Week 2: 漢方薬 (Chinese Herbal Medicine)


Although Japan uses Westernized medicine like most world powers of its size, one particular method of treatment distinguishes them from the rest: Chinese herbal medicine, or 漢方 (かんぽう)。This website from the Japanese conglomerate Kracie, one of the leaders in the Japanese kampō industry, discusses many of the basic aspects of how it works. The word 漢方 is a portmanteau of 漢, or the Han Chinese, who introduced the Japanese to this kind of medicine in the fifth/sixth centuries, and 方, used as “method” in this case, because Western medicine was called 蘭方 (らんぽう), literally “Dutch medicine” thanks to Japan’s colonial history with that country.
Kampō medicines are usually made with natural herbs that are infused in boiling water. Pharmaceutical companies such as Kracie do this in laboratories and compound the extracts into usable forms. Japan is the only country where doctors can legally prescribe kampō alongside, or as an alternative to, Western medicine, and Japan’s health insurance covers both types. The approach to kampō is more holistic in nature, focusing on the whole body and mind while alleviating symptoms.

This week’s vocabulary:
薬局 (やっきょく) pharmacy
I’ve got a bad cold. How about I go to the pharmacy and get some cold medicine?
生薬 (しょうやく) herbal medicine
That kampō medicine is one kind of herbal medicine.
医大 (いだい) medical school
He wants to go to a good medical school, but his grades have gotten worse. But he’s a student at Tokyo U…
がん cancer
The incidence of cancer in Fukushima’s population has increased, hasn’t it?
QOL – キューオーエル quality of life
People who want to increase their quality of life must do healthy things every day.

Perhaps the strong focus on both Western medicine and Eastern medicine in Japan might be one reason why the Japanese live so long. Even in diseases as complex as cancer and HIV, the use of kampō medicines, either alone or, more commonly, in tandem with drugs developed under the Western tradition, is fairly common in Japan. Contrast this with the US, which certainly has people who use supplements and alternative medicine. The FDA, however, does not regulate what they call “supplements” (that is, herbal medicines and vitamins) on the same level as other drugs, and most insurance companies do not cover them, either. It’s certainly an interesting dichotomy, to say the least, and I wonder what would happen if Western societies considered to use Eastern medicines, like kampō, in their own health regimes. Maybe they might be effective with a low risk of side effects, or maybe they don’t do much of anything. Either way, kampō still has its place in Japan not just as medical treatment, but as another Chinese cultural product adapted and ingrained into Japanese culture.

Other sources on the subject:



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