Wolfgang Michel: Japanese Acupuncture and Moxibustion in 16-18th Century Europe. Journal of the Japan Society of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (JJSAM), Vol. 61 (2011), No. 2, pp. 150-163 (42-44).


Japanese Acupuncture and Moxibustion in 16-18th Century Europe


Despite China's cultural impact, Japanese physicians handled medical knowledge they adopted from their great neighbour with surprising independency. Being much more open to interactions with Westerners even after the adoption of a semi-seclusion policy in 1639, Japan also played a significant role in the early transmission of information on acupuncture and moxibustion to Europe.

The first reports on Traditional Far Eastern Medicine by Europeans came from 16th-century Japan, where Jesuit missionaries accumulated a considerable knowledge of acupuncture, moxibustion, pulse feeling, and materia medica. But as their observations are dispersed over a great variety of letters, 'historias', and dictionaries, there was no significant response among European readers.

Medical interactions in Japan changed significantly in 1641 with the relocation of the Dutch trading-post from Hirado to Dejima (Nagasaki). By establishing a permanent position for a surgeon/physician, the foundations were laid for a continuous exchange between Japanese physicians and their Westerns colleagues.

European scholarly interest in moxibustion began with a booklet by Hermann Buschoff, a Dutch clergyman in Batavia, about a remedy against Podagra, he called "Moxa" (<Japanese mogusa). Buschoff had great difficulties to come to terms with the nature of his miracle cure. After heavy debates in the German Academy of Natural Science, Andreas Cleyer, a licensed physician and trading-post chief in Japan, clarified the botanical background and the production methods of Moxa. But being unable to understand Eastern pathology, Western physicians inevitably looked for similarities in their own tradition as well as in Egyptian medicine. Although Engelbert Kaempfer demonstrated the broad range of application in Japan, Moxa was assimilated as a remedy against gout following the old Western principle of "revulsion". After many earlier remarks by Portuguese Jesuits, Willem ten Rhijne's article on acupuncture marks the beginning of scholarly discussions on the art of needling. Without knowing it he and his eminent successor at Dejima Kaempfer presented recent Japanese inventions like the 'tube needle' and the 'tapping needle', the latter one being used in a therapeutical concept that completely ignored Chinese 'meridians'. Both highly educated physicians did not manage to overcome the language barrier, depending on Japanese interpreters with limited Dutch knowledge. Thus 'meridians' were considered to be blood vessels, ki became 'wind' (flatus) and the accumulation of ki in the abdominal area seemed to be a kind of 'colic'. The usage of needles in such a case, as described by Kaempfer, inevitably lead to a harsh rejection by Western medical authorities.


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