Abstract: Medical Fashions: The Traditional Medicines Industry in Modern Japan, 1868-2005

Maki Umemura


In Japan, traditional herbal medicines coexist with modern, Western-style medicines. Today, the business of producing traditional medicines is dominated by a single publicly traded firm, Tsumura. Since the 1980s, this firm has held 80 percent of Japan's traditional medicines market. Before the Second World War, however, traditional medicines were sold by a number of small firms offering branded products. Between 1945 and 1975, the industry was comprised of small to medium sized family firms, with each company offering several over-the-counter medicines. After 1975, the industry evolved into a large prescription drug industry dominated by a single company. This firm was able to benefit from first mover advantages when traditional medicines were incorporated into Japan's national health insurance system. The forces of change in this industry have also refashioned Japan's traditional medicines into a "modern" product. This presentation shows how the evolution of this industry was driven by advances in science and technology, developments in pharmaceutical regulation, and changes in popular attitudes.