The Japanese health care system is imaginatively and brilliantly eastern- western integrated and yes, supremely “ying” and “yang”. To expand on the document I published with the U.S. – Japan Foundation many years ago, the following describes kampo which is covered by health insurance providers in Japan. Japanese kampo is the study of traditional Chinese medicine that began in the 7th century. While kampo includes acupuncture and holistic wellness, herbal medicine has become the centerpiece of modern kampo. Herbal medicines have been used in China for thousands of years. They have been standardized and manufactured for widespread commercial use in Japan.
The medicinal use of plants was called the Shennong Ben Cao Jingo in China which was compiled around the end of the first century B.C. At the time, 365 species of herbs or medicinal plants were identified and classified. Chinese medical practices were introduced to Japan through Korea during the 6th century A.D. From 608 to 838, Empress Suiko dispatched young physicians to China. In those years, Japan sent 19 missions to Tang, China to research and bring back Chinese herbal medicine to Japan. Today in Japan, 148 different, mostly herbal abstracts can be prescribed under Japan’s national health insurance system (source: National Institute of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114407/). Modern day Kampo is different from modern traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). While TCM incorporates Chinese philosophy such as yin and yang, Japanese campo favors a more scientific approach.
The first volume of the treatise included 120 drugs harmless to humans, the “stimulating properties”. These herbs are described as “noble” or “upper herbs” (上品):
- reishi mushroom,
- ginseng root,
- jujube fruit,
- Chinese cinnamon,
- Eucommia bark,
- cannabis, and the
- root of liquorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis).
The second volume comprise 120 therapeutic substances intended to treat the sick, but have toxic, or potentially toxic properties of varying degrees. These are tonics and boosters, whose consumption must not be prolonged. In this category, the substances are described as “human,” “commoner,” or “middle herbs” (中品):
The third volume has 125 entries containing substances which have a strong impact on physiological functions and are often poisonous. They are taken in small doses, and for the treatment of specific diseases only. They are referred to as “low herbs” (下品), these include:
Japanese/ Western Influence:
Yumoto Kyūshin (1876–1942), a graduate from Kanazawa Medical School, was a key proponent of scientifically interpreting and testing Chinese medicine. His “Japanese-Chinese Medicine” (Kōkan igaku) published in 1927 was the first book on Kampō medicine in which western medical findings were used to interpret classical Chinese texts. The significance of these Japanese publications is documenting the application of clinical trials and empirical data to determine specific chemical properties and their functions within the Chinese herbs.
One such example today is Sho-saiko-to. The Chinese herbal medicine “Sho-saiko-to” is a mixture of seven herbal preparations, which is widely administered in Japan to patients with liver damage caused by chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis. Sho-saiko-to contains
- Bupleurum Root,
- Pinellia Tuber,
- Scutellaria Root,
- Licorice, and
The herbs include such properties as baicalin and baicalein, and saikosaponin which possess anti-fibrogenic activities and the ability to inhibit hepatoma cell proliferation. Clinical trials have been confirmed in the U.S. by Natural Wellness for their SST product – http://www.naturalwellness.com/products/sho-saiko-to-sst.
The following are not connected in any way to sho-saiko-to, but are similarly organic and naturopathic. These herbs and foods are known to be easy on the liver and/or health remedies for the liver:
- lemon/ lime,
- leafy green vegetables,
- green tea,
- olive oil,
- dandelion leaf,
- millet/ buckwheat.
Each of the 365 species of herbs and medicinal plants and various combinations from Chinese medicine and Japanese kampo are either healing agents, serve as preventive health care, or support ongoing health maintenance.
But don’t forget, there are a range of healthy remedies in standard western herbs which we already incorporate into our daily consumption extravaganzas. The standard cooking herbs pictured here are a healthy supplement to your diet.
By Chris Kenji Beer, Koto jazz
Sources: National Institute of Health, Japanese Society of Oriental Medicine, Natural Wellness, Wikipedia , shosaikoto.com, iherb.com.