Timothy M. YangDec 17, 2021
A Medicated Empire
The Pharmaceutical Industry and Modern Japan
Cornell University Press 2021
Timothy Yang’s A Medicated Empire: The Pharmaceutical Industry and Modern Japan (Cornell 2021) is a case study of Hoshi Pharmaceutical, a Japanese drug company that exemplified the push for a modern “culture of self-medication.” The history of Hoshi is tightly intertwined with state promotion of Western biomedicine beginning in the late nineteenth century, but also reveals tensions between pharmaceutical manufacturers’ self-promotion “as a humanitarian endeavor for greater social good” and their profit motive. As the title suggests, A Medicated Empire also expands our understanding of the production and consumption of drugs―licit and illicit―in the Japanese empire, exploring topics including how companies like Hoshi exploited national-defense concerns to secure lucrative government support in times of crisis on the one hand, and the differential marketing and regulation of pharmaceuticals such as opium to Japanese and colonial subjects. In the latter sections of the book, these elements are central to the story of Hoshi’s fall and rise: the opium scandal which crippled and bankrupted the company in the early 1930s and its resurrection and profiteering as Japan geared up for war later in the decade. Throughout, Yang is sensitive to the tensions between state-led national strengthening, corporate profit motives, and the desires of individuals to optimize their health, and also to the imperial context in which the particular story of Hoshi played out. This book will of course be of interest to historians of Japan, STS, and business, among others, but as we discuss in the podcast, many of its core issues―trust in pharma, government interventions in public health, etc.—are more salient today than ever.
Nathan Hopson is an associate professor of Japanese language and history in the University of Bergen's Department of Foreign Languages.