasons.
“My medicine allergy ruled me out, despite the initial enthusiasm for my O-positive type,” said Kimberly Morgan.
Leah Zoller said, “Everyone I know with at least (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) N3 level has been OK language-wise for Kanazawa’s donation center.”
After using a mix of Japanese and English to sign all the forms, Erinn LaMattery was refused for other reasons. “It wasn’t until we got inside the donation area that they refused us,” she explains. “A friend of mine was refused due to a piercing in her nose. I was refused due to a low count of something in my blood, probably iron.”
BSE (mad cow disease) is another reason some people might be turned away, as Stewart experienced: “I was told that people who have lived for more than six months in countries with BSE cannot give blood, in my case, the U.K. However, they still took blood from all the Japanese sophomore students who had studied in the U.K. for a year (this was before 2004) — only the foreigners were turned away.”
J.T. was able to donate at the Shinjuku Red Cross office despite his less-than-fluent Japanese skills when he first came to Japan, but was later refused because of the BSE rule.
He explains: “I grew up and lived in England during the early 1980s, so I am now disqualified from donating blood in Japan because of the unknown incubation period for mad cow disease. The same restriction exists for Brits living in the USA, so no one in Japan should take it personally.”
We’ll go into more detail and explain the BSE rule in a later column.
Mark was able to successfully donate after seeking out a second opinion in regards to medication he takes.
“I’ve been giving blood for years, at four different centers, and have never been refused or even treated with any hesitation, even when I was in the early stages of my Japanese studies,” says Mark. “More often than not, the doctor they have on hand is either close to or already past retirement, and in Japan that usually means he or she is not up on the latest in the field of medicine. When I asked, the doctor checked his resource books and informed me that I was ineligible.
“A few weeks later I went to another center where the doctor said I was indeed still eligible, but that 12 hours would have to have passed between the time I last took the medication I am on and when I can donate. I also needed to state that I am taking that drug. Done. I have the red donor’s card and get postcards three times a year reminding me that I can donate. I’m in and out in 30 minutes or less, minus 400 ml of blood and plus a cookie and sports drink!”
Of all the responses we received, the reasons for refusal for one person weren’t clear.
“My husband and I live in northern Japan and work at a private school that was campaigning for blood donation,” C.J. said. “They gave us a bunch of reasons why we couldn’t donate, such as: we had gone to South Korea two years before, we don’t know our blood type, we caught chicken pox two years earlier in Niigata, and the list went on and on. We also had three Japanese teachers with us who spoke perfect English, but they still refused (us).”
In an upcoming column we’ll go over the Japan Red Cross Society blood donation rules. Thanks to everyone who shared their experience. If you have a blood donation story to share, please let us know.