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

An Applied Study of Medical Anthropology on Health, Medicine, Body and Reproduction

Joint Research Coordinator NAMIHIRA Emiko

Reserch Theme List


Medical professionals in the field have diverse, large hopes for research from medical anthropology. The background here is that as medical costs surge in the advanced industrialized nations as populations age and chronic ailments burgeon, large costs have surfaced as sociopolitical problems. The content of expectations in medical care on the part of patients has diversified, what with medicine even having come to be expected to deal with death, among other issues. Sociocultural factors have ceaselessly pressured medicine to change in terms of its behavior and objectives. Alternatively, in less medically advanced regions a slew of new contagious diseases, starting with HIV/AIDS, are constant threats, and class disparities are regularly reflected in health disparities. Advances in medicine are not necessarily translating into human happiness, and we seem a long way from fulfilling WHO goals. This research project will include medical practitioners and will invite guest speakers to join our discussions. We hope in this way to clarify the role of medical anthropology from the standpoint of cultural anthropology, as well as the contact points between the standpoint of direct practitioners of medical care and medical anthropology. Our aim is breaking new ground in terms of innovative research theory and methods.

Research Results

In 2008 we published our research in a National Museum of Ethnology Senri Ethological Report (SER) entitled “An Applied Study of Medical Anthropology on Health, Medicine, the Body and Reproduction.” In addition, we participated in satellite symposiums held outside MINPAKU, which were in coordination with and jointly sponsored by outside institutions. Outside researchers and practitioners in medical and health care were invited. A second report on this research, entitled “The Practice of Ethnography: Possibilities for Medical Anthropology in Medical Science and Medical Care” (a public symposium held at Musashino Hospital in Tokyo), was subsequently published in “Heart and Culture” (Kokoro to Bunka; Volume 4, No. 2, pp. 88-129)— the journal of Japanese Society of Transcultural Psychiatry. The proceedings of the third symposium on “Reproductive Strategies,” an open symposium at the National Youth Center, were in the Ochanomizu University’s 21st Century COE, F-GENS Publication Series 14 “Sex and Reproduction: National Strategies” (March 2006 edition, pp. 125-203). Concerning application and practice in the field, the focus of our committee discussions, the Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology devoted a subcommittee to the study of the methodology and problems concerned during its 41st research conference at Nagoya University entitled “Challenges in the Field /Challenges from On-the-Spot--Reconsideration of Cultural Anthropology with an Eye to Application and Practice,” director: Setsuko Matsuoka. For these publications and conferences some of the results garnered during the two and a half years of committee activity were reported. The most important points discussed concerning the research were as follows:

  1. When being applied and practiced, we need to understand the place for application and the objectives of the practitioners, speed of planning and execution, methods for evaluation of results and application approach by researchers, and discrepancies that may exist among researchers. We also need to understand what practical methodology can be adopted to eliminate these discrepancies.
  2. Theory for cultural anthropology which can distinguish disparities in terms of service delivery between application/practice and cultural anthropologists.

We are now investigating publishing follow-up papers to develop these discussions.