Alumni Publication Q&A: “Medicine and Christianity”

Publication News

A discussion with former HYI Visiting Fellow Hiro Fujimoto about his recent publication 医学とキリスト教: 日本におけるアメリカ・プロテスタントの医療宣教 (Medicine and Christianity: American Protestant Missionaries and their Medical Work in Japan)

Hiro Fujimoto is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and Postdoctoral Researcher at Kyoto University. He was a HYI Visiting Fellow from 2016-17. His book was awarded the 2022 Yakazu Medical History Award by the Japanese Society for the History of Medicine.

What is your book about?

It is well known that medicine in Japan was largely influenced by Germany. Medical historians argue that the modernization of medicine in Japan is owed to German doctors, who came to the nation and taught Western medicine at the University of Tokyo in the late 19th century. After learning from them, several elite Japanese doctors and medical scientists received advanced training at German universities and were assigned to medical schools all over the nation. The U.S. influence extended after the end of the Asia-Pacific War, but the German influence did not disappear. Today, we still use some vocabulary that originated from German, such as karute (Karte), patient records, and arerugii (Allergie), allergy. 

It is also known that American and British medical missionaries introduced Western medicine to other Asian countries. Yet, medical historians did not examine how foreign medical missionaries conducted their medical work in Japan, and I have tried to elucidate their practice in my monograph. It specifically looks at American medical missionaries, who outnumbered German doctors and British medical missionaries, and examines how they engaged with the Japanese medical communities. I demonstrate that they tried to differentiate themselves from German doctors and German-style Japanese doctors by concentrating on several fields such as charity medicine, public health programs, and nursing education that their counterparts did not fully develop.

What inspired you to start writing on this topic?

When I was a MA student, I read a Japanese book titled Nanban kei uchūron no gententeki kenkyū (Textual Studies in Early Jesuit Cosmology in Japan), authored by Hiraoka Ryūji. He examined how Jesuits disseminated Western scientific knowledge during Japan’s “Christian Century” (1549–1650). His work inspired me to consider how much missionaries engaged in the introduction of Western medical knowledge to Japan, which became my dissertation topic. There is a lot of research on German doctors in modern Japan but few on foreign medical missionaries. Nagatoya Yōji, who was also a Christian doctor, exceptionally investigated Christian medical work, which was the starting point of my research. In terms of primary sources, I benefitted from my first research visit to the U.S. in 2013–2014 where I found rich collections of U.S. Protestant medical missions at Yale University, and I decided to use them comprehensively for my dissertation.

More personally, I was born and raised in Fukuoka and had several occasions to visit Nagasaki, which has a rich history of Christianity. There are several churches that were established by Japanese Christians who kept their faith from the 16th century. One of them is Urakami Cathedral. It was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945, but its ruins remain. I visited the cathedral when I was young and became interested in the history of Christianity in Japan. I also liked reading the novels of Endō Shūsaku, who often took up Christianity and Japanese faiths, and they inspired me as well.

Several young students attend an eye clinic; nurses examine one student's face

Nursing Work with Schoolchildren in cooperation with the Ministry of Education (Source: St. Luke’s International Hospital, ed., An American Medical Centre for Japan: St. Luke’s International Hospital, Tokyo (n.p., 1928), 15.)

Can you describe a surprising or unexpected finding?

Before starting this research, I thought that there was a very limited influence of foreign missionaries on medicine in Japan. However, I found that there were several fields where they played an important role, such as public health. One of the most successful medical missionaries was Rudolf Teusler from the Protestant Episcopal Church. He established his hospital in Tokyo in the early 20th century, and it still remains under the name of St. Luke’s International Hospital. Teusler wanted to expand his hospital to compete with the Japanese counterparts and gained great support from both Japanese and American industrialists, politicians, and philanthropists. Most important was the Rockefeller Foundation, which was famous for its donation to scientific research and public health programs in Asia and Latin America. Teusler cooperated with the foundation, and they facilitated the interaction between American and Japanese doctors and encouraged practice and research on public health. One of its outcomes was that he started raising public health nurses at his hospital, who tried to spread the ideas of preventive medicine to local communities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some medical professionals from St. Luke’s International Hospital often appeared in the media, explaining preventive measures against infectious disease.

Five women pose on steps, holding black bags and wearing matching coats and hats

Public Health Nurses at St. Luke’s International Hospital (Source: St. Luke’s International Hospital, ed., An American Medical Centre for Japan: St. Luke’s International Hospital, Tokyo (n.p., 1928), 18.

Did your stay at HYI have any connection to this book project?

Definitely. This book is based on my dissertation submitted to the University of Tokyo in 2019. During my stay at HYI in 2016–2017, I conducted extensive primary source research at Harvard University libraries. I was intellectually inspired by colleagues at HYI. For example, Prof. Shigehisa Kuriyama, who specializes in the history of science and medicine and was my mentor during my stay, always encouraged early career scholars from Asia and taught us practical advice for academic presentation and writing. HYI also financially supported my doctoral research. Several Ph.D. students in Japan can receive a good fellowship for their first three-year research, but it usually takes five or six years for them to write up dissertations. I received the 15-month fellowship in the fourth year of my doctoral course, which enabled me to focus on my writing. The submission of my dissertation would have been delayed without it.

What are you working on next?

One of my current projects looks at Japanese women doctors from a global perspective. Today, the percentage of women doctors in Japan is relatively low compared to the rest of the world, and there is still a strong prejudice against them. Medical historians also tend to overlook their history, and I would like to examine how women doctors struggled to practice through time. Chapter 4 of my book spotlighted the American female medical missionaries in Japan, and some of them helped Japanese women study at American medical schools. In the late 19th century, there were very limited opportunities for Japanese women to study medicine and practice medicine in Japan, which pushed several of them abroad for medical training and practice. At the same time, some Japanese medical schools accepted women from other Asian countries, showing off Japan’s superiority and justifying its hegemony in Asia. Hopefully, I would like to visit HYI in the near future to complete this project!

Learn more about the book (in Japanese) at the publisher’s website.

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