Traditional Health Practices


Traditional Japanese believe that an individual's health is dependent on maintaining a harmonious relationship with the universe.

Hari (acupuncture) and kyu (moxibustion) were used to restore the balance in the body. Small needles are used in acupuncture and applied to specific points on the skin surface. Moxibustion was used to help ailments of the muscles, joints, bones and back. Another common treatment methodology used is massage. Massage is thought to restore proper balances and stimulate the body's natural ability to fight off illness.

Japanese Traditional Childbearing Practices

First, a brief history of childbearing practices, giving root to present day practices will be presented. This will be followed by personal impressions of childbearing practices from three Japanese women representing three different generations.

Cessation of menstrual periods signaled the start of pregnancy for the Japanese women of small communal villages of the nineteen thirties. The forty weeks ahead were not without pardon from climbing the mountain everyday and gathering firewood to sell in the trading village miles away to contribute to the household. This also allowed the pregnant woman to keep the honor and respect of her peers in the village. It was not uncommon for Japanese women to return from the mountains or the fields carrying their newborn. It was believed that hard physical work should not be avoided and pampering ones self while pregnant would mark that woman as lazy and "no good". In fact, they believed that the continuance of working would make the labor for the expectant mother easier.

As the birthing day arrived, the woman would work closer to home. When labor started the midwife was called to assist in the delivery along with her husband's mother and her own mother. In these days rarely did a woman in labor cry out in pain. Soft crying was permissible, but any loud demonstration would elicit contemptuous comments from the older women. In fact, if there were other children in the house, it was not even known to them that a baby was being born.

For the next 27 days the mother and child are not allowed outside of the room for fear that the newborn's soul has not firmly attached to the body yet. The midwife remains with the mother during this time, helps her with recuperating, teaching her about infant care and proper nutrition for a hearty milk supply. On the 31st day the mother and child are taken by family members to the Shinto shrine and blessed. The newborn is now an official member of the community. A celebration of food and wine was held at the parent's home for the villagers to welcome their new addition.

Looking back on the Japanese childbearing practices then and comparing them to today's practices, many similarities are noted. Today a Japanese woman is encouraged to carry out her usual duties at home and at work. She is encouraged to eat a healthy diet and prepare physically for labor via prenatal exercises and classes. It is still customary that a newborn infant remains in the home for 30 days. It is now believed that this allows the infant to adapt to the new atmosphere while protecting the infant from overexposure to bacteria and viruses.

The three generations of Japanese women all mentioned the importance of maintaining family honor during the childbearing, and the benefits of breastfeeding.

E-mail Sharon Moran, RN, CS, MPH

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Last Updated on Wednesday March 24,1999