A Renaissance of Traditional Chinese Medicine… in Japan

The Yellow Emperor. (Image:  wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
The Yellow Emperor. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

While the study of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is said to have originated in China has been passed down there for thousands of years, this ancient medical practice seems to find more clinical use in Japan than in China nowadays.

The traditional form of medicine used in Japan today is called “Kempo,” which literally means  “method from the Han period (206 B.C.-A.D.220) of ancient China,” and refers to its origin from ancient China.

Over time, the ancient Chinese medical practice has spread beyond the Great Wall and is revered by many other nations worldwide. Most notable is Japan, where about 80 percent of Japanese doctors use Chinese medicine in their prescriptions in some form or another.

Traditional Chinese medicine’s renaissance

Chinese medicine is currently going through something of a renaissance in Japan, where according to a JPWindow report, an increasing number of big supermarkets are carrying signs with the Chinese character for medicine. In Ginza, a Japanese shopping area, these signs indicate the presence of a medicine store that sells TCM medicine.

Chinese prescription medicine and health supplements take up the majority of the shelf space in these Japanese drug stores.

At present, some say that Chinese drug stores are as common as fruit stores and convenience stores in Japan. Some would even go so far as to say that finding a Chinese medicine doctor in Japan is even easier than it is in China.

 A long history

Zhang Qian leaving Emperor Han Wudi (Image Credit: By PHG (copied from en wp) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Zhang Qian leaving Emperor Han Wudi. (Image: By PHG (copied from en wp) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

 Chinese medicine in Japan has a long history. According to some historians, Chinese medicine found its way to Japan from Korea during the 5th or 6th century A.D. By the beginning of the 7th century, a lot of information about Chinese medicine had reached Japan. It was not just medicine alone, but also knowledge about Buddhism, that found its way into Japan via Chinese traders.Apparently, this is the reason why during the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1192) periods, medicine in Japan was mainly practiced by Buddhist monks.Over time, TCM from China merged with the Japanese culture to form the modern-day Kampo. The main Chinese classic that Kampo is based on is the Treatise on Cold Damage dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220).

TCM and its strong reputation

While Chinese medicine has a long history in Japan of close to 1500 years, it wasn’t until the ’70s that it gained a widely recognized and public status, which was even acknowledged by the government.

Today, TCM is just as trusted as Western medicine and is increasingly used in Western clinical settings and clinical studies. The most common form of TCM practiced in Japan is Komo, which over time was created from the merging of TCM and Japanese culture.

According to statistics, traditional Chinese medicine in the form of its traditional Japanese kin is used by more than 80 percent of Japanese physicians in their daily practice.

There is a good reason why Chinese medicine is so popular among the Japanese.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) survey on longevity, Japan is considered to be No. 1, with the longest average lifespan of 74.5 years among 191 countries.

Will Chinese one day learn TCM from the Japanese?

According to a paper published by the WHO, about the past, present and future prospects of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the most important thing to keep TCM alive is to uphold its theory.

With the opening of China during the 19th century, many foreign influences like Western medicine also came in. Many of the concepts, methods, and scientific principles from Western medicine were introduced to China and increasingly got merged with TCM in China.  Over time, this posed a threat to TCM in its original form, which has been constantly adapted, advanced, and modified over thousands of years in accordance with the merits and scientific principles and mindset inherent to TCM theory.

Using any other mindset, theory, or scientific approach than that inherent to TCM, to understand TCM or further modify and adapt it would inherently create something other than TCM.

The number of actual TCM practitioners in China and the use of TCM in clinical settings has fallen over the past decades, contrary to the rising number of TCM practitioners and the prescription of TCM herbs and supplements in Japan, which have steadily increased over the past decades.


Chinese Medicine Herbs. Photo Credit: Hermann Rohr for the Vision Times)

Chinese medicine herbs. (Image: Hermann Rohr for the Vision Times)

Judging from the current state of affairs, TCM in its original form has decreased in China over the past decades and might even face the danger of disappearing there completely if the traditional Chinese culture that is the foundation of TCM theory cannot be upheld or revived altogether.

Furthermore, many other nations around the world have come to value this Chinese treasure and its unique way of medical diagnosis, prescription, and treatment.

Japan is currently No. 1 among all the nations in the world who use TCM in their daily practice and lives. They even run extensive clinical studies on it, looking for more way to use and integrate it into modern medicine.

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