In this article, you will discover the intriguing world of Kampo. Derived from ancient Japanese traditions, Kampo is a holistic approach to medicine that encompasses herbal remedies, acupuncture, and dietary changes. With its roots dating back centuries, Kampo brings together the wisdom of ancient healers and modern science, offering a unique perspective on wellness and healing. Explore the fascinating origins, principles, and benefits of Kampo as we delve into its rich history and its relevance in today’s world.


What is Kampo?

Kampo is a form of traditional Japanese medicine that evolved from ancient Chinese medicine. It is a holistic approach to healing that combines herbal medicine, acupuncture, and dietary therapy to restore balance and harmony in the body. Kampo is deeply rooted in the principles of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, and the concept of Qi (pronounced “chee”). It has been practiced for thousands of years and continues to play a significant role in modern medicine in Japan.


Kampo, which translates to “Han method” in Chinese characters, refers to the study and practice of traditional medicine in Japan. It is based on the teachings of Chinese medicine, particularly the classical medical texts of the Han Dynasty era. Kampo uses herbal medicine as its primary treatment modality, but also incorporates other techniques such as acupuncture, moxibustion, and dietary therapy.


The origins of Kampo can be traced back to ancient China, where traditional medicine has been practiced for over two thousand years. During the 6th century, these medical practices were introduced to Japan through the influence of Buddhist monks, scholars, and travelers. Over time, the Japanese adapted and incorporated Chinese medicine into their own cultural and medical traditions, giving rise to what is known today as Kampo.

Key Principles

Kampo is guided by several key principles that form the foundation of its practice. The first principle is the concept of Yin and Yang, which represents the interdependent and opposing forces found in all aspects of life. In Kampo, maintaining a balance between Yin and Yang is essential for maintaining health. The second principle is the concept of the Five Elements, which categorizes substances in the body and the world into five elemental categories – wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These elements are believed to influence the balance and functioning of the body. Finally, Kampo emphasizes the flow of Qi, the vital life force, through channels known as meridians. When Qi is blocked or imbalanced, it can lead to disease, and Kampo aims to restore the harmonious flow of Qi to promote healing.

History of Kampo

Ancient Chinese Influence

Kampo has its roots in ancient Chinese medicine, which has a rich history dating back thousands of years. Chinese medicine originated with the discovery of medicinal herbs and their applications in treating various ailments. The ancient Chinese believed that diseases were caused by imbalances in the body’s energy, or Qi. To restore balance and promote healing, they developed a comprehensive system of herbal medicine, acupuncture, and other therapies. These practices spread to Japan during the 6th century and were gradually incorporated into the Japanese medical tradition.

Development in Japan

After its introduction to Japan, Chinese medicine underwent further development and adaptation to suit the unique needs and cultural context of the Japanese people. Kampo flourished during the Edo period (1603-1868), with the publication of several influential medical texts and the establishment of specialized medical schools. During this time, Kampo became more widely accessible, not only to the nobility but also to the general population. With the advent of modern medicine in the late 19th century, Kampo declined in popularity, but it experienced a resurgence in the 20th century as interest in traditional medicine grew.

Kampo Theory

Yin and Yang

The concept of Yin and Yang is fundamental to Kampo theory. Yin represents the feminine, passive, and cold aspects, while Yang represents the masculine, active, and hot aspects. In Kampo, health is achieved when Yin and Yang are in balance, and disease arises when there is an imbalance. Treatment in Kampo aims to restore this balance through various modalities, such as herbal medicine and acupuncture.

Five Elements

The Five Elements theory categorizes substances in the body and the environment into five elemental categories – wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each element is associated with specific organs and bodily functions. Imbalances or disharmony between these elements can lead to disease. Kampo treatment takes into account the Five Elements theory when diagnosing and treating patients, using herbs and therapies that correspond to the specific element and organs affected.

Meridians and Qi

In Kampo, it is believed that Qi flows through a network of channels called meridians. These meridians are pathways through which energy and vital substances circulate throughout the body. The smooth flow of Qi is crucial for maintaining health, while blockages or imbalances can lead to illness. Kampo treatment focuses on restoring the balanced flow of Qi through the use of herbal medicines, acupuncture, and other techniques.

Diagnosis in Kampo

Hara Diagnosis

Hara diagnosis is a unique diagnostic method in Kampo that involves palpating and observing the abdomen, known as the hara. By examining the condition of the hara, a Kampo practitioner can gain insights into the overall health and balance of the internal organs. The hara is believed to reflect the condition of the vital energy, or Qi, as well as the state of the digestive system. Abnormalities, such as tenderness, bloating, or tension, can indicate imbalances or underlying health issues.

Tongue Diagnosis

Tongue diagnosis is another important diagnostic tool in Kampo. By examining the color, shape, coating, and moisture of the tongue, a Kampo practitioner can gain valuable information about a person’s health. Different areas of the tongue are associated with specific organs and systems in the body, and abnormalities or changes in the tongue’s appearance can indicate imbalances or diseases. Tongue diagnosis is often used in conjunction with other diagnostic methods to form a comprehensive understanding of the patient’s condition.

Pulse Diagnosis

Pulse diagnosis is a well-known diagnostic technique in both Chinese and Japanese medicine. In Kampo, the pulse is felt on both wrists and assessed for various qualities such as strength, rhythm, speed, and depth. Each of these qualities corresponds to different organs and systems in the body. By carefully evaluating the pulse, a Kampo practitioner can gather important information about the state of the patient’s health and determine the most appropriate treatment plan.


