Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Drugstore as Contact Zone

This module explores how drugstores in early-twentieth-century Japan were more than simply places to buy medicines. They were also contact zones for a variety of globally-circulating goods and ideas. At a time when the hegemony of Western medicine (Seiyō iyaku) over indigenous forms of healing was not yet “matter-of-fact,” drugstores were crucial interfaces for spreading the values and practices of modern medicine across society and into peoples' hearts and minds.

Drugstores are places where the values and practices of medicine intersect with those of the market. The medicines they sell are more than simply compounds for health and healing; they are also ideological tools. As concrete symbols of objectified healing, medicines represent medical treatment seemingly disengaged from unequal social entanglements such as the uneven power relationship between doctor and patient.

This module explores how a major Japanese drug firm in the early twentieth century, Hoshi Pharmaceuticals, attempted to structure the space of its franchise drugstores to promote an ethos of what I'll call “democratic self-medication.” Hoshi's network of franchise drugstores spanned across Japan and its colonies, selling patent medicines (what we might call “over-the-counters” today) along with cosmetics and household goods. Its goal was to facilitate ever faster, more efficient sales, and in doing so, it helped influence the dissemination of modern medicine's on-the-ground, at the point of contact between merchant and consumer. The company endeavored to create an environment that cultivated an ethos of self-medication, liberated from the unequal power relationship between doctor and patient -- a space that promoted the freedom for consumers to choose their own medicines and to purchase them quickly and efficiently. (Spending money, after all, is perhaps the only true “freedom” in a capitalist system.) To this end, the company promoted a model of an “open and liberating” drugstore that would entice prospective customers and provide such ease of access that he or she would “unconsciously walk into a drugstore without realizing it.” Hoshi claimed that conversion to these new glass-and-steel constructions would lead to skyrocketing sales. Yet, in the years that followed, existing franchises proved reluctant to adapt, despite company pressures and incentives.

I have based this module on two sources from the company's newspaper that provide insight into a time when drugstores in Japan were becoming more than simply places to buy medicines, but places purposefully incorporated into the rhythms of everyday life. They are: “Beikoku no kusuriya” in Hoshi seiyaku kabushiki kaisha shahō, October 1, 1917 and “Hoshi shachō ga Ō-Bei yori motaraseru Kōtetsu-sei Hoshi-shiki kumitate tenpo ni tsuite” in Hoshi seiyaku kabushiki kaisha shahō, February 1, 1923. Together they illustrate the company's attempts to convince existing franchises to modernize the space of their drug stores based on a standardized ideal floor plan, which, itself, was an abstraction of various Midwestern drugstores in the United States. This module demonstrates, according to David Ambaras and Kate McDonald's lucid overview of the Bodies and Structures project, “how different experiences and articulations of place produce or invoke different concepts of space and vice-versa.” It shows how the place of a single drugstore (here, an imaginary, abstract one) serves as a spatial topography that reveals the frictions and flows of commodities, people, and ideas.

This module begins with a brief introduction to the company and to its consumer medicines. The page that follows introduces users to a Hoshi Franchise Store, and provides three overlapping, heuristic pathways that describe how the company attempted to structure the space of its drugstores to facilitate transactions in its favor. There are (at least) two different spatial networks in play here. One is the border-crossing global network of commodity flows and knowledge exchanges that appears egalitarian. The other is the hierarchical network of Hoshi's franchise drugstores, which parallels the hierarchical control structures of the nation-state and empire.

There is no one way to approach this module. If a user follows each pathway in linear fashion, then he/she will get a straightforward, company-sided perspective. Poking around non-linearly, however—through the use of tags and hyperlinks—will reveal the ways in which the company's ability to control the space of a drugstore was never total, and allow the user to make connections to other modules in the Bodies and Structures project.

Click here for a list of references for this module, which is also available from the module's Conclusion page.

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