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A disorder of ki: alternative treatments for neurasthenia in Japan, 1890-1945

Wu, Y.-C.; (2012) A disorder of ki: alternative treatments for neurasthenia in Japan, 1890-1945. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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This thesis studies some of the most popular alternative treatments for neurasthenia in Japan in the period of 1890 to 1945, including breathing exercise, quiet-sitting, hypnotism-derived mental therapy and Morita therapy. Neurasthenia, with its supposed relation to modern civilization, was a widely used and preferred disease label in Japan. As the official Western medicine failed to provide satisfactory solutions to this obstinate and debilitating disease, a variety of alternative treatments were invented or reinvented and some of them became very popular. Concerning the popularity and effectiveness of these treatments, this thesis argues that they provided contemporary Japanese, who had been experiencing rapid and dramatic change to lifestyle, culture and society, with models by which they could perceive, conceive and strengthen their neurological, circulatory and psychological systems by their analogy to ki. Known as a nervous disorder, neurasthenia was also perceived and understood as a disorder of ki, with insufficiency, stagnation, obstruction and turbulence still thought to be the major faults. Through undergoing and practicing these treatments, Japanese neurasthenic patients could control and invigorate the flow of nervous currents, blood and ideas as they previously cultivated ki. This thesis also investigates these treatments in the context of Japanese nationalism. Their advocates often claimed that they were embedded in traditional Japanese culture and hence particularly effective for Japanese patients. Returning to traditional lifestyle and culture was regarded by them as a cure for neurasthenia, which they thought was a disease of ‘de-Japanization’. Furthermore, they founded a large number of groups and organizations for the practice and promotion of these treatments, which were in many ways like traditional extended families and provided patients with a much-needed sense of security and belonging. These treatments were endowed with social and cultural significance, which was also crucial to their therapeutic effectiveness for neurasthenia.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:A disorder of ki: alternative treatments for neurasthenia in Japan, 1890-1945
UCL classification:UCL > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Biosciences (Division of) > UCL Centre for the History of Medicine

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