Analysis of East Asian Medicine in Urban Japan Written by Margaret M Lock

The cross-cultural comparisons reveal the coexistence of holism and reductionism in the pluralistic medical systems in Japan and inspire the readers to borrow the holistic approach from the East Asian medicine and reevaluate the cultural biases of biomedicine. Although I highly appreciate Lock’s work, I will review this ethnography with a critical eye.

There are two underlying assumptions concerning the study. Firstly, the book attempted to map a larger picture of the East Asian medicine in Japan from the eighth century to the late twentieth century, in which East Asian medicine was seen as Chinese medicine in Japan. The Japanese term Kanpo, literally, “Chinese method,” was thought to be a medical system learned from China, maintaining its Chinese flavor over 1300 years in Japan. Secondly, Lock assumed that the actual interviews that include only 50 Kyoto families, 2 schools, 8 herbal pharmacies, and dozens of patients and practitioners can represent the Japanese people’s thoughts concerning the practices of a pluralistic medicine in the 1970s in an urban setting in Japan. The samples are not considered large enough to draw up generalizations and to make an assumption regarding a whole urban population. The ancient capital of Kyoto is also assumed to be represented as a model of a modern city in Japan.

Based on these assumptions, Lock analyzed East Asian medicine from three perspectives. Firstly, she uses a historical approach to analyze the classic Chinese medical works as the theories of East Asian medicine in a pre-industrialized Japan. The Japanese cultural ethos is analyzed as a less important force compared to the Chinese philosophies and Buddhist thoughts. Secondly, she uses a cultural anthropological approach to analyze her limited interviews and case studies in Kyoto to represent an issue of adopting the East Asian medicine. Except for Tokyo and Osaka, other major Japanese cities other than Kyoto are barely mentioned.