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Ishimpô and the Japanese Reception of Chinese Medicine

Shinji Kajitani (Kyoto University, Japan)

Japan has been much influenced by China in the field of science, but various conditions in Japan - climate, flora, fauna, customs and mentality - have led to differences in the development of science between the two countries. In the Heian period, especially after the interruption of the diplomatic relationship with China (894 AD), Japan very much needed to synthesize and to reconstruct the scientific knowledge which had been received and gathered from China until then. Ishimpo ("The Central Method of Medicine") of Yasuyori Tamba (911-995) can be regarded as one of the first greatest products of such attempts, and it is the oldest medical work in Japan which has survived to the present day in complete form. It compiles systematically excerpts from classical Chinese texts, not only of medicine but also of Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and history, most of which are lost in China as well as in Japan. This makes Ishimpo the important material of ancient Chinese medicine. Traditional Japanese medicine might be said to be a kind of Chinese medicine, but the relation between them is more complicated than it appears. This paper attempts to attain a certain perspective of the Japanese reception of Chinese medicine.

Though Ishimpo consists of excerpts, but Tamba's intention, or what he accepted and rejected, can be known by the construction and selection of cited texts. He seems to have kept a certain distance from the complicated system of Chinese medical theory. As Japanese scholars have shown, he excluded from acupuncture and moxibustion the theory of "channels" connecting the "points" on the body, without which medicine was inconceivable in China. Instead of these channels, he placed and classified the points according to the parts of body. Keiji Yamada, a specialist of Asian scientific thought, finds in such a radical change a strong orientation to the visible (or tangible) and simplification. This comes from his pedagogic and therapeutic pragmatism, as Tamba himself states definitely at the beginning of the 2nd volume, which deals with acupuncture and moxibustion.

That is also true of the "nurture of life" in Ishimpo (volume 27). Here is to be found Tamba's pragmatism again. He does not amplify the theory of "Yin and Yang" or "Five Evolutive Phases", although they are, needless to say, the essential basis of Chinese medicine. In each chapter, he first gives the general principles and then concentrates on concrete indications. Moreover, when he take a passage from the Dao-de-jing, one of the most classical texts of Taoism that has been deeply concerned with nourishing life, he depends upon the commentary of a Taoist He-shang Gong, who does not interpret the position of Laozi as a profound metaphysics but as a practical theory of nurturing life and immortality. So, Tamba seems to stand against abstract and speculative conceptual structures. As long as we recognize our physical condition primarily through the direct feeling of our own body (without confirmation through the five senses, for instance in perception of hunger, thirst, pain, comfort or discomfort), this "self-feeling" is the most primitive empirical basis for the realization of health and illness. In my opinion, this must have been another principle of Tamba's construction of the text. Besides, since mental conditions, especially emotions, can also be felt physically, it is quite reasonable that mind and body are grasped in a continuous relation and the indications for mental attitudes play a significant role in the nurture of life. Ishimpo had been such a standard work in Japan that it produced many duplicates and extracts and seems to have had a considerable effect upon the later movement of Japanese medicine. On the other hand, Japan also accepted the newer theories and knowledge of Chinese medicine in each age and developed different medical schools. In the Edo period, under the so-called "national isolation", when the Japanizing trend parallel to the Heian period occurred, the extreme simplification and rejection of Chinese medical conceptual systems was performed by the "school of classical method" (Kohoha), which Gen'i Nagoya (1628-96), Konzan Goto (1659 1733) and Todo Yoshimasu (1702-73) represented. If it comes into question how Japan has assimilated and transformed Chinese medicine, the same problem should be generally discussed concerning the reception of modern European medicine.

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