The jesuit hospital in the religious context of sixteenth-century Japan

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In 1555, just six years after arriving in Japan, missionaries from the Society of Jesus founded a small medical clinic in the city of Funai (modern-day Ōita). This was the first European hospital in all of East Asia, and historians have often regarded it as the beginning of a scientific revolution, a revolution which would eventually see the official adoption of Western medicine in Japan along with the marginalization of Eastern techniques. This article seeks an alternative perspective. It argues that there is some misunderstanding as to the nature of the Jesuit hospital. The historical sources in fact indicate that it was largely designed by, directed by, and staffed by the local Japanese Christians. Because of this, it functioned much like a Buddhist temple sanatorium. It had buildings of a similar architectural style, and its patients were treated in a similar way, receiving both Chinese medicine and Western surgery. The primary goal of the Jesuit hospital was not to introduce exotic medical techniques, but rather to offer appropriate social and spiritual support to the community.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-101
Number of pages23
JournalJapanese Journal of Religious Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Confraternity of mercy
  • hijiri
  • Hospitals
  • Jesuits
  • Medicine
  • Muromachi period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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