Kampo medicine is Japanese traditional herbal medicine. It has a long history of clinical application and uses unique theories and therapeutic methods originally based on traditional Chinese medicine. Since it was introduced at the beginning of the 7th Century, the Japanese have developed their own system of diagnoses and therapy. The word Kampo itself means ‘the Han Method’, which refers to the herbal system of China that was developed during the Han Dynasty. Kampo has gradually re-emerged in recent years, and researchers led by Dr Tadaaki Kawanabe at Kitasato University, Tokyo, are exploring the benefits. ‘Kampo medicine is traditional Japanese medicine that was introduced from ancient China about 1,500 years ago and has developed in its own way in Japan,’ Kawanabe explains. ‘One of the most characteristic points of Kampo medicine is even if the diagnosis or symptoms are the same, different medicine is often applied for treatment depending on each physical constitution.’ These researchers believe they have shown that Kampo can be used alongside modern medicine to support preventative medicine and are investigating this theory. The team’s latest work involves clinical research and database construction to help investigate the correlation between modern and traditional medicine regarding tongue diagnosis. This is a particularly important indicator given that the shape and colour of a patient’s tongue can reflect what is going on inside their body. In Kampo medicine, a patient’s tongue features can help evaluate physical conditions and enable appropriate therapeutic drugs to be selected. This project, called ‘Database construction of tongue features in healthy subjects’, saw the researchers collect data using tongue images, along with clinical information. Kawanabe and his team developed a new computerised tongue image analysis system with a high colour reproduction and image processing algorithm to quantify clinically important tongue features. The researchers identified correlations between tongue features and specific clinical indices and have reported their results in research papers and at conferences. The team believes this is an important area for research because of the inability of modern medicine to infer disease states from examining a patient’s tongue in quite the same way. ‘Tongue inspection has so far been evaluated by the human naked eye and therefore errors influenced by personal bias, gap of visual capability and non-constant visual environment are inevitable,’ outlines Kawanabe. ‘This has affected scientific discussion due to a lack of objectivity.’ It is his hope that using Kampo will help improve diagnoses for patients. The ultimate goal is for the Kampo culture to become established in daily life and help to increase the human health span. The project emerged from the realisation that in today’s stressful society, there are many people who are suffering from often unexplained disorders. The researchers believe that Kampo, in combination with information technology, could provide a solution to this. They are confident that this technique has the potential to improve quality of life.