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Kampō medicine (漢方医学 Kanpō igaku?), alternatively shortened as just Kanpō (漢方?), is the Japanese study and adaptation of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The fundamental principles of Chinese medicine came to Japan between the 7th and 9th centuries.[1] Since then, the Japanese have created their own unique herbal medical system and diagnosis. Kampo uses most of the Chinese medical system including acupuncture and moxibustion but is primarily concerned with the study of herbs.


Kampo was originally a Chinese tradition that dates back to 221-210 B.C. The first Chinese emperor sent emissaries across the eastern sea to find the herb of immortality.

Chinese medical practices were introduced to Japan by way of Korea in 562 A.D.. This is when Japan adopted Kampo as well as Confucianism and Buddhism. Empress Suiko ( 592-628) A.D. had the Japanese court send envoys to China where they brought back classic Chinese medical texts further developing their medical field.

In 701A.D. a set of edicts were put into play known as the Taiho Code, this established, among other things, a ministry of health. Empress Komyo (701-760) A.D. established a dispensary system to supply free medicine to the needy in 730 A.D..

In 753 a Chinese Buddhist priest named Jian Zhen (in Japanese Ganjin) arrived in Japan after five attempts in 12 years to cross the sea to Japan. Jian Zhen was blind and used his sence of smell to distinguish the various herbs from one another. He also gave free medical service to anyone. He also brought medical text as well as his collection of herbs to the imperial palace. It was dedicated to the Japanese emperor Shomu in 756 A.D., 49 days after the emperor’s death. This building complex known as Shōsō-in.

After a book called Ishimpo (The Essence of medicine and Therapeutic methods) written by Yasuyori Tamba Japan entered a period of isolation.[2] Its last envoy was in 814 A.D. The Japanese continued to use the formulas, medical theories and practices of Zhang Zhongjing and Sun Simiao. Their teachings dominated medical practice in Japan until late 15th century.

The school of Gosei-ha was formed by Tashirō Sanki (1465-1537) who had spent 12 years in China. This was originally a small school but expanded considerably during the 17th century. Manase Dōsan, one of Tashiro's disciples, compiled Keiteki-shū, a book on internal Medicine in 8 volumes. He also established a private medical school, Keiteki-in, in Kyoto. His son wrote Igakutienseiki a book of case studies and developed a new group of herb formulas.

Another school that came after Gosei-ha was Kohō-ha which focussed on the causes of diseases and their treatment. This school overpowered the older school instead of competing with it. It used classic formulas and practical knowledge and rejected Neo-Confucianism.

Kampo began to decline around 1590 when the Portuguese introduced western medicine into Japan. As far as the western powers were concerned Japan only traded with the Dutch. They eventually brought Dutch physicians in 1639 and kampo continued to decline. [3]

Approved Kampo medicines[edit]

Today in Japan, Kampo is integrated into the national health care system. In 1967, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare approved four kampo medicines for reimbursement under the National Health Insurance (NHI) program. In 1976, 82 kampo medicines were approved by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Currently, 148 kampo medicines are approved for reimbursement;[1] this is due to an initiative by Taro Takemi in 1976, which led to 147 medicines being approved for reimbursement.[4]

Rather than modifying formulae as in Traditional Chinese medicine, the Japanese kampo tradition uses fixed combinations of herbs in standardized proportions according to the classical literature of Chinese medicine. Kampo medicines are produced by various manufacturers. However, each medicine is composed of exactly the same ingredients under the Ministry's standardization methodology. The medicines are therefore prepared under strict manufacturing conditions that rival pharmaceutical companies. In October 2000, a nationwide study reported that 72% of registered physicians prescribe kampo medicines.[5] New Kampo medicines are being evaluated using modern techniques to evaluate their mechanism of action.

Regulations, and likewise safety precautions, are much stronger and tighter for Japanese Kampo than Chinese traditional medicine due to strict enforcement of laws and standardization.There are questions as to whether similar safety exists of Kampo medicines produced and sold outside Japan.


The 14th edition of the Japanese Pharmacopoeia (JP) (日本薬局方 Nihon yakkyokuhō) lists 165 herbal ingredients that are used in Kampo medicines.[6] Lots of the Kampo products are routinely tested for heavy metals, purity, and microbial content to eliminate any contamination. Kampo medicines are tested for the levels of key chemical constituents as markers for quality control on every formula. This is carried out from the blending of the raw herbs to the end product according to the Ministry’s pharmaceutical standards.

Medicinal mushrooms like Reishi and Shiitake are herbal products with a long history of use. In Japan, the Agaricus blazei mushroom is a highly popular herb, which is used by close to 500,000 people.[7] In Japan, Agaricus blazei is also the most popular herb used by cancer patients.[8] The second most used herb, is an isolate from the Shiitake mushroom, known as Active Hexose Correlated Compound.

