What Is Japanese Medicine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Japanese medicine, also known as kampo or kanpo, is a traditional medical modality with roots in Chinese medicine. It relies heavily on the use of herbs to bring patients into a state of balance in the belief that the origins of disease lie in a poor physical or mental constitution. Practitioners consider the body as a whole rather than focusing on just the symptoms and a specific identifiable cause.

Medical practitioners in Japan were introduced to Chinese medical treatments by traveling scholars and other authorities. Japanese doctors adopted many of the principles they learned about, including the focus on examining flows of energy in patients to identify imbalances like blockages or uncontrolled releases of energy. Traditional Japanese medicine includes an array of herbal preparations along with physical exercises and massage, known as amma, to treat the patient's whole body.

Within Japan, traditional medical techniques are part of the national health system, and patients can access traditional as well as conventional treatments from care providers. Japanese patients may seek complementary treatment that blends aspects of different medical traditions to meet their needs. In more rural areas, traditional Japanese medicine tends to be more popular. Herbalists and providers of herbs are subject to regulation, and their compounds are treated as pharmaceutical compounds, not supplements.

When a patient sees a Japanese medicine practitioner, the doctor will start with a thorough interview to learn more about the patient's general level of health and personality. She can examine the patient and discuss the specific complaint bringing the patient to the doctor. After the evaluation, the doctor will decide on the best course of action to help the patient get well. Care can also involve preventative medicine.

Calisthenics and bodywork are a part of some Japanese medicine regimens. A doctor may prescribe activity to keep the body fit and healthy. Believers in the idea that illness can be traced to disruptions in natural energy may promote physical exercise, massage, and similar activities to bring the flow of energy into balance and to promote an even distribution of energy throughout the body. Complementary medicine practitioners may not necessarily subscribe to the view that energy is the problem, but generally agree that physical fitness can boost the immune system and reduce the incidence of disease.

Patients with an interest in Japanese medicine who are outside of Japan will be most likely to access a care practitioner if they live in an urban area, particularly one with a large Japanese population. They can find listings of care providers through professional organizations of Japanese medicine practitioners or by asking for referrals from doctors who promote complementary medicine. Insurance may not cover treatment, and patients should be aware of this when making an appointment.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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      Woman with hand on her hip