Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Modern Day Implications from Medieval Japan: Fetal Development and Dietary Guidelines for Pregnancy

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Modern Day Implications from Medieval Japan: Fetal Development and Dietary Guidelines for Pregnancy

Article excerpt

For early medieval Asians, birth defects and abnormal deliveries could be avoided by careful attention to diet, physical activity, and a disciplined mind. Today, this view of fetal development and preparatory maternal activities still influences Asian health principles in the form of traditions that emphasize moderation in diet, specific food restrictions, and good physical and mental hygiene. Although some of these guidelines seem to be based on religious, social, and psychological reasons, others are clearly in response to epidemics or to food process technologies of the time. This article describes fetal development and dietary guidelines found in Volume 22 of the Ishinpou, the oldest and one of the most revered texts in Japanese medical literature with origins in ancient China and Korea. Many of the recommendations described in this text are similar to current, widely held beliefs among Asian Americans, particularly those with family ties to Japan. Understanding the origin of these traditions is critical to the development of effective health education programs for Asian immigrant populations.

Western scientific concepts were first integrated into Japanese thought almost 150 years ago and since then many have received official acceptance within the country (Otsuka, Yakazu, & Shimizu, 1994; Sakai, 1982). As a result, most Japanese today subscribe to a significant number of western manners and customs (Nippon Fuuzokushi Gakkai, 1988). The Japanese have maintained a strong national identity and are faithful to many of the longstanding traditions that distinguished their society (Maki, 1992; Nagashio, Yamanouchi, & Mikami, 1988; Nihon Zokushin Jiten, 1992). For example, to the Japanese, life starts at conception and a child is considered to be one year old at birth (Koujien, 1991). Along traditional lines, the Japanese believe behavior and thought from the mother are important influences on fetal development. Similarly, selection and control of food intake during pregnancy have been a critical issue in helping safeguard the fetus (Inoue, 1993; Maki, 1995). For example, many dietary recommendations established in early medieval Japan have been passed down through the generations. Traditional guidelines advise pregnant women to shun (both seeing and eating) rabbit (as a cause for cleft palate), crab (as a cause for a sixth fingers, and leeks (as a cause for excess hair) (Maki, 1995; Nihon Zokushin Jiten, 1992; Nishikawa, 1992).

One specific early medieval text from Japan, the Ishinpou, is based on more than 120 imprintings from ancient China and Korea (Maki, 1994; Sakai, 1982). The Ishinpou is central to understanding the roots of Japanese traditional thought. As the oldest and one of the most revered medical texts in Japan, it reveals what early physicians believed regarding interrelationships among diet, behavior, and disease. Because of its extensive and various citations, insights can be gained regarding early medieval Chinese, Japanese, and Korean views of pregnancy (specifically in Ishinpou Volume 22). Understanding the origin of these traditions is essential because these beliefs still influence health principles and practices within the Asian community.

The purpose of this study is to help FCS, social, and health science professionals working in diverse cultural environments better understand Asian, especially Japanese, traditional practices and beliefs related to women in their childbearing years.


This study was divided into three phases: (1) translation of the Ishinpou, Volume 22 from Japanese and Chinese languages by the author of this article; (b) examination of the historic and social backgrounds of the era in which the Ishinpou was compiled; and (c) annotation, explanation, and summarization of the information.

The Ishinpou is an early medieval treatise of medicine consisting of 30 volumes compiled in 984 Common Era (CE). It is believed the author, Yasuyori Tanba (912-995 CE), was a descendent of Chinese nobility who came to Japan in the Asuka Era (592-710 CE). …

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