TB treatment in Japan in the 1930’s and 40’s

Japan in the 1930’s was a very different country to the one which we know today. The vast majority of the population was poor and lived on the land. TB was a common disease which particularly decimated this strata of society with much in common with Africa now – low incomes, low levels of literacy, poor living conditions, little access to affordable or effective health care, poor diet and constitutionally weakened immune systems. There are well-known reports of moxibustion specialists treating TB effectively with moxa from this time. Two names are particularly well known: Sawada Ken, and Hara Shimetaro. Hara’s treatments have interested us most for several reasons. Firstly he was a medical doctor and his approach was therefore largely scientific. Secondly his protocols were designed to be extremely simple and were intended to be done at home by patients and their relatives with point location easily mastered with little in the way of instruction. Thirdly, they were extremely light in terms of dosage, in terms of both size and numbers of cones, and therefore represent the most appropriate approach. Fourthly, his reports come with some interesting scientific research, despite the fact that his explanations of the mechanisms of response may be outdated.

Intrigued by the responses he was finding in his patients (and he explicitly claimed that his treatment was curing TB if done over a long term) Hara conducted his own research into its effects of moxa on guinea pigs which had been infected with TB. Using comparative groups of animals both with and without moxa treatment and using some with deliberately delayed onsets of treatment, he built up a picture of both mortality rates and recovery tendencies in his subject animals. This depended upon how the treatment was or wasn't administered. Although his research was clearly only on animal subjects, his results remain persuasive – dependant upon dosage the moxa treatment clearly aided recovery from TB. We recognise, of course, that his claims may be overstated and also that his research was only on animals, But his accounts of his human patients' responses provided us with incentive enough to look further into the Japanese literature.

We found no more recent repetition of his experiments. Since the advent of TB drugs, there has been no apparent interest in Japan in investigating moxa’s effects on tuberculosis. The disease is being quite adequately controlled by drugs so no incentive exists. Doctor Hara, however, and others who were his contemporaries, also investigated the wider effects of moxa on the immune system, particularly monitoring White Blood Cell counts, and there is plenty of more recent information on this subject which casts better light for us today.