Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Classical and Clinical Comparison

Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Classical and Clinical Comparison

A Note From Shawna

This paper was originally titled, "Classic Texts: The Foundation of Japanese Meridian Therapy Assessed Clinically in Comparison to Traditional Chinese Medicine." I wrote it during the final years of my masters program in acupuncture at AIMC Berkeley for a course on classical texts.

This paper presumes knowledge of the medicine so is most appropriate for other practitioners, but as patients often ask about Japanese vs Chinese medicine, a general audience might find it interesting to skim. I'm happy to discuss any questions you may have after reading.


How can Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine have come from the same classic texts and yet come to such different conclusions for diagnosis and treatment? This is the question I chose to consider by delving into Chapters Sixty-Nine and Seventy-Five of the Nan Jing, considered the foundation of Japanese Meridian Therapy.

Meridian Therapy was founded in the 1930s out of a desire to “reexamine the classics and to clinically test the knowledge gained therein in order to extract the truth” (Kuwahara, xvii). The principle methods of Japanese Meridian Therapy (JMT or MT) are to palpate and assess the meridians, using the pulse for both diagnosis and continual assessment of the progress of treatment, and to use the meridians in this way to understand the balance of deficiency and excess caused by pathogens, the seven emotions, and the fundamental interaction of the meridians and organs to themselves and each other (the Five Phases). This is fairly different from Eight Principle and Zang Fu Diagnosis as interpreted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In the TCM approach, we utilize the four diagnostic methods (asking, looking, listening, and palpating), base our diagnosis on the collection of symptoms and signs based on the chief complaint, and identify a specific pattern based on the organs, yin/yang, and body elements (like blood, body fluids, and qi) in disharmony, all of which determines the course of treatment. Depending on the TCM practitioner, palpation may be used to refine the choice of points (this is common at least in the case of choosing local ashi points) or at the extreme they may only use the trusted points in texts from Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion (CAM). I admit this is a gross simplification of the vast differences within the practices of TCM and JMT respectively, but seeing from the extremes can help to highlight the differences between the disciplines.

Acupuncturist's Oath

Someone asked me recently if acupuncturists take the Hippocratic Oath like Western Medical doctors do. Many things Hippocrates wrote show how much the roots of Western medicine resemble traditional medicine. For instance, "It is far more important to know what person the disease has than what disease the person has."

But instead of taking the Hippocratic oath, at our graduation from the Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College with our Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine (MSOM), we took Sun Si Miao's Oath of the Great Physician.

The Acupuncturists' Oath reads:

I promise to follow the way of the Great Physician, to live in harmony with nature, and to teach my patients to do the same.

I will strive to maintain a clear mind and hold myself to the highest standards.

I shall look upon those who are in grief as though I myself have been afflicted, and I will respond with empathy.

I shall develop an attitude of compassion, of benevolence, and of care for all patients, regardless of their particular circumstances.

I promise to perform my responsibilities carefully, thoughtfully, and to the best of my ability.

Above all, I will maintain a peaceful presence and an open heart.

Based on the Oath of Sun Si Miao (c. 581-682), whose code is considered to be the foundation of Chinese medical ethics.

Photo of Shawna at the new Tianjin Hospital in China in front of Sun Si Miao's Oath

For comparison's sake, here is the modern Hippocratic Oath, written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used by many medical schools today. (source)

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.

I will not be ashamed to say "I know not," nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient's recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person's family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.


Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Photo: Unsplash



I am so looking forward to new beginnings in the Bay Area. I have been working since Fall 2015 on setting up the East Bay portion of my practice in collaboration with a wonderful group of smart, caring, and talented women and am in discussion for a second location in San Francisco (it is so hard not to share details as it is going to be a very exciting partnership). Serving my entire community on both sides of the Bay was always my goal and I cannot wait to be of service to you all.

While I prepare, you may be interested in coverage of my work at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, which was recently written up on the AIMC Berkeley website by my classmate Ra Adcock, a fellow intern at the hospital program:

The unique program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, possibly the first of its kind in the country, provides acupuncture directly to the hospital’s staff of approximately 1,200 doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and other administrative and support personnel. Each week, the program offers an average of forty-five acupuncture treatments in a community-style clinic located on the hospital’s campus. This special design creates the opportunity for staff to be treated during precious break times without ever having to leave the hospital, allowing many to remain on-call and available for their young patients.