Understanding the Body

In order to understand Ekiken’s food regulations, it is necessary to introduce the text as well as the foundations within the context of medical ideas of the body. The Ydjdkun is divided into eight thematic chapters, which are then categorized into rather redundant paragraphs. The first two chapters entitled ‘Introduction’ (sdron, 108 paragraphs) are dedicated to Neo-Confucian metaphysics and the medical basics of life nourishment (ydjd).[1] This thematic introduction is followed by two chapters on food and drinking (inshoku, 144 paragraphs), which also include paragraphs on sexual austereness (shikiyoku wo tsutsushimu). The remaining four chapters of the book are significantly shorter and are entitled: ‘Five senses’ (Gokan, 52 paragraphs), ‘Avoiding illness’ (Byo wo tsutsushimu, 58 paragraphs), ‘Using drugs’ (Kusuri wo you, 60 paragraphs) and ‘Correct ageing’ (Ro wo yashinau, 54 paragraphs). The extensive elaboration upon food and eating in two chapters as well as its significance and recurrence in other chapters establishes nutrition and cultivation of life through food (shokuyo) as the single-most important component in keeping a healthy body. This approach reflects the contemporary saying that ‘illness comes through the mouth’ (byoki wa kuchi kara, Ekiken III, 2), and it is this relevance of food and eating for health that leads Ekiken also to suggest the introduction of a (at least for Japan) new profession: the food doctor (shokui); a dietician that ‘by food could cure hundreds of diseases’ (Ekiken IV, 4).

The first two chapters of the Yojokun provide the reader with an introduction into the basic ideas of body and causes of illness and establish the logic behind dietetic rules and techniques elaborated upon in later chapters. Ekiken authorizes his dietetics by references to a well-established dietetic discourse within the tradition of kampo medicine.[2] The explanations of body and body processes also allow the reader to diagnose symptoms and self-medicate to a certain degree. However, medical treatment is generally regarded as a last resort: ‘Only

2

in the case of an illness should drugs be used and should the illness be attacked by acupuncture and moxibustion’ (I, 10 also 1,15 and 16).

The Yojokun represents a holistic approach to the body. The microcosm of the human body corresponds to the macrocosm of heaven and earth (tenchi). Microcosm and macrocosm are both permeated by the universal force of ‘vital energy’ (chin. qi, jap. ki), which is ‘essential to medical thought in two respects. This energy animates a human being and flows through the body. On the other hand, the body exerts influence from the outside, in the form of climatic aggregates as well as substances consumed for nourishment’.[3] Humans are born with ‘congenital energy’ or ‘primordial energy’: genki (xM), which in Modern Japanese just means ‘healthy’:

The genki of people is a vital energy that brings forth all things in the universe. It is the foundation of the human body. No human is born without this vital energy. [... ] Genki is bestowed on the human by heaven and by the parents and is thus a congenital energy. After birth, we receive support from things outside (gaibutsu) in form of clothing, food, and shelter. Those nurture the congenital energy and thus preserve life. Food, clothing, and shelter are also bestowed upon us by heaven. (Ekiken I, 8)

Next to this primordial energy, there are acquired manifestations of energy including orthopathic energy (EM, seiki), which supports physiological processes and pathogenic energy (ЖМ, jaki), which disrupts processes within the body. Other manifestations have different functions within the body, including essence energy (ШМ, seiki), which is linked to reproduction or spirit energy (WM, shinki), which supports mental powers, or refer to manifestations of energy that are incorporated from the outside like food energy (^M, shokki, shokuki or shokuke). Life nourishment accordingly addresses the proper functioning of different forms of vital energy:

There are seven aspects in life nourishment that should be followed: First, one should nurture one’s inner energy (WM, uchiki) by speaking little. Second, one should nurture one’s essence energy (^M, seiki)8 by suppressing sexual desires. Third, one should nurture blood energy (^M, kekki) by frugality concerning tasty food. Fourth, one should nurture the energy of the five viscera (1ШМ, zoki) by swallowing one’s saliva. Fifth, one should nurture the liver energy (TOM, kanki) by suppressing anger. Sixth, one should nurture one’s stomach energy (ЩМ, iki)9 by eating and drinking adequately. Seventh, one should nurture the heart energy (shinki) by not brooding too much. (Ekiken II, 55)

Vital energy and essence, together with blood and body fluids, are considered to be the basic life substances and guarantee proper functioning of the inner organs (zofu), which are the five viscera (gozo): heart, liver, spleen, lung and kidneys, and the six organs (roppu, rikifu): gallbladder, stomach, small and large intestines, urinary bladder and the triple burner (sansho); where the five viscera are considered to be yin and the six organs are considered yang. Both systems are connected by vessels that either carry vital energy or blood.[4] Ekiken follows Li Kao in stressing the importance of spleen and stomach (hii) within dietetics as they digest and transform nourishment into the essential fluids (seieki) and distribute those to the other inner organs:

  • 9 Stomach energy is accordingly of major interest for Ekiken and considered to be a synonym for genki (II, 23).
  • 10Hsia, The Essentials of Medicine in Ancient China and Japan Vol. 1, 16—19.

