Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been around for centuries. With a history of almost 3000 years dating back to the beginning of the Zhou dynasty, it has been integrated into the current medical system of China. The traditional practice involves the use of plants, animals and minerals. It works on the principle of maintaining the delicate balance between ‘yin’ and ‘yang’; the opposing but interconnected forces that would be at the heart of all creation; to prevent disease and maintain health. Originating in China, TCM is widely practiced today, including in Japan.
It has long been considered that TCM was introduced to Japan by the monk Jianzhen or Ganjin who visited Japan in the 8e century to promote the teachings of Buddhism at the invitation of two Japanese clerics. Born in Yangzhou, Monk Jianzhen was well versed in TCM and proficient in Buddhism. When he arrived in Japan in 753 CE, he is said to have had with him 36 kinds of medicinal plants, each with different pharmacological effects and recipes for different combinations to treat a variety of illnesses. Along with his Buddhist teachings, whether Jianzhen transmitted his pharmacological and medical knowledge, thus influencing extant traditional Japanese medicine, remains debated.
Now, researchers from Japan and China, led by Professor Toshihiko Matsuo of Okayama University’s Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in Health Systems, have conducted an extensive review of Chinese literature. , Japanese and English available to shed light on this long-standing mystery. . The team consisted of Shihui Liu, a former assistant professor at Okayama University, visiting scholar Chie Matsuo and senior assistant professor Takumi Abe, both from Okayama University. Their article, published on October 18, 2022 in the journal Compoundsoffers interesting insights into Jianzhen’s life seen through the prism of his ethnopharmacological knowledge.
During his trip to Japan, Jianzhen collected and brought with him things he found on his way, such insignificant things as stalactites and Zixue (a component of TCM), while bringing traditional ingredients from China, including musk, agarwood, snail, rosin, dipterocarp. , fragrant gall, benzoin, frankincense, Dutch pipe root, Lentisk Pistacia, piper longum, Terminalia chebula/haritaki, asafetida, sugar, sucrose, 10 bushels of honey and 80 bundles of sugar cane. In their article, the researchers reviewed the 36 medicinal plants and their therapeutic effects that were imported to Japan. Local lore suggests that Jianzhen also had a book with him titled Secret Ordinance of Jianshangren (Holy Priest Jianzhen), which has been lost for centuries. The team also reports having managed to locate a copy of another book containing the same prescriptions.
More interestingly, their findings show that Jianzhen prescriptions form the basis of herbal medicine practice in Japan, popularly known as field. Herbal medicine practice is very much integrated into the fabric of Japan’s current healthcare system. field drugs are prescribed alongside western medicine and modern drugs and are covered by social security reimbursement.
“Japanese people can buy Kampo drugs over-the-counter at pharmacies. This unique system in Japan comes from a long history of systematic prescription of Kampo medicines and is said to have an origin in the prescription of Jianzhen in the 8th century.“, Professor Matsuo observes with great enthusiasm.
He hopes for the generalization of the use of field medicine beyond Japan. “Residents of other countries also have the option of using Kampo drugs in combination with Western drugs. “His inspiration in saying this is perhaps, again, Jianzhen.”Jianzhen is one of the first people to introduce traditional Chinese medicine to Japan. He is considered an ancestor of Kampo medicine, which shaped traditional Chinese medicine to meet the needs of the Japanese people.” reflects Professor Matsuo. In the age of globalization, the journey of traditional medical knowledge that took 11 years to reach Japan from China can be accomplished in less than 11 seconds with just one click.
We live in this hope.
Liu, S. et al. (2022) Traditional Chinese Medicines and Ordinances Brought from China to Japan by a Monk (Jianzhen, Japanese: Ganjin): A Historical Review. Compounds. doi.org/10.3390/compounds2040022.
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