Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Alan H. Jacobs

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Many societies have pluralistic medical systems in which biomedicine and alternative therapies coexist. Some anthropologists view medical pluralism adaptively, where the strengths of various therapies complement each other. Others highlight the hegemonic power of biomedicine and its tendency to suppress or co-opt alternative therapies. To understand medical pluralism, one must examine alternative therapies in particular cultural contexts.

Kanpo, or Japanese herbalism, has survived political and legal suppression resulting from Japan's 19th century attempts at westernization and now poses a challenge to the biomedical model of health and illness. Since the 1970's more Japanese are turning to kanpo rather than biomedicine for chronic illness.

This article reports on three case studies of the usage of kanpo herbs by Japanese students at Western Michigan University. Interviews of Japanese students reveal a remarkable degree of consensus regarding attitudes toward Western medicine and kanpo. The article contributes to understanding Japanese perceptions of health and illness and how these impact treatment choices.

Included in

Anthropology Commons