Traditional Japanese Acupuncture: Fundamentals of Meridian Therapy
Edited by Koie Kuwahara The Society of Traditional Japanese Medicine, Complementary Medicine Press, 2003 381 pages, £27.00
(Reviewed by Michael Potter, EJOM Vol. 4 No. 5)
With the increased interest in Traditional Japanese Medicine (TJM) over the past few years this book is a welcome addition to the literature, providing an overview of the history, theory and practice of meridian therapy (Keiraku Chiryo), a subject which until relatively recently has had little exposure in the West. TJM is founded on the study and critique of the classical medical texts: primarily Su Wen, Ling Shu and Nan Jing, which came over to Japan from China in the 6th Century, and which subsequently served as the foundation of a distinctive and separate tradition. TJM is primarily a five phase paradigm, which is founded on an understanding of the basic theories of oriental medicine, and as such provides no great surprises. As its name implies great emphasis is placed upon the differences between pathologies and symptoms related to meridian pathways and organs.
The style of practice discussed in this book is based on the five phases, and has been referred to by one of its leading exponents, the late Okabe Somei, as ‘reconstructed’ meridian therapy (RTM). RMT now one of the dominant styles of traditional acupuncture practiced in Japan today, is an evolution from an earlier, theoretically simpler version which Okabe called conventional meridian therapy (CMT). Both styles acknowledge the principle of tonifying deficiency and dispersing excess; the difference being that RMT further classified pathological changes according to whether heat or coldness resulted from the initial deficiency, and out of this treatment and diagnostic protocols evolved to respond to these changes. From our perspective RTM provides a bridge between five element acupuncture and TCM as they are tacitly understood in the West, bearing features which are recognisable to practitioners of both of these styles. One of its defining features is the principle of the constitution as an etiological factor, which bares similarities to, but none the less distinctive differences from, the five element notion of causative factors. ‘Constitutional factors’ are imbalances in four of the five yin organ/meridian systems; the exception being the heart, which houses the shen. What TJM shares with TCM is the physiological yinyang body, with functions of zangfu organs, the principles of before and after heaven ki, as well as the recognition of internal and external causes of disease. While root treatment protocols are designated as deficiency/excess and heat/cold in a particular meridian, the pathological processes involved are easily accessible to TCM practitioners.
Until now English translations of TJM books have been limited to Fukushima Kodo’s Meridian Therapy, Shodo Denmei’s Japanese Classical Acupuncture; Introduction to Meridian Therapy and the excellent Grasping the Dragon’s Tail by Manaka Yoshio and Stephen Birch; each of which are books written largely from the perspective of a single author. This publication however, is the product of many years of research and discussion among leading Japanese clinicians and is a compilation of the work of seven of the most respected practitioners of the Twentieth Century; the late Okabe Somie, Aizawa Ryo, Higuchi Hideyoshi, Ikeda Masakazu, Kuwahara Koei (the editor), Okada Akizo and Shudo Denmei. The Japanese text took ten years to develop and this English translation is the result of collaboration between the Society of Traditional Japanese Medicine and the New England School of Acupuncture which has been running courses on meridian therapy for a number of years.
The first part of the book provides an overview of the history of meridian therapy and its evolution, plus a comprehensive explanation of the theories behind it. Separate chapters are devoted to a comprehensive explanation of points and meridians, organ functions, and the aetiology of disease. This is followed by chapters on pathologies and symptoms, diagnosis, and a whole chapter covers pulse diagnosis. The final chapter deals with treatment protocols. The bulk of the book is devoted to diagnosis and treatment according to the principles of meridian therapy and as such, is very information dense. It provides valuable clues to diagnostic and treatment procedures, but is not an easy book to dip into until you are familiar with its layout. TJM is essentially a four stage procedure, which is explained at the back of the book in Chapter 9. Once this treatment protocol is understood, the remaining content of the book becomes much more accessible.
Essentially, this is a textbook, which is designed to teach a specific style of acupuncture, and as such should be viewed as an accompaniment to practical tuition from someone who is skilled in this particular style. It provides a comprehensive and thorough grounding in meridian therapy from both a theoretical and practical standpoint; it is accessible to both beginners and experienced practitioners, being both an explanation of basic theory and a practical guide or ‘workshop manual’. It does have to be stressed that meridian therapy is a very skills orientated practice, and the use of guide tubes for needle insertion, and moxa preparation are techniques which require hours of study to perfect, and while the book provides valuable guidelines on the use of many of these techniques, it should not be viewed as a substitute for tuition.
This book does have shortcomings; while it quotes freely from the Su Wen, Ling Shu and Nan Jing, the lack of a bibliography is frustratingly noticeable. In sight of the wealth of clinical experience of the practitioners involved in this project, a section dealing with practical case studies would also have been welcome. While a whole chapter is rightfully devoted to pulse diagnosis, only a short section in the preceding chapter covers abdominal palpation, a diagnostic hall mark of Japanese acupuncture. The layout, which until the reader is familiar with the text makes information difficult to access. Having to jump from the signs and symptoms of liver deficiency in one section of the book to the pulse picture elsewhere and then again to locate the suggested points can be quite time consuming.
The language of TJM also takes a little getting used to. As a student of oriental medicine for over twenty five years, I have seen the language of TCM standardise to a point where we speak to each other in a language which we all understand, and which has largely evolved out of Chinese literature coming into the English language. As TJM has not made a great contribution to this process, some of the terminology such as yin ki and yang ki can be challenging; as well as the realisation that there are differences of theoretical opinion between the two traditions. Having said that, Traditional Japanese Acupuncture: Fundamentals of Meridian Therapy is an excellent book which provides a thorough introduction to an evolving modern tradition.
Michael Potter Michael Potter is a graduate of the College of Traditional Acupuncture. He has studied TCM and taught for many years at the London College of Traditional Acupuncture. He was first introduced to Japanese acupuncture in 1987 and has since studied with Ikeda Masakazu Sensei, the Director of Education of the Society of Traditional Japanese Medicine, in America and Japan.