Japanese Kampo Medicine

Posted by Admin on January 13, 2010

The American public is becoming more accepting of innovative forms of medical treatment. Today most Western educated physicians accept acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a valid and alternative form of treatment for many medical issues, often supplementing standard medical practices and in some cases even supplanting it. However, there are many other indigenous medical traditions that have centuries of effective use. One such tradition is Japanese Kampo medicine.


Kampo was originally adapted from Chinese herbal medicine; yet over the centuries its practioners developed a unique system of diagnosis and treatment.

There are three guiding principles in Kampo medicine - simplicity, prevention and safety. Kampo consist of 365 herbal remedies that fall into three categories. The most highly valued remedies are the safest and prevent disease. The prescriptions have the least side effects, if any, and intended for long-term use. The second class of remedies is to be used after an illness or medical problem and is intended to revitalize the body and prevent recurrence of any health issues. The lowest level of remedy treats acute or chronic diseases and is only used for short intervals because of their potential toxic side effects. Interestingly, most Western allopathic medicines fall into this category.

Another important feature of Kampo diagnostic methodology is that is includes an analysis of an individual's personal constitution – how one’s individual underlying nature predisposes one to specific health issues and treatments. Today Western medicine is beginning to parallel this approach with genetic testing, as most physicians who look out over the horizon predict that Western medicine will become more and more customized – based on an individual’s personal genetic makeup.

Kampo practitioners pay particular attention to their patients – listening, looking, questioning and palpitating. Their meticulous attention to the patient’s complaints help the practioner understand how the individual is responding to the imbalance.

Much like today’s contemporary integrative approach to healthcare, Kampo medicine is patient-centered. The focus is not on the disease, but rather on treating patients and promoting well-being, assessing the proper fit between a pattern of symptoms and a Kampo prescription.

Thus Kampo medicine does not focus on causes, searching for infections, cancers, and other disease states. The goal is to return the body to balance based on the premise that a healthy body works best with unimpeded circulation. Disease is an imbalance resulting from the interaction between the person’s constitution and the environment, both external and internal, which forms the context of the person’s life.

Kampo medicine is an ancient tradition that developed in Japan between the 7th and 9th centuries. As Western influences entered Japan in the late 19th century the traditional forms of medicine was all but abandoned. Over the decades Kampo medicine slowly returned to the medical culture. Today it is estimated that 80% of Japanese physicians integrate Kampo prescriptions into their practice. And the Ministry of Health regulates the standardization, purity, and stability of Kampo ingredients. And though there are no professional degrees in Kampo medicine, most pharmaceutical schools in Japan teach courses in Kampo, as do a growing number of medical schools. Similarly, as most university based hospitals in America now have programs in integrative or alternative medicine, so do Japanese university based hospitals feature programs in Kampo.


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