The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A Study of the Transformation of Health Systems under Globalization

Joint Research Coordinator IKEDA Mitsuho

Reserch Theme List


The objectives of this research are as follows: (1) multifaceted comparative investigation of the research and ethnography about the forms of changes being made in local health systems as far as their responses to the modernization of medical care resulting from globalization; and (2) seeing our research reflected in today’s debate in designing next-generation social systems in terms of such things as reconsideration of the image of the welfare state and public pension redistribution policies. To that end, cultural anthropological research into health systems makes possible the analysis of the dynamics of patterns of change made in local health systems in response to the modernization of medical care resulting from globalization. By using previous results from history and social medicine and utilizing qualitative analytical methods based on ethnography, we will be able to clarify various phenomena that the modernization of medical care directly faces.

Research Results

In relation to the themes of this research, during FY2004 we discussed such things as Imperial-era medical care, the theory of evolution in colonial medical care, post-colonial discourse, and theories on the development of peripheral medical care. In FY2005 we discussed the themes of relativism based on ethnographic research into biological discourse on prenatal period symptoms, history of Japanese colonial medical care, and scientific histories left by folklorists during the same period (including natural anthropology), war crimes committed at medical universities in the former Manchuria, comparative cultural psychiatry, and ethnographic research into spirit possession and physical sensations. During FY2006 we turned our attention to nineteenth century cholera epidemics in Asia, Kuru disease in the highlands of New Guinea, dementia in Japan today, the research of Kokyo Nakamura, public health measures to manage bird flu and the nature of its control, theories of magic, the turn to neo-liberalism in medical education, syphilis at the time of the Meiji Restoration and British military doctors, the portrayal of syphilis in French literature, and ecology and diseases transmitted through animals. During FY2008 we took the opportunity to consider aspects of the globalization of the study of medical anthropology.
Our research published to date has shed light on the following four points:

  1. Various examples were given to show how the social context of changes in health care systems, including Imperial medicine, display characteristics dependent on the process. During the period of Imperial and colonial medicine, the involvement of ethnography and cultural anthropology were passive.
  2. There is a need to expand the conceptual rules for health care systems derived from ethnography, such as traditional medicine and possession. Especially in regards to health care system policies, we need to refine our practical methodology for anthropological research.
  3. New values criteria have emerged for the relative analysis of medical systems from the perspectives of evolutionary biology and medical ethics. In particular, there is a need to create academic norms for human values and morality criteria.
  4. Diversity in health care systems has been highlighted by developments in international cooperation in health and medical care, which hints at the difficulties we can expect in future social development. We were able to point out that to overcome these difficulties there is an urgent need to put in order theoretical materials concerning applied medical anthropology following the creation of a new world order.