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In Session: Sickness, State, and Subjectivity in Modern Japan
1: The Japan Sanitary Society and the Discourse of Health in Meiji Japan
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Kerry S. Shannon
California State University, Dominguez Hills, United States
During the last decades of the nineteenth century, public health policy in Japan shifted from strict anti-disease measures such as forced quarantines to more discursive attempts at cultivating “hygienic thought” (eisei shisō) in order to instill Japanese subjects with a sense of “hygienic self-governance” (eisei jichi). This paper examines why and how this change took place by focusing on The Japan Sanitary Society, the nation’s largest non-governmental forum for the discussion and dissemination of medical knowledge. Founded in 1883 by leading figures in medicine and the medical social sciences, the Association published articles and reports that touched upon a range of topics, including diet, exercise, palliative care, bowel movements, and aging. It also sponsored the establishment of local and prefectural branch associations, which served as pedagogical vehicles for publicizing and propagating the Association’s health advice.
Drawing from the Society’s archive of annual reports, meeting minutes, and photographs, I argue that the forum both epitomized and facilitated a transformation in the knowledge and practices of health and healing that took place in the Meiji period. By expanding the discourse of health beyond the state’s focus on anti-disease measures to topics related to lifestyle and personal comportment, the organization helped broaden knowledge of public health while also immuring that very discourse within a circle of medical elites.