Imagining Health, Disease and the Body in Early Modern Japan (1600 -1868) 

01 January 2017 → 31 December 2019
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • Language studies
    • Literary studies
early modern Japan
Project description

In contrast to the traditional narratives on Japanese health and disease, which are firmly rooted in the textual corpus produced by medical experts and/or policy makers, the proposed research seeks to explore the perception of the healthy and ailing body in early modern Japan from the ‘patient's' view, as medical historian Roy Porter famously postulated. More specifically, it engages with the cultural ‘magination' of the body, health and disease, to this purpose mining the rich contemporary tradition of popular vernacular literature for source material. In particular, I will focus on two types of texts, vernacular fiction and erotica, exploring how they mediated lay perspectives of the body, well-being and disease, and in the process appropriated, negotiated or discarded medical knowledge.The project captures the crucial period when a burgeoning commercial publishing industry developed in Japan, which provided decisive stimuli to the vernacularization and popularization of medical knowledge, making it accessible in print to both practitioners and lay health-seekers. Literary sources were located on this popularizing spectrum, not unlike in 18th century England, where the wider circulation of scientific ideas percolated into literary production. In this way, they provide a window on the cultural associations, metaphors and images associated with health and illness, counterbalancing hegemonic medical discourses on the subject.