Empire building and the conquest of disease