Illness From a Japanese Perspective

Most of my day was spent helping my sister pack to move out of her apartment, so again I hope that my thoughts are somewhat coherent. Anyway, onto to the good stuff! Or, I guess, not-so good stuff, as this post is about illness and medicine.

The readings I will focus on are the following:

  1. Illness and Culture, Ch. 3: My very own illness: Illness in a dualistic world view by Emiko Ohnuki Tierney
  2. Illness and Culture Ch. 5 Kanpō: Traditional Japanese medicine of Chinese origin by Emiko Ohnuki Tierney

There are multiple distinctions in Japanese about different states of health or “constitutions” of one’s body. Something that I first noticed about this reading was the use of the phrase “cultural germs.” What a fascinating concept! And it makes a lot of sense. What makes something a germ is not definitive, and even the word itself implies that germs are inherently bad, which may not be the case in some cultures. For example, this author recounted an incident in which a Japanese male with high social standing was not afraid to reveal he was sick. Sickness, the author argued, was something more to be proud of than to hide in Japan. I wonder how this ties back to the concept of purity we talked about in the beginning of this week. Is there a Japanese state of being pure? What’s the distinction between physical and mental purity? How does sickness fit in? Is illness more of a way to getting to “purity” (since it is viewed as having sensitivity to your surroundings)? The author does point out the difference between an acute illness and a more chronic, life-threatening illness. The former is called jibyō, and an example is like dizziness or cramps. But there are also “constitutions” that the author defines (though the author does not define what a “constitution” is, which is why I use quotations. My guess would be the state of the body, but I am not too sure). These range from from healthy to ordinary to weak, and some symptoms of being weak include being a light sleeper or sensitive to the cold. What is the significance of these distinctions?

Kanpō reminds me of palliative care. I’m not an expert in either subject, but

Author: Karen Chan '18

Hello! I just completed my junior year at Bowdoin College as a chemistry major and recently-declared Japanese Language minor. I am from Honolulu, HI so Japanese culture has always been part of my life, but this trip is the opportunity to go beyond my classroom language experience and Japanese-food-eating experience. My interest in this project stems from my science background and my hope to eventually be a pharmacist in a hospital setting. I plan to focus on public awareness of "environmentally-caused" diseases, like Kawasaki Disease.