What the sick should knowimage of the body drawn from a health manual of early nineteenth century Japan



In Japan the Edo period (1603~1867) saw a flurry interest in health. “Byoka-suchi病家須知” is a health manual (yojo/yangsheng 養生text), written by Hirano Jusei平野重誠 in 1832. It argues the ways of home nursing, providing practical knowledge of keeping health and remedies. It is a good example to see how people perceived and took care of their body in the end of the Edo period. Taking the traditional idea of yojo as its basis, it particularly emphasises such as the significance of ki (qi) circulation, self-discipline, and the value of forms and daily habits that mould the decent body.

Above all what makes the text distinguished is the unusual combinations of Chinese characters and Japanese kana (pronunciation). Japanese language system does not employ one-to-one correspondence between Chinese character and pronunciation. The author took the full advantage of this system and made various matches of these two languages that enabled to broaden the verbalisation of his medical view. For example, we can see that several Chinese characters are used for the word ‘karada (body, 身軆)’; 軀殻(bodily shell), 身軆 (body), 腔子(container), 軆(body), 運輸(transport), 気血(ki and blood), 皮肉(skin and flesh). They are all read as ‘karada’. Each example represents the nuance of author’s image of the body in each context. For instance karada運輸(transport) is used in arguing digestion or the fear of stagnation of bodily fluid. The body is seen as a place of transporting here.

It seems that the original meaning of Chinese character is rather neglected. Yet such method might have an influence from the trend in Japanese classical literature in the early nineteenth century. Suggesting that Japanese literature had its origin in oral tradition, some regarded the existence of Japanese language as a priori. In other words they tried to treat Chinese character as a mere tool for writing.

Therefore my paper firstly aims to examine the perception of the body of that time, particularly paying attention to the nuance expressed in the text. Through this attempt I also hope to show the entangled relations between the expressiveness of languages and the variety in images of the body.