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The impact of the cholera on Japan



Cholera is one of the most dangerous diseases that threaten human life and health. It has a high death rate and is extremely infectious. There were three cholera outbreaks in Japan, with the 1877-1879 cholera pandemic, which killed over 100,000 people, being the most catastrophic public health crisis the Meiji government had suffered since its establishment and has an enormous influence on Japanese society (Johnston, 2014).
According to Chung(2015), the cholera virus spreads by the intake of food or water and can precipitate in the gut, preventing salt and water from entering the bloodstream. The main symptoms are acute diarrhea, often accompanied by vomiting, blue skin, sunken eyes, hands and feet, and pits as the blood stops circulating properly. The patient’s rapid and severe dehydration quickly leads to death; the entire process normally takes three days, but it can take as little as five hours in some cases (Johnston, 2014).
The cause of the widespread spread of cholera in Japan in the 19th century
The quick spread of cholera in Japan can be attributed to two factors. The first is Japan’s unique situation at the time. The cholera outbreak was transmitted mostly through water and food, and the social context in Japan at the time was suitable to the epidemic’s widespread spread (Jiao and Yang, 2020). Japan’s seaports were an important window for the introduction of the cholera epidemic, and the natural geographic conditions of Japan’s small land area, large population, and dense human traffic in seaport areas with frequent foreign interactions also contributed to the spread of the cholera epidemic in Japan. Secondly, the Japanese people at that time lacked awareness of epidemic prevention and refused to isolate and administer medication, which hindered the implementation of epidemic prevention measures (Jiao and Yang, 2020).
Measures were taken by Japan’s Meiji government and its influence 
In the modern era, Japan has been afflicted by a number of infectious diseases, the most serious of which is cholera. In the nineteenth century, Japan’s inadequate epidemic prevention system resulted in a massive number of deaths and property damage, wreaking devastation on the Japanese nation and people and presenting a serious challenge to the newly founded Meiji government (Jiao and Yang,2020). The Meiji government had to actively implement various epidemic prevention measures in response to the cholera pandemic in order to demonstrate its competence to rule, which also provided a chance to set up the epidemic prevention system in contemporary Japan (Sampias,2020). Through the joint efforts of the Japanese government and the public, the cholera epidemic, which had been prevalent for nearly two years, was basically controlled in December 1879, leaving behind many historical experiences and lessons in epidemic prevention and treatment.
In terms of laws and regulations, after the enactment of the regulations on cholera prevention in 1879, the “Rules for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases” were re-established on July 9, 1880, and eight epidemic diseases, including cholera, dysentery, enteric typhoid, smallpox, typhus, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and plague, were included in the list of infectious diseases. The guidelines outline how local officials, medics, and the military should respond to epidemics after they arise, as well as how to report epidemics and a system of accountability for officials who suppress epidemic information and are unable to control them. Since the cholera epidemic caused the most serious damage in Japan, the Disinfection Law, the Regeneration Law, the Isolation Law, and the Cleanliness Law of the 1880 Rules for the Prevention of Infectious Diseases was, to a large extent, enacted specifically for cholera. At the same time, the “Cholera Treatment Method” and “Cholera Epidemic Tips” were issued, stipulating how epidemics should be handled by various groups such as doctors, patients, and quarantine commissioners, as well as laying out clear rules for cholera prevention, disease diagnosis, disinfection and disposal of the deceased, and preparation of disinfectants.
Simultaneously, the cholera epidemic in Japan in the late 1870s contributed to the improvement of the public health environment. After the cholera pandemic, Japan launched a nationwide redesign of public sanitation systems, and in 1900, the first Sewage Law was established, establishing a nationwide sewerage system that has steadily improved Japan’s cleanliness standard. Moreover, with the improvement of education in Japan and the awakening of the public’s awareness of hygiene, the public hygiene situation in Japan gradually improved. Additionally, since cleanliness and sanitation had become the habits of the general public, this fundamentally eliminated the possibility of a large-scale outbreak of cholera in Japan.
Regarding the cholera outbreak as a double-edged sword (Johnston, 2019), the disease caused countless fatalities in Japan, but it also resulted in the development of clean water sources and waste disposal processes, both of which were critical to the survival of capitalist civilization. In addition, a series of policies were introduced. Because of this, Japan’s biopolitics may now compete with those of European countries.
In conclusion, there are many lessons to be learned from the management of the cholera epidemic in Japan in the late 1870s, and it is worthwhile to examine the Meiji government’s national mobilization capacity as well as the various epidemic prevention measures implemented in response to the cholera epidemic from the standpoint of epidemic prevention and treatment. Many measures are worth learning from and examining, especially in the current post-pandemic period, when the Novel Coronavirus pandemic is still prevalent.
References list
Bettina Gramlich-Oka (2009) The Body Economic: Japan’s Cholera Epidemic of 1858 in Popular Discourse. East Asian science, technology, and medicine. (30), 32–73.
Chung, Y. J. (2015) Sovereignty and Imperial Hygiene: Japan and the 1919 Cholera Epidemic in East Asia. DLWS
Jiao R.M, Yang D.L.(2020) Measures to deal with cholera in Japan in the late 1870s and its enlightenment [J]. Journal of Social Sciences of Jilin University, 201,61(01):224-234+240.]
Johnston, W. (2019) Cholera and the Environment in Nineteenth-Century Japan. Cross-currents (Honolulu, Hawaii). [Online] 8 (1), 105–138.
Johnston, W. (2014) The Shifting Epistemological Foundations of Cholera Control in Japan (1822-1900). Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident. [Online] (37), 171–196.
Sampias, W. J. (2020). Choleric spaces: Producing spaces for cholera patients during the 1877 cholera epidemic in Japan (Doctoral dissertation).

