Posted by: B Gourley | February 19, 2009

Impressions of “Yojokun”

I recently picked up a copy of Kaibara Ekiken’s Yojokun, which has been translated by William Scott Wilson. The book contains a series of precepts aimed at increasing one’s life longevity and level of health. Kaibara Ekiken was a samurai and physician who lived in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Given the time period in which the book was written, it is intriguing how much of the advice jibes with modern medical beliefs. This advice includes admonitions to avoid eating too close to bedtime, to avoid smoking, and to be active.

It is, as is admitted by the translator in the front matter, a quite repetitive book. However, many of the points bear repeating in that they are good advice which is all too rarely put into practice. The topics cover nutrition, medicine, exercise,  and sex.

The nutritional guidance covers a wide variety of subjects. Some of the precepts are timeless. For example, it recommends that one avoid eating to the point at which one is full, but rather to stop while one still has some hunger. Alternatively, some of the nutritional admonitions are rooted in the beliefs of the time and leave the modern reader scratching his or her head, and wondering why exactly one is not supposed to eat chicken and garlic in the same meal. Like the nutritional prohibitions of the Bible or Koran, most of the suggestions are probably based on the proclivities and practices of the time, and are not  particularly relevant in the modern world. Of course, the advice is grounded in a more holistic approach to medicine that was practiced first in China and then emulated by the Japanese, and, while it may not appear to make sense, may prove beneficial in practice for reasons that are not readily obvious.

A central reiterated theme with respect to medicine is that one should not rely on medical treatment for acquiring a good state of health. That is, one should not take accupuncture or moxabustion as a means to keep one healthy, but rather as a way to treat illness when healthful practices have failed to keep one well.

As is common in writing based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, the advice on sex primarily suggests that most people need to have a lot less of of it (including self-gratification.) As I am approaching 40, I was disheartened to read that 40 year olds should only ejaculate once every 16 days or so. The idea is that semen is an  important element of chi, and excessive release translates to decreased vitality. No doubt this advice would be treated with a mix of acceptance, rejection, and skepticism today depending upon the quarter in which it was received. I did recently read a post reporting on a medical journal article suggesting that excessive ejaculation  in men from age 20 to 40 was correlated with a higher incidence of prostate cancer, but I don’t know how valid this is.

While the book doesn’t spend a lot of time on exercise per se, it does put a great deal of emphasis on activity. In fact, it suggests a more spartan regiment of existence than is generally called for  by today’s medical experts. In essence, one should sleep less and sit or lie down idly almost never. I did hear a news story the other day about a study that suggested that the 8-9 hours recommended nightly allowance of sleep typically made is bunk. This study found that most people- who don’t have insomnia- get a perfectly adequate amount of sleep – even if they only sleep five hours a night.

This book is a worthwhile read for those interested in traditional approaches to health and well-being enhancement.

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Responses

  1. Hi,
    I just discovered your blog, and have enjoyed reading the first half dozen entries. I practice Danzan Ryu Ju Jutsu, and am also an acupuncturist/herbalist. Just wanted to say Hi, and if you ever have questions about Chinese Medicine, or want to brainstorm/talk philosophy you can reach me at jeremycornish.lac at gmail.com

    Take care


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