Kampo outside Japan[edit]

In the United States, Kampo is practiced mostly by acupuncturists, Chinese medicine practitioners, naturopath physicians, and other alternative medicine professionals. Kampo herbal formulae are studied under clinical trials, such as the clinical study of Honso Sho-saiko-to (H09) for treatment of hepatitis C at New York Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and liver cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C at UCSD Liver Center. Both clinical trials are sponsored by Honso USA, Inc., a branch of Honso Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., Nagoya, Japan.

Differences to Traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine[edit]

One of the first sources showing the term Kampō in its modern sense (James Curtis Hepburn: A Japanese and English Dictionary; with an English and Japanese Index. London: Trübner & Co., 1867, p. 177.)

Herbal medicines in Japan are regulated as pharmaceutical preparations; their ingredients are exactly measured and standardized, unlike the United States where most herbal preparations are regulated as dietary supplements (technically foods, not medicines). Furthermore, Kampo does not incorporate any human body parts nor animal parts, thus avoiding issues with animal cruelty prevalent in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both the industry and the government conduct extensive monitoring of agricultural and manufacturing processes as well as postmarketing surveillance to guarantee the safety of these preparations. Furthermore, access to Kampo herbal medicines is guaranteed as part of Japan’s national health plan for each of its citizens. In the West, however, Kampo still remains a secret to all but a few. Kampo, like the traditional medicines of modern China, Vietnam, and Korea, has roots that extend back to ancient China’s Han Dynasty (200 BC to 220 AD). The term Kampo itself incorporates 2 characters: (kan) an adjectival modifier for things Chinese and (hō/-pō) denoting “method” or “prescription“. Thus, Kampo means “the way of the Chinese.” The term came up during the late Edo period to draw a line against the growing influence of Western medicine, which was called Ranpō (Dutch style medicine) by its adherents. Although Kampo has developed within Japan’s borders and within Japan’s culture over the past 1400 years, only recently have Kampo practitioners expressed interest in sharing Kampo’s unique insights with the world.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dharmananda, Subhuti. "Kampo Medicine: The Practice of Chinese Herbal Medicine in Japan". Institute for Traditional Medicine. Retrieved 12 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Tanaka, Tim. "History of Kampo". Pacific Wellness Institute. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Dharmananda, Subhuti. "KAMPO MEDICINE The Practice of Chinese Herbal Medicine in Japan". Institute for Traditional Medicine. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Terasawa K (2004). "Evidence-based Reconstruction of Kampo Medicine: Part I-Is Kampo CAM?". Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 1 (1): 11–16. doi:10.1093/ecam/neh003. PMC 442105. PMID 15257321. 
  5. ^ World Health Organization (2001). "Legal Status of Traditional Medicine and Complementary/Alternative Medicine:A Worldwide Review". pp. 155–159. 
  6. ^ M. Matsuomoto; K. Inoue; E. Kajii (December 1999). "Integrating traditional medicine in Japan: the case of Kampo medicines". Complementary Therapies in Medicine 7 (4): 254–5. doi:10.1016/S0965-2299(99)80012-0. ISSN 0965-2299. PMID 10709312  cited in: Garner-Wizard, Mariann (30 June 2000). "Kampo — Traditional Herbal Medicine of Japan". Herbclip. American Botanical Council. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007. 
  7. ^ Takaku T, Kimura Y, Okuda H (May 2001). "Isolation of an antitumor compound from Agaricus blazei Murill and its mechanism of action". The Journal of Nutrition 131 (5): 1409–13. PMID 11340091. 
  8. ^ Hyodo I, Amano N, Eguchi K (April 2005). "Nationwide survey on complementary and alternative medicine in cancer patients in Japan". Journal of Clinical Oncology 23 (12): 2645–54. doi:10.1200/JCO.2005.04.126. PMID 15728227. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Research in Japanese Botanical Medicine and Immune Modulating Cancer Therapy - Kampo, Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, August 2001, by Dan Kenner, Ph.D.
  • Wen, Dan. "Sho-saiko-to, a Clinically Documented Herbal Preparation for Treating Chronic Liver Disease". HerbalGram: The Journal of the American Botanical Council, Issue: 73 Pages: 34–43, 2007.
  • Motoo Y, Seki T, Tsutani K. "Traditional Japanese medicine, Kampo: its history and current status.". Chin J Integr Med. 2011 Feb;17(2):85-7. doi: 10.1007/s11655-011-0653-y. Epub 2011 Feb 10.
  • Rister, Robert. Japanese Herbal Medicine: The Healing Art of Kampo. Avery, 1999. (ISBN 0-89529-836-8)
  • Tsumura, Akira. "Kampo: How the Japanese Updated Traditional Herbal Medicine." Japan Publications, 1991. (ISBN 0-87040-792-9)
  • Shibata, Yoshiharu and Jean Wu. "Kampo Treatment for Climacteric Disorders: A Handbook for Practitioners." Paradigm Publications, 1997. (ISBN 0-912111-51-8)
  • Sakai, Shizu / Sakai, Tatsuo / Oberländer, Christian (ed.): Transaction in Medicine & Heteronomous Modernization - Germany, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Tokyo: UTCP, 2009. [The University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy, 160pp.]