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【報告】 18th TCCP Colloquium: Prevention, Therapy, and Enhancement: Representations of the Brain in Japanese Medicine Advertisements, 1866-1977

2010.04.15 筒井晴香, 中尾麻伊香, 住田朋久, 脳科学と倫理

TCCP, or Tokyo colloquium of cognitive philosophy, is an English-only seminar which is held as a place for active discussions among UTCP members who are interested in neurophilosophy, neuroethics and various related topics.

The speaker of the 18th TCCP was NAKAO Maika, a research assistant to UTCP. Her specializations are history of science and science studies. She is mainly interested in the relationship between science and culture in Modern Japan. In this seminar she talked about her joint research with SUMIDA Tomohisa and ASAKURA Reiko. It was about an intriguing historical fact which concerns the public image of the brain. The title of her presentation was "Prevention, Therapy, and Enhancement: Representations of the Brain in Japanese Medicine Advertisements, 1866-1977". Nowadays various media feature the human brain and neuroscience. For instance, "Brain training" handheld video games are popular all over the world. This phenomenon seems to reflect a high expectation for neurotechnology in today's society. Yet, according to Nakao, such a discourse is in fact not new.

Around the turn of the 20th century in Japan, some drug advertisements began to promise brain enhancement. "Ken-no-gan" (健脳丸)(which literally means "a medicine for the healthy brain") was released in 1896. It is known for its advertisement which used the image of the human head and a medical doctor's endorsement. Although its potency is laxative, Ken-no-gan was advertised as a drug to cure and enhance brain functions like memory: laxative potency was just mentioned as one of its effects. This was the first drug that used the "brain" both in its name and in the image of the product, and after Ken-no-gan several similar drugs appeared and were advertised in a similar manner.

Why were they sold as brain disease drugs? An eastern-medical idea, “mind-body unity(心身一如)” , might have had some influence. Body organs like a stomach were thought to be linked to the mind, and thus to constitute a whole. Yet there was another reason for selling Ken-no-gan as a brain disease drug. Soon after the Meiji Restoration, several intellectuals began to refer to the brain, in response to the momentum of westernization and modernization. Simultaneously, one’s educational qualification gains importance for his/her career. Thus a boom of memory enhancement started in the latter half of the 1890s. At that time, the term “brain power” was often used in print media. Nakao claims that this trend offered a background for the emergence of the ideas of the “brain disease” and the “brain disease drug”.

In relation to the perception of the idea of the “brain disease”, it is notable that the notion concerning mental disorders changed during that era. The term “brain disease (脳病)”, which meant a mental disease, came to be used by illuminati reformers to sweep away an old superstition. After 1899, mental hospitals were established in various locations, and the “brain disease” came to mean psychiatric conditions which need medical treatments. Nakao argues that through this change, the term “brain disease” had become familiar among public, and advertisements of brain disease drugs have some importance in spreading the image of the brain.

Nakao sees the advertisements of Ken-no-gan as indicators of the contemporary public image of the brain. In these advertisements, Ken-no-gan was shown as a cure and enhancer for mental functions, and a healthy, enhanced brain was tied to success in life. It also reflects the social trend such as the war effort. After the 1920s, advertisements tended to appeal laxative potency, and after the war it was mainly recognized as such. In 1977 it was renewed by the direction of the Ministry of Welfare, and from then it is sold as a laxative without the character “brain(脳)” in its name.

The Ken-no-gan advertisement interestingly reflects contemporary ideas of the brain. It suggests that social expectations for the science and medicine of the brain exist in modern Japan. Nakao suggests that such a social and historical investigation contributes to a neuroethical study today.

According to the presentation, ideas of the brain disease which emerged around the Meiji Era are not homogeneous. It is not so much clear whether and how the notion of the brain disease in the context of public media and that of psychiatry are connected. Yet Nakao's talk is indeed intriguing in that it offers how the notion of the brain was publicly accepted in Japan. Historical cases of phrenology or lobotomy are suggestive for considering neuroethical problems today. The Ken-no-gan case might make a similar contribution to a neuroethical study in Japan.

(TSUTSUI Haruka)

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