Kampo Treatment Methods

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine is the primary treatment modality in Kampo. Kampo utilizes a wide range of medicinal plants, minerals, and animal substances to create customized herbal formulas tailored to the individual’s specific needs. These formulas are designed to restore balance and harmony in the body, addressing the root cause of the illness rather than just treating the symptoms. Kampo herbal medicines are typically taken in the form of pills, powders, or extracts.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion

Acupuncture and moxibustion are two therapeutic techniques commonly used in Kampo. Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into specific points on the body to stimulate and balance the flow of Qi. Moxibustion, on the other hand, involves the burning of dried mugwort herb near acupoints to warm and invigorate the Qi. Both acupuncture and moxibustion are believed to activate the body’s natural healing mechanisms and promote overall well-being.

Dietary Therapy

Dietary therapy is an important component of Kampo treatment. It involves making dietary adjustments and incorporating specific foods into the daily meal plan to support the body’s healing process. In Kampo, certain foods are considered to have specific energetic properties that can help restore balance and improve overall health. A Kampo practitioner may recommend the inclusion or avoidance of certain foods based on the individual’s constitutional type and specific health condition.

Commonly Used Kampo Medicinal Herbs


Ginseng, known as “Ninjin” in Japanese, is one of the most popular and widely used medicinal herbs in Kampo. It is believed to have a tonifying effect on the body, restoring vitality and improving overall well-being. Ginseng is often prescribed to boost the immune system, improve stamina, and enhance cognitive function. It is also used to support the body during times of physical or mental stress.


Cinnamon, or “Keishi” in Japanese, is another commonly used herb in Kampo medicine. It is known for its warming properties and is often used to improve circulation and digestion. In Kampo, cinnamon is believed to strengthen the digestive fire, or Yang energy, and is commonly used to alleviate symptoms of digestive disorders such as bloating, abdominal pain, and poor appetite.


Licorice, or “Kanzo” in Japanese, is a versatile herb used in many Kampo formulas. It is known for its harmonizing and soothing properties. Licorice is often used to support the adrenal glands and help the body adapt to stress. It is also valued for its anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties, making it useful in the treatment of respiratory conditions such as coughs and bronchitis.


Conditions Treated with Kampo

Digestive Disorders

Kampo has been used effectively in the treatment of various digestive disorders. Conditions such as indigestion, bloating, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can benefit from Kampo herbal formulas that help regulate digestion, reduce inflammation, and restore the balance of gut microflora. Kampo treatment aims to address the root cause of these disorders, providing long-term relief and improved digestive function.

Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and frequent colds can be effectively treated with Kampo medicine. Kampo herbal formulas are designed to support lung function, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the immune system. By targeting the underlying imbalances in the body, Kampo helps relieve symptoms and prevent recurrent respiratory infections.

Stress and Anxiety

Kampo offers gentle and effective support for individuals struggling with stress, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Herbal formulas, such as those containing ginseng, licorice, and ginger, can help regulate the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and improve overall well-being. Kampo treatment takes into account the individual’s constitution and specific patterns of imbalance to provide personalized care and promote emotional balance.

Kampo in Modern Medicine

Scientific Research on Efficacy

In recent years, there has been growing interest in scientific research on the efficacy of Kampo medicine. Numerous studies have explored the therapeutic effects of Kampo herbal formulas on a wide range of health conditions, including digestive disorders, respiratory conditions, pain management, and mental health. The results have shown promising outcomes, confirming the effectiveness of Kampo as a complementary therapy to conventional medicine.

Integration with Conventional Medicine

In Japan, Kampo has been incorporated into the mainstream healthcare system and is utilized alongside conventional medicine. Many hospitals and clinics have Kampo departments where patients can receive Kampo treatments in conjunction with modern medical treatments. This integrative approach allows for a comprehensive and holistic approach to patient care, addressing both the physical and energetic aspects of health.

Licensed Kampo Practitioners

Training and Certification

To become a licensed Kampo practitioner in Japan, individuals must undergo rigorous training and education. This typically involves completing a specialized Kampo program at a recognized Kampo medical school or institution. The training includes in-depth study of Kampo theory, diagnosis methods, herbal medicine, acupuncture, and other therapeutic techniques. After completing the program, aspiring practitioners must pass a licensing exam to practice Kampo professionally.

Regulation and Safety

In Japan, Kampo medicine is regulated by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Licensed Kampo practitioners must adhere to strict standards of practice and safety guidelines. The use of medicinal herbs is regulated to ensure quality, purity, and safety. Kampo drugs are subject to rigorous clinical trials and quality control measures to ensure their efficacy and safety for patient use.

Criticism and Controversies

Lack of Scientific Evidence

One criticism of Kampo medicine is the lack of robust scientific evidence supporting its efficacy. While there is a growing body of research on Kampo, some argue that more rigorous studies and clinical trials are needed to establish its effectiveness in treating specific conditions. However, it is important to note that traditional medicine, including Kampo, often takes a holistic approach to health, which can be challenging to measure and evaluate solely through quantitative scientific methods.

Ethical Concerns

Another controversy surrounding Kampo medicine is the sourcing and ethics of certain medicinal substances, particularly those derived from animal sources. Some Kampo formulas include ingredients such as bear bile, deer antler, and musk, which raise concerns about animal welfare and sustainability. Efforts are being made to develop alternative herbal formulas that are effective and ethically sourced, ensuring the continued practice of Kampo in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Scroll to Top