History of Japanese Acupuncture

1. Early history of acupuncture in Japan


Archeological evidence has revealed that in ancient times, stone-gimlets, stone-needles, bone-needles, etc., were used in medical treatment for the same purposes as acupuncture needles today.

[6th Century]

Due to improved transportation and communication with the Asian Continent, Chinese medicine was introduced to Japan together with Buddhism and came to be used as a form of religious medicine. Medicine of Japanese origin gradually lost its popularity.

[8th Century]

The TAIHO RITSURYO (大宝律令: Taiho Code) was enacted, revising the Japanese medical system and defining the status of professors, doctors, students, etc.

[10th Century]

Japan’s first medical text, the ISHINPO (医心方), was written by Yasuyori TAMBA (丹波康頼). The contents of this book were based on Chinese medical texts compiled during the Sui (隋) and Tang (唐) dynasties.

[16th Century]

Due to the influence of Dosan MANASE (曲直瀬道三), Buddhist ethics, which had until this time played an important role in medical philosophy, were replaced by Confucianism. It was from this time that Japanese acupuncture began to develop in directions independent of China.

[17th Century]

Up until this time, needles had been made of iron. During the seventeenth century, silver and gold needles came into use for the first time in Japan. Also during this era, the “hammer” insertion method (Figure 1) was developed by Isai MISONO (御薗意斎). Waichi SUGIYAMA (杉山和一), in search of a simple and speedy insertion method, developed the insertion tube (Figure 2), a small cylindrical tube through which the needle is inserted. This insertion method is still used today in Japan by over 90% of acupuncturists.
During this era, Oriental medicine was very popular and various schools of thought on the subject began to appear. Roughly, the schools could be divided into two groups, the theoretical group, which based its practices on ancient Oriental medical teachings, and the practical group, which regarded the practical clinic as very important.

[19th Century]

Dutch and German medicines were introduced and became popular in Japan. A new system of medicine was established; however, acupuncture and moxibustion, considered types of folk medicine, were not included within the realm of this medical system. Thus, Oriental medicine did not prosper during this era.

2. First half of the 20th Century

People had another look at the effectiveness of acupuncture and moxibustion, and these became a professional field. Research and experimentation were conducted in the manner of Western medicine. Kinnosuke MIURA (三浦謹之助) discovered that acupuncture-moxibustion therapy improved blood circulation. Research concerning the conformity between acupuncture meridian points and Head’s zones was conducted during this period by Michio GOTO (後藤道雄).

Influenced by Western medical practices, acupuncture-moxibustion experiments and research were conducted on animals. The existence of meridians was ignored in the treatment of individual diseases, as diagnoses by Western medical methods became popular, and treatment was practiced by Shingo YAMAMOTO (山本新梧), Bunryu TATSUI (辰井文隆), and Ryosai YAMAZAKI (山崎良斎).

Some of the major discoveries made during this period were: increase in leukocyte and erythrocyte counts (Seikoku AOCHI (青地正皓), Simetaro HARA (原志免太郎), Joichi NAGATOYA (長門谷丈一), Hideji FUJII (藤井秀二), Bunjiro TERADA (寺田文次郎)); increase in the number of complements and antibodies (Seikoku AOCHI, Kaoru TOKIEDA (時枝薫)); alkalosis change in bone and blood (Hisashi KUROZUMI (黒住久) and Shigemoto MIZUNO (水野重元)); intensification of intestinal peristalsis (Michio GOTO (後藤道雄)); and acceleration of liver functions (Kazuo KOMAI (駒井一雄)).

Pharmacological studies reported by Masaru OSAWA (大沢勝), indicated that the results mentioned above occurred as a result of the histotoxin formed when moxibustion was administered. Hidezurumaru ISHIKAWA (石川日出鶴丸) reported that experiments on animals proved that the acupuncture-moxibustion mechanism was effected through the autonomic nervous system. On the other hand, interest in the almost forgotten meridians of Oriental medicine was revived and Sorei YANAGIYA (柳谷素霊), Sodo OKABE (岡部素道), Keiri INOUE (井上恵理), and Shinichiro TAKEYAMA (竹山晋一郎) created the meridian treatment methods.

3. Acupuncture in Japan in the 1940s, after the Second World War

In 1945, when Japan was occupied by the Allied Forces, Douglas McArthur’s General Headquarters (GHQ) ordered the Japanese Government to ban acupuncture and moxibustion as a barbarous and unscientific therapy. This was due to the fact that some Japanese soldiers used acupuncture or moxibustion on Allied Forces prisoners of war (POWs), with utterly good intentions because of the medical supply shortage, but the POWs took it as a form of torture, and some of those Japanese soldiers were subsequently indicted as war criminals.

That was a period of real crisis for acupuncture and moxibustion. First of all, a number of acupuncturist guilds got together and started to launch a big campaign against the decree. Also, some scientists in Western medicine who were interested in the scientific phase of the therapy, although numbering very few, were successfully able to prove certain scientific facts on the efficacy of acupuncture and moxibustion. Thanks to those enthusiastic movements, McArthur’s GHQ rescinded the ominous order.

Under the guidance of the GHQ, democratization, modernization, and scientification in every social aspect became the number one priority. In order to cope with such demands, acupuncture guilds started to enhance both the educational level of new students and the qualitative level of those already licensed. And for the purpose of scientification, the “Institute of Oriental Therapy” was established, financially supported by the guilds and headed by the then most prominent scientists in the field —Dr. Hidezurumaru ISHIKAWA (石川日出鶴丸) M.D., Ph.D. and Dr. Kyugo SASAGAWA (笹川久吾) M.D., Ph.D..

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