Like many other women, I have a tendency to feel the cold. I'm also worried about my rough, dry skin. Looking for solutions, I recently visited the Nihondo Kampo Museum near Shinagawa Station in Tokyo.
The facility is dedicated to kampo, a system of traditional medicine imported from China but independently studied and developed in Japan. The museum was opened in 2003 by Nihondo Co., a shop specialising in kampo, and has four sections - a gallery, a consultation boutique, a seminar room and a restaurant.
I first went to the gallery to see crude drugs, the raw materials of kampo medicine. The glass-walled, brightly illuminated room dispelled my preconceived idea that kampo is difficult. I saw samples of about 50 kinds of crude drugs, each contained in transparent bottles and placed side by side.
"Some familiar food materials are used as crude drugs, too," said Natsumi Murakami, 28, the museum's publicist, as I was viewing them. She cited such examples as sanyaku (dried yam), which she said is effective for exhaustion and as a nutritional supplement. Ground oyster shell is believed to help ease heartburn and upset stomachs.
Part of the kampo experience is learning about our particular physical constitution and how to increase our natural healing power, Murakami said. She added that one's daily diet is also important.
The gallery also exhibits panels that provide various explanations and information. Staff in the museum's boutique provide free consultations, in Japanese, for visitors.
I told Miho Suzuki, 33, a pharmacist and the boutique manager, about my daily diet and tendency to feel the cold. Her advice: "In kampo, it is said black tea warms the body. But you should also dress in a way that keeps your neck, waist and ankles warm."
The restaurant next to the boutique serves yakuzen medicinal food, which uses kampo ingredients.
Attracted by the pleasing herbal aroma wafting from the restaurant, I went in. I checked the menu and ordered a hot pot nabe dish that included a soup made of collagen from soft-shell turtles and dozens of Japanese and Chinese ingredients, such as Asiatic ginseng, Chinese wolfberry fruit and jujube. The menu said the dish warms the body.
I expected the soup would be bitter, but it tasted mild and had a pleasant texture. As I began sweating slowly, I felt as if my health was getting better.
However, the benefits of the food and improvements in our physical condition won't become apparent with only one serving.
"You should first know your own body," Murakami said. "Then it's good to introduce kampo in your daily life to protect your body against illness."
The museum offers seminars on basic kampo knowledge and qigong, a traditional Chinese exercise. Reservations are recommended for consultation sessions at the boutique for quick service.
The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. until 10:45 p.m. on weekdays and until 10 p.m. on weekends and national holidays. Admission is free.
Visit www.nihondo.co.jp/shop/museum/ for more information in Japanese.Speech