After being born, spleen and stomach are the fundament of the five viscera. They digest and transform food and drink first. The generated essential fluids (seieki) are distributed to the other organs. Nurturing spleen and stomach can be compared to the growth of plants that take vital energy from the soil. For the way of the cultivation of life, therefore, it is most important to nurture spleen and stomach. Nurturing spleen and stomach is most important in nourishing the human body. As the sages say: ‘Eating and drinking in moderation nourishes the body.’ (III, 1)

By using the terms like shukun (i^, ‘lord’), tenkun (^^, ‘heavenly ruler’) or tsukasadoru (‘to control’, ‘to govern’) to describe processes within the body, the text places organs in a semantic field of governance and also seems to establish a hierarchy within the body. Yet, in Chinese medicine this hierarchy is not absolute, but dynamic, depending on processes within the body.11 This approach also generally holds true for Ekiken, who refers to kidneys, spleen and stomach as governing certain processes (e.g. III, 1; IV, 61; VII, 58). However, special attention is given to the heart,[5] [6] which is considered to be the ruler (shukun) of the body, controlling the five senses (gokan, V, 1) and already the first book stresses the role of the heart:

The heart is the ruler of the body. It should be calm and quiet. The body is the servant of the heart. The body should move and work. When the heart is calm and quiet, the heart as heavenly ruler (tenkun) will be pleased and be without suffering. When the body moves and works food and drink will not stagnate, blood and energy circulate and there will be no illness. (I, 18)

Vital energy is imagined as a substance that flows and circulates within the body and the stagnation of energy flow is seen as the main cause of disease. When vital energy stagnates in the upper part of the body, ailments such as headache and dizziness can occur. Stagnation in the centre of the body could cause stomach ache as well as repletion and blockage (himan) in the abdomen. When vital energy is blocked in the lower parts of the body, this will result in pain of the loins, beriberi (kakke), abdominal pain (rinsen) and anal fistula (jiro) (see I, 33). To give one example: saliva (shin’eki) is transported from the intestines to the mouth and transformed into blood. However, it turns into sputum (tan) when it stagnates and in turn causes stagnation of vital energy. Sputum in contrast to saliva should thus be spat out. Also poor nutrition and too much alcohol increase sputum and cause illness (Ekiken II, 27 and II, 28). An obstruction in the flow of vital energy and body fluids would eventually result in the depletion of the congenital energy. Ekiken’s dietetics accordingly aim at preserving congenital energy whilst enabling the different manifestations of energy and body fluids to flow unobstructed within the body.

In order to further understand the mechanism of food choice and how eating influences the body, it is also important to understand the significance of the ‘complementary and opposing principles’ of yin (Jap. in) and yang (Jap. _yo),13 as an imbalance of these forces is the cause of vital energy stagnation. The main focus of diagnosis should, therefore, be on the balance of yin/yang within the body.

The forces of yin and yang permeate the cosmos and ceaselessly flow, without stagnation. Thereby, the four seasons are regular and all things are born. The way of the flow would be blocked, should yin and yang be imbalanced and stagnate. Then winter would be warm and summer cold, changes like strong storms and heavy rainfall would occur and catastrophes would happen. The same holds true for the human body. When vital energy and blood flow without stagnation, one will be strong and will not fall ill. However, when vital energy and blood don’t flow, one will become sick. (I, 33) [7]

Ekiken actually further specifies the cause of illness as a lack of yang energy: ‘The human body always lacks yang, which therefore is precious, and always has an abundance of yin, which therefore is of no value’[8] (II, 68). Imbalance in turn can be caused by ‘inner desires’ (naiyoku) and by ‘outer evils’ (gaija), which are wind, cold, heat and dampness.[9] [10] As disease and death caused by outer evils are considered to be the result of the mandate of heaven (tenmei), Ekiken’s only advice against these outer evils is to fear and protect oneself against them. Life cultivation consequently concentrates on controlling and on disciplining one’s inner desires and asks for moderation with respect to eating and drinking, sleep, sexual activities, loquacity, and the seven emotions (shichijo)}6

Vital energy must permeate the entire body and should not accumulate in the chest. Anger, grief, sorrows and pondering are a result of vital energy accumulating in the chest and of a stagnation of the flow. Many diseases originate from an excess of emotion and blockage of vital energy. (I, 39)

Or the following paragraph:

Drinking too much, or at the wrong time, or eating cold food or food of bad quality will lead to diarrhea and vomiting (sessha). Thereby stomach energy will decrease. If this happens over and over again, one’s congenital energy will be affected and one’s lifespan will be shortened. One should be careful. (II, 48)

Ekiken bases his arguments on a binary reward/punishment logic - not adhering to food admonitions would result in severe ailments and early death:

The disease ‘centre wind’ (chubu /chufu) is not caused by outer winds, but by inner winds. It affects pale, obese people beyond 40, whose energy is decreasing. The disease is triggered by the condition of the seven emotions and damage through eating and drinking. By constantly drinking, people destroy their stomach and intestines, their genki decreases and heat, which produces wind, arises inside of the body. Hands and feet become shaky or numb and paralysis is evoked. The mouth deforms and one is not able to speak. [... ] People that are obese and drink must therefore take care every day. (VI, 11)

Fear thus makes the dietary rules palatable and becomes a significant motivation for the individual to follow the dietary rules. The Yojokun primarily aims at providing the knowledge and techniques to prevent disease, but it also gives the reader the means to recognize - (self) diagnose - certain symptoms, identify potential causes and techniques to cure oneself.

