Medicine in the Edo period

Medical science in the Edo period was a skilful blend of traditional and Western medicine.

Medicine in the Edo periodNational Museum of Nature and Science

Medicine in the Edo period

From the middle of the Edo Period, Rangaku (Dutch studies in Western medicine), grew increasingly popular. Even some traditional Kanpoh-i (Chinese herbalists) actively enlisted the cooperation of Dutch scholars in studying human anatomy as medical practitioners attempted to integrate empirical Western medicine. Thus, this period saw the creation of a distinctly Japanese medical traditional through the skillful blending of traditional Chinese and Western medical traditions.

DojinNational Museum of Nature and Science

Origins in Chinese medicine

Japanese medicine drew from Chinese medicine in the Sui-Tang transition (the end of the 6th century to the end of the 7th century). "Qi" (life energy), and the structure of the body is expressed by "Internal organs" and "Meridian", and its state is interpreted in the right middle of ancient China such as "Yin Yang", "Five-row", and "False". Until the rise of Ranchaku, this was the central medical thought of Japan.

Acupuncture and moxibustion toolsNational Museum of Nature and Science

Acupuncture and moxibustion tools

Acupuncture and moxibustion were introduced from China long ago, dating as far back as 701, but it was not familiar to the people as a form of remedy until the Edo period. Acupuncture became popular with the introduction of the Japanese uchibari and kudabari, and gained the highest status of kengyo from the Tokugawa government. Moxibustion was at first used in comnination with acupuncture, but it began to be used as a health fitness tool and later spread in the Edo period as the burning mugworts were placed directly on the pressure points on the back, arms and legs.

DojinNational Museum of Nature and Science


A keiraku (meridian) doll used for training in acupuncture. The doll is marked with 14 energy paths and pressure points. The keiraku doll originates from the Chinese dojin doll. The dojin doll is scarved with energy paths and pressure points, and is devised that when the acupuncture needle hits the pressure points, mercury seeps out. According to records, these dolls were brought to Japan during the Muromachi period, but Japan began making their own keiraku dolls with the spread of acupuncture therapy in the beginning of the Edo perod and they became widely sued in general practices.

Medicine in the Edo periodNational Museum of Nature and Science

Oriental Medicine

In the early Edo period, internal medicine, surgery and acupuncture emerged. Internal medicine was based on medical study during Chinese medieval gold period (late 13th century ~ late 14th century). In the middle Edo period, there are Kojin people who tried to return to empirical Chinese ancient medicine. Ancient surgeons conducted human dissections using translations of Western medicine books, leading the emergence of the Ran (Dutch) study in the late Edo period. The main branch of Edo medicine was known as  Oriental medicine, and continues as Japan's unique style of medicine today.

Medicine boxNational Museum of Nature and Science

Medicine box

During the Edo period, it was common practice for doctors to make house calls. Doctors purchased herbal medicine from herbal pharmacists and dispensed their own prescription, Doctors stored the herbal medicine in a medicine cabinet having many drawers. When making house calls, doctors carried small amounts of the herbal medicine in small paper bags in their medicine box and made the prescriptions. In rampo medicine, scales were used to make up the prescription, but in traditional Chinese kampo medicine ingredients were measured using a spoon. This is because kampo medicine used nourishing hebs based on experience that were not as strong, immediately effective as rampo medicine, but had long-kasting effectiveness.

Acupuncture and moxibustion toolsNational Museum of Nature and Science

Mokkotsu (wooden frame dolls)National Museum of Nature and Science

Mokkotsu (wooden frame dolls)

Crafttsmen were commissioned to make mokkotsu dolls which accurately modeled the bone structure of humans for the study of osteopathy. Tecords show that 9 mokkotsu dolls for made during the Edo period, but only 4 are extant. There are two types of mokkotsu dolls, dollsmade by the osteopath Ryuetsu Hoshino and those by Bunken Kagami. The Okuda mokkotsu dolls, believed to have taken 20 months to finish, were made by the craftsman Bo Ikeuchi in 1819 under the order of Banri Okuda, an apprentice of Bunken Kagami. The Okuda mokkotsu was donated to the Nagoya Medical Museum in 1822 and a picture of its exhibitions at a medical convention is in the Owari Meisho Zue.

From the wrist to fingers

From ankle to top

Kaitai ShinshoNational Museum of Nature and Science

Rise of Ran school

In the middle of Edo period, Western anatomy and surgical books became visible to people, the difference between Western and Oriental medicine became clear. Human body dissection began, and Mr Ryosuke Maeno and Mr Genpaku Sugita Translated the Dutch anatomy to publish "Dissolution new book". Dutch studies started with this, and Dutch books such as medicine, astronomy, and military science were translated in various places. "Narutaki Juku" was also held in the suburbs of Nagasaki."

Ontleedkundig TafelenNational Museum of Nature and Science

Ontleedkundig Tafelen

The Kaitai Shinsho is a Japanese translation of the Ontleedkundig Taflen written in Dutch by the German, Adam Kulmus. This is the first book on anatomy, and the diagrams of the dissected human body is supplemented with explanations. Ryotaku Maeno obtained this book from Kogyu Yoshino, an interpreter who studied Dutch in Nagasaki. Genbaku Sugita (Kohama domain) who studied Dutch medicine was impressed by the accuracy of this book where he compared the text with the actual dissection procedure with Tyotaku Maeno and decided to translated it into Japanese.

Kaitai ShinsyoNational Museum of Nature and Science

Kaitai Shinsyo

Astounded by the accuracy of the diagram in rekation to the dissected organs, Genbaku Sugita and Ryotaku Maeno who both witness dissection of executed prisoners decidedto translate the Western dissection book Talleben which was publish in 1774. The Kaitai Shinsho is the first transkated western book in Japan. The publication of the translated book not only influenced medical science with the emergence of ramgaku, but also had a substantial impact the westernization of Japanese modern culture. The first editions consisted of five books, one foreword volume and four text volume. Tadatake Odano who drew the instructional diagrams was a disciple of Gennai Hiraga and is the pioneer of Akita Ranga painting. Although Ryotaku Maeno's is not mentioned in this book, the strong cencorship of prohibited religions made advertisement of the book very difficult.

Vaccination toolsNational Museum of Nature and Science

Vaccination tools

Vaccination was carried out by pouring out the vaccine, which was stored in  a glass container for portability, onto a gkass slab, making an incision in the patient's arm and implanting the vaccine into the cut. As vaccination from the West spread throughout the country in the end of the Tokugawa period, Dutch medicine became the mainstream medicine practiced in Japan, replacing Chinese kampo medicine. This trend continued onto the Meiji period.

Credits: Story

This exhibition is based on Global Gallery 2F : Progress in Science and Technology

Photo : NAKAJIMA Yusuke

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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