6 replies to “The impact of the cholera on Japan”

  1. Blog Administrator says:

    Hi Lingyi – just confirming I am able to leave a comment – best wishes, Michelle

  2. s2268578 says:

    Hi Ling Yi,

    Looking forward to reading your blog!


  3. Danqiuzi Li says:

    Hey lingyi
    In fact,I don’t know a little about cholera, but I understand a lot by reading your blog.Through the historical struggle against cholera,Japan has accumulated a lot of relevant experience,and has made great progress in bio politics. At the same time,progress has been made in clean water and waste treatment . I think not only cholera, but also many infectious and non infectious diseases will be caused and spread by unclean diet(including water), so it is particularly important to formulate effective preventive measures.Especially in the post epidemic era, I think we should pay more attention to public health.Therefore, I think the most important thing is prevention. The habit of cleanliness and hygiene should become people’s daily concept and a common phenomenon in society, and should be monitored by society and the world.Because compared with the suffering caused by any infectious disease, preventing them will reduce more disasters to mankind. Do you have the same view?

  4. s1794743 says:

    Hi Ling Yi,
    Thanks for this fascinating account of an historical outbreak of Cholera in Japan in the nineteenth century. You have provided a really clear account of what happened and I assume that when you refer to the social context that led to this outbreak you are referring to the opening up of Japan after two hundred years of seclusion (1636) and this openness to international trade and influence brought the disease to Japan? Or were there Cholera outbreaks previous to this? It is amazing to learn that the government quickly established guidelines to prevent and mitigate transmission – sounds like they were well ahead of their time with this and many European countries like Britain could have learnt a thing or two from their approach. I also note that the preventative and treatments measures were underscored by legal requirements for reporting, which makes a lot of sense given the potentially devastating impacts of Cholera. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  5. s2125035 says:

    Hi Lingyi,

    Really an inspiring blog! In today’s world affected by COVID-19, it is particularly important to reflect on major infectious diseases. I have only heard of the cholera epidemic in “Love in the Time of Cholera” before, but never learned carefully about it. It is appreciated to know much deeper about cholera in your post.
    In Angola, the country I focus, people often suffer from multiple tropical diseases. Nowadays, with the double attack of COVID-19 and various tropical diseases, not only Angola, but other African countries are experiencing unprecedented challenges. As you mentioned in this post, laying out clear rules for disease prevention and control seems like an indispensable method when facing the infectious disease. In addition, public awareness of public health is also quite critical. Are there be any other measures for epidemic prevention can be learned from Japan besides policy aspects? Looking forward to reading more of your wonderful interpretation.

    Thank you,

  6. Raina says:

    Hi Lingyi, just checking if I can leave a comment.


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