  • [1] The division into chapters (Roman numeral) and paragraphs (Arabic numerals) is based onEkiken, Ydjdkun, zen gendaigo-yaku. This edition includes the classical text as well as a translationinto modern Japanese by Ito Tomonobu. Also consulted Ekiken: Ydjdkun, Wazoku dojikun andthe Nakamura Gakuen Daigaku Kaibara Ekiken Akaibu online version. For translation, I rely onthe annotated German translation by Niehaus and Braun, Regeln zur Lebenspflege (Ydjdkun), aswell as to the partial English translations of Watanabe ‘Edo Precepts for Health, Wilson,Cultivating Ch 'i, and Kunihiro, Ydjdkun. Japanese Secret of Good Health.
  • [2] Chinese medical texts mentioned by Ekiken include, e.g. Bencao, Nanjing, Jinkui yaolue, Jiayiching, Bingyuan houlun, Qianjin fang Waitai biyao, Weisheng baojian, Sanyin fang, [Taiping]huimin heji-ju fang Bencao xuli, Dan-xi xinfa, Yijing xiaoxue, Yuji weiyi, Yishu daquan, Xiuzhenfang, Yifang xuanyao, Yian, Yilin jiyao, Yixue gangmu, Yixue zhengchuan, Yixue rumen, Mingyileian, Mingyi fangkao, Shushuzhong, Yixue yuanli, Zhenzhiu quying, Yizong bidu, Yisheng weilun,Yaoxingjie Neijing zhiyao, Yitung zhengmai. His critical discussion of Chinese texts and especiallyof Gong Ting-xian and Dan-xi (Zhu zhen-heng) characterizes him as a physician and intellectualwith a detailed knowledge of the Chinese medical tradition and also gives the Ydjdkun anauthoritative character. In 1709, Ekiken presented the Yamato honzo, a translation of Li Shi-zhen’s popular and influential Bencao gangmu. The Bencao gangmu came to Japan in 1607 via theport of Nagasaki. The city housed a large Chinese community and was still the centre for theimport of Chinese books and other products during Ekiken’s lifetime and he regularly visitedNagasaki to purchase books or plants. For the Chinese tradition ofmedicine, life nourishment anddietetics, see esp. Unschuld, Medicine in China. A History of Ideas and ibid., Medicine in China: AHistory ofPharmaceutics.
  • [3] Kinski, ‘Admonitions Regarding Food Consumption’, 135.
  • [4] 8With respect to ‘essence’, Wiseman and Feng state: ‘That which is responsible for growth,development, and reproduction, and determines the strength of the constitution, and is manifestphysically in the male in the form of semen. Essence is composed of earlier heaven essence(congenital essence), which is inherited from the parents and constantly supplemented by laterheaven essence (acquired essence) produced from food by the stomach and spleen. [... ] Essence isoften referred to as essential qi, and because it is stored in the kidney, it is also called kidneyessential qi.’ Wiseman and Feng, A Practical Dictionary of Chinese Medicine, 178—179.
  • [5] See Kuriyama, The Expressiveness of the Body, 161.
  • [6] The heart (^jap. shin) partially corresponds to Western ideas of the heart as a blood pumpingorgan, but it is also linked to spirit and mind: ‘The heart’s principal functions are summed up inthe phrases the “heart governs the blood and vessels” and the “heart stores the spirit”, i.e. the heartis responsible for moving the blood around the body and is the seat of consciousness and mentalvitality.’ Wiseman and Feng, A Practical Dictionary of Chinese Medicine, 260.
  • [7] See Wiseman and Feng, A Practical Dictionary of Chinese Medicine, 705—708.
  • [8] This has also been argued by Li Gao, Xue Ji and Zhang Zhen-bin. Zhu Zhen-heng’s and Dai Si-kong’s theory, in which a lack of yin is identified as a source of disease, is strongly rejected byEkiken.
  • [9] Ekiken also uses the term ‘evil energy’ or ‘heteropathic energy’ jaki), which can refer to forcesthat cause disease from within or without. Ekiken refers to protecting oneself against theheteropathic energy but only twice specifies the jaki as being ‘wind, cold heat, and dampness’ (Ibid. VI, 9, VII, 57).
  • [10] The seven emotions are joy, anger, sorrow, brooding, grief, anxiety and astonishment, pleasure,love, hate and lust. See Ekiken I, 4 and I, 3.
 
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