• Shiori W

RealVoice#2 Acupuncturist, The History of the Profession as well as its feature in Japan.

Sawa Acupuncture and Moxibustion Clinic provides acupuncture and moxibustion treatments for women from a woman acupuncturist. It is located in Kurume City, Fukuoka Prefecture and has been open for seven years. I interviewed Ms. Sawako Ikeda about the history of acupuncture and moxibustion in traditional Japanese medicine and about the challenges she is currently facing as a female entrepreneur.

Acupuncturists used to act as doctors in the past.

Ms. Ikeda: Doctors in the past like the doctors you see in historical dramas were acupuncturists, they were mainstream doctors who would issue prescriptions and make Chinese herbal medicine. Traditional medical techniques came from China and were further developed in Japan, it then turned into something different. It is those techniques that acupuncturists used to treat patients.

In Japan, acupuncturists cannot issue medical certificates or provide medical prescriptions.

Ms, Ikeda: While acupuncture is a medical treatment, acupuncturists cannot diagnose illnesses or prescribe medicine like doctors of western medicine. We just treat the symptoms or problems that are affecting a patient when they come in.

- Acupuncture was brought to Japan a long time ago and should have taken hold more than Western medicine so why is it that acupuncturists aren’t recognized as doctors and can’t issue medical prescriptions or medical certificates?

Ms Ikeda: After the Meiji government was formed they recognized Western medicine as its own field and named it “Seiyo-e”(西洋医). Hospitals and mainstream medicine in Japan today are based upon Western medicine. Paired with this is the traditional Chinese medicine field which acupuncturists belong to and are classified as, “Kanpo-i”(漢方医), a doctor of Chinese medicine. Therefore, acupuncturists do not possess the same qualifications as hospitals or doctors of Western medicine so they cannot make diagnoses or prescribe medicine.

Additionally, if you take a look at the history of acupuncture in Japan you will find that being an acupuncturist was a common job for blind people. Acupuncture is inextricably linked to welfare. Before the Edo period, blind people mainly found work in the musical field as a biwa or a shamisen player.

After Japan entered the Edo period, the visually impaired mainly found work as masseuses or masseurs who practiced shiatsu and anma massage. Over time they moved from massage to acupuncture and it developed into a profession for the visually impaired. At that time in Japan, practicing acupuncture was thought to be a sort of welfare that allowed blind people to be able to eat and live.

There was a person referred to as Sugiyama Kengyo who was employed by the Tokugawa clan and was in a position of authority. Through them acupuncture gradually became recognized as a job.

Most importantly, “Kengyo” was a job that included not just treating patients as an acupuncturist, they also coordinated acupuncturists. They handled everything from managing, what would be referred to today as, trade schools to providing employment references. From a welfare perspective, there was already a well formed system that covered everything from training to finding jobs in the acupuncture industry.

As for the circumstances that led to the development of such a welfare system, it was because at the time there were a lot of treatments that hadn’t been developed yet so a lot of illnesses resulted in blindness. There were many cases of people having their sight taken by a disease when they were young or being born blind.

- Was it just a part of life that one may become disabled during life back then?

Yes, it was and if they did become disabled it was also expected that they’d have to make living for themselves.

- It’s different now isn’t it?

The status of disabled people varies from era to era with there being good points and bad points to each era.

Nowadays the number of visually impaired acupuncturists have decreased. When a visually impaired person performs acupuncture as a medical treatment, they need to have another person there to support them because they cannot see if blood has come out when they place a needle.

In the past, a visually impaired person was already expected to be an acupuncturist so there were times when people who had no interest in medicine or acupuncture were automatically enrolled into trade schools. Unskilled and unwilling people were forced to become acupuncturists so it was difficult to maintain an overall level of treatment quality.

In the Showa era also, if a young person was from a family that was genetically predisposed to becoming visually impaired, they were put into schools for the visually impaired even if they still had their sight. Regardless of whether or not they wanted to be an acupuncturist, many ended up being driven into that position.

The field of acupuncture in Japan has entered a time of change.

In this day and age, the number of people who are born blind or who lose their eyesight due to disease when they’re young have decreased and even if a person is blind, as long as they can use a computer they have a wider choice of careers available to them. The number of people who become acupuncturists against their wishes have also decreased. If someone is blind they can choose to study at The Center for the Visually Impaired. An acupuncturist has to have a national certification so the study required is difficult. When I see this kind of change happening, it really makes me think that the acupuncture field has entered a period of change.

Reference : http://www.rehab.go.jp/fukuoka/

When it comes to acupuncture, the patient is the main character.

- What do you think an acupuncturist is to a patient?

An acupuncturist is someone who supports a patient’s life, kind of like a sports trainer does. As professionals we have the knowledge and skills that enable us to help patients with any upsets that may occur in their life. In Eastern medicine it is thought that an acupuncturists raise a patient’s own natural healing power by providing stimulation which allows a patient to overcome a sickness. The only person who can heal a patient is the patient themselves.

Acupuncturists can help patients who want to recover but sometimes there are patients who just do not want to get better. A patient’s lifestyle can play a large role in an illness so if they are not in the mindset of wanting to get better, their treatment will not make any progress.

Let's read it together : about the challenges she is currently facing as a female entrepreneur.

Owner Profile

Sawako Ikeda

The acupuncturist and owner of Sawa Acupuncture and Moxibustion Clinic (Sawa Shinkyuin) for seven years.

She became an acupuncturist after meeting a Japanese acupuncturist in Finland and returning to Japan.

She provides acupuncture treatments for conditions that affect women such as infertility. She operates her acupuncture and moxibustion clinic and also teaches at a trade school.

Address : Yu-zu building 42, Chu-o machi 38-23, Kurume city, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Sawa acupuncture Clinic


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