What is Kampo medicine?
If you’ve spent a bit of time and visited one of the thousands of drug stores that are scattered all over the country, then you may have seen, or at least unknowingly seen some of the vast arrays of kampo-yaku that fill the shelves. The medicine is known for being a ‘natural remedy’ (生薬) as the medicine is mainly made of raw herbs and minerals that contains no artificial chemicals.
What does 漢方薬 (かんぽうやく) mean?
If you’re studying Japanese and you’re studying kanji, the chances are you’ve seen these kanji before – or at least you should have.
The first Chinese character is 漢 and means ‘Chinese’ or ‘from China’ (as well as a few other things). As you may have realized, it’s the same kanji used in the word kanji 漢字 (Chinese characters).
The second character is also a fairly common one that can mean person 方 (かた), however, in this case, it means something more similar to ‘method’ like in the word 方法 (ほうほう) which also means ‘method’.
The last character is 薬, which means medicine and is pronounced kusuri (くすり) on its own but as yaku (やく) when combined with other characters.
This means we can consider “healing method from China” as a fairly literal and accurate translation of kampo-yaku.
The theory behind the science
Kampo medicine is built up around the idea that certain natural attributes of plants can cause reactions within the body, helping to heal your ailments and restore your health. While there are people who strongly believe in the effects of the medicine, and those who believe it’s all nonsense, there has been strong scientific evidence that supports the use of kampo medicines. While kampo can be used to restore balance to the body and mind by giving it natural supplements to improve how the body works as a whole, it cannot be compared to modern medicine that is used to directly target disease, infections, and other ailments.
Kampo medicine that is obtained from plants, minerals, and animals can be bought over-the-counter or gotten from specialist hospitals and pharmacies from almost anywhere in Japan to cure a wide variety of ailments. However, kampo medicine is based on the idea of creating balance and healthiness throughout the entire body, which will then help to cure or ease ailments over time. For this reason, it’s hard to compare kampo to modern/western medicine, but that does not mean it can’t be used in conjunction with other medicines – as more and more doctors are recommending.