About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 14, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 11
JHU Course Catalog: The Body and Health Care in Japan

In his History of Science and Technology course, Morris Low explores how the Japanese have viewed the human body and health care from the 18th century to today.

By Lisa De Nike

This is part of an occasional series in which reporters drop in on interesting classes throughout the university's eight academic divisions. Suggestions are welcome at

The course: The Body and Health Care in Japan. 3 credits. Offered by the Department of the History of Science and Technology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

The instructor: Morris Low, the Bo Jung and Soon Young Kim Professor of East Asian Sciences and Technology in the Department of the History of Science and Technology. Low is a historian of Japanese science and technology, with a special interest in the history of physics, science and gender, and Japanese visual culture. Before coming to Johns Hopkins, he taught at various Australian institutions, including Monash University in Melbourne, the Australian National University in Canberra and the University of Queensland in Brisbane. He is a fourth-generation Chinese-Australian and lived and conducted research in Japan for five years. Low is the author of Science and the Building of a New Japan; Building a Modern Japan: Science, Technology and Medicine in the Meiji Era and Beyond; and the soon-to-be-released Japan on Display: Photography and the Emperor.

Meeting time: 2 to 4:50 p.m. on Wednesdays, fall 2005.

Syllabus: This course explores how the Japanese have viewed the human body and health care from the 18th century to the present day. It examines the influence of Chinese medicine, the introduction of Western medicine, the increasing role that the state has played in Japanese health care since the late 19th century, Social Darwinism and eugenics, the prevalence of abortions and the controversies surrounding organ transplants.

The course is not only aimed at helping students learn about views of the body and health care throughout Japanese history; it is also designed to help students improve their critical thinking, research, writing and speaking skills, according to Low, who uses traditional lectures, outside reading assignments and the viewing of in-class movies and news programs to spark lively conversation and debate among his students. During one recent session, for instance, students viewed portions of three films by famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and discussed them afterward.

Course work: An end-of-term research paper on an approved topic is worth 65 percent of a student's grade. Class participation is worth 15 percent. The remaining 20 percent is made up of an article or book review and research proposal.

Required reading: Students are encouraged to read from an extensive reading list of 35 articles or book chapters, most of which are on electronic reserve. They include "Gender, Knowledge and Power: Reproductive Medicine in Japan, 1690-1930," "Behind the Mask: On Sexual Demons, Sacred Mothers, Transvestites, Gangsters and Other Japanese Cultural Heroes," "Pandemic Influenza in Japan: 1918-1919," "Did Emperor Hirohito Know?" "Effects of Atomic Radiation: A Half-Century of Studies From Hiroshima and Nagasaki" and "Marketing the Menacing Fetus in Japan."

Overheard in class: "Doctors in Japan don't give their patients much information about their conditions or the drugs they prescribe. This is very different from the way things are done here. When I came to the States early this year, I felt they might even be going overboard with the amount of information you get when you visit a doctor for the first time and pick up a prescription. In Japan, doctors not only prescribe drugs, their clinics also dispense them. This helps the physicians in terms of income, because in Japan, patients just pay a fixed fee most times. The sale of prescription medications helps physicians supplement that income, but it also leads to overprescribing."
—Morris Low

Students say: "The Body and Health Care in Japan is truly unique. I signed up for Professor Low's class because most of the course work for my major has been done studying China and Korea. My knowledge of Japanese culture is fairly limited, and I thought an overview of the health care system in Japan would be a great way to analyze the growth of Japan over time. I was also curious to know more about their health care system, seeing it was so influenced by the West as well as by traditional Chinese medicine. Professor Low pushes his students to think deeply about many different concepts pertaining to Japan's health care system, forcing us to put things in a historical context so we can better understand its progress. All assignments allow students to work independently to come up with a research topic unique to our interests. I love this class."
—Ashley Ferranti, a junior from East Greenwich, R.I., majoring in East Asian studies

"I love that the class is so personal [about 20 students in the class]. Although it can be intimidating at times, it can be particularly helpful in fostering a close professor-student relationship. Since the class is three hours long, Professor Low engages in various educational methods, including videos, slides, handouts and lectures. What I especially appreciate about the class is that Professor Low seeks to help us mature into better students, better researchers, beyond the scope of just medical history."
—Maria Choi, a sophomore from Silver Spring, Md., majoring in public health studies

"I signed up for this class because I enjoyed [Professor Low's] class on Japan and the Environment last semester. I am also very interested in Japan, and he is one of the very few professors who teach a course on Japan. The most valuable part of the course is that it gives a different perspective from our usual Western view on the human body and the health care system. Especially in [a recent class], when we discussed the damages done by the atomic bomb at the end of WWII and watched films made in Japan, which provided a different side of the story. It was moving to watch a film on the innocent victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
—Ikuko Hamada, a senior from Philadelphia, majoring in international relations and mathematics


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |