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Modern Japan and the History of Mental Afflictions, Tuberculosis, and Hansen’s Disease
Akihito Suzuki (Keio University)

Central to the discipline of the history of medicine in modern Japan are the three diseases of mental afflictions, tuberculosis, and Hansen’s disease.  The patients of these diseases have experienced phases of long-term confinement in the twentieth century.  Our research project will investigate multiple meanings of the patients of the diseases in modern Japan.[i] 

Humanities, Social Sciences and the History of Medicine

Humanities and social sciences have dealt with the history of medicine.  Roger Cooter and the late John Pickstone argued that in many ways “the history of medicine in the twentieth century is the history of the twentieth century” (Cooter and Pickstone 2003).  Medicine in the twentieth century achieved pervasive successes and changed fundamental aspects in the lives of patients and the workings of societies.  Humanities and social sciences analyzed major issues such as the body, mind, health, diseases, bioethics, and disabilities.  The new history of medicine also incorporates the relevance of history for the present and the future societies and the dynamics of historical methodologies that fit decisions for our future (Jackson 2011).

The Diseases as the Medical Framework

On the other hand, our research project is deeply connected with medicine through the adoption of the diseases as the basic framework (Kiple 1993; Weisz 2014). Instead of putting concepts of humanities or social sciences such as justice, states, gender, and races, this project tries to draw insights from the medical concepts of mental afflictions, tuberculosis, and Hansen’s disease.  These medical concepts and practical structures inspired many works in history in European areas about the medieval Hansen’s disease, modern tuberculosis, and mental illnesses from the ancient to the contemporary period (Foucault 2006 & 1991; Ellenberger 1970; Ackerknecht 1967; Dubos 1987; Porter 1990).  Likewise, these diseases have established as crucial subjects in the making of modern Japan for medical historians in Japan (Fukuda 1994; Nakamura 2016; Sato 2012; Hirokawa 2016; Takabayashi 2017; Hashimoto 2016; Goto 2014).  Especially Japan had unique condition of the coexistence of the national campaigns over the three diseases in their policy, medicine, reaction and representation and the massive change of the system of the state and society.  The acronym of three diseases as MATH — Mental Afflictions, Tuberculosis and Hansen’s disease –- will be promising path.

Viewpoints and Methodologies

We will employ various and multiple viewpoints and methodologies.  The performances and contributions of great doctors are of course one of the classic ways, but that does not remain the only path we will follow (Bynum and Porter 1993).  Politics, administration, finance, and social forces were important components.  The patients’ families, their communities, and institutional staff were also crucial.  Archives and statistical tables will include both the individual uniqueness and the figure-based pictures which will set our pictures of Japanese history of medicine in international contexts.

This website will publicize our ideas about MATH in modern Japan.  They will be based on the development of humanities and social sciences, as well as the centralization of medical concepts of the diseases.  Our viewpoints and methodologies will be diverse and we will present individualistics and statistics of the diseases.

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  • Cooter, Roger, and John V. Pickstone (2003). Companion to Medicine in the Twentieth Century. World Reference. Routledge.
  • Dubos, Rene Jules, and Jean Dubos. (1987). The White Plague: Tuberculosis, Man, and Society. Rutgers University Press.
  • Ellenberger, Henri F. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. Basic Books.
  • Foucault, Michel. (2006). History of Madness. Translated by Jean Khalfa, and Jonathan Murphy. Routledge.
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  • Hashimoto, Akira. (2016). “Work and Activity in Mental Hospitals in Modern Japan, C. 1868-2000.” In Work, Psychiatry and Society, C.1750-2015, edited by Waltraud Ernst. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Hirokawa, Waka. (2016). “A Colony or a Sanitarium?: A Comparative History of Segregation Politics of Hansen’s Disease in Modern Japan.” In Science, Technology, and Medicine in the Modern Japanese Empire., edited by David G. Wittner, and Philip C. Brown. New York: Routledge.
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  • Sato, Masahiro. (2012). “Popularization of Psychiatric Knowledge in Modern Japan at the Turn of the Twentieth Century: Focusing on the Newspaper Coverage of Mental Disorders.” Historia Scientiarum 22, no. 2: 110-124.
  • Suzuki, Akihito. (2006). Madness at Home: The Psychiatrist, the Patient, and the Family in England, 1820-1860. Medicine and Society. Vol. 13: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Takabayashi, Akinobu. (2017). “Surviving the Lunacy Act of 1890: English Psychiatrists and Professional Development During the Early Twentieth Century.” Medical History 61, no. 2: 246-69.
  • Weisz, George. (2014). Chronic Disease in the Twentieth Century : A History. Johns Hopkins University Press.

[1] The funding for this research is given thorough Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Sciences (JSPS).  The research project involves about fifteen powerful historians of medicine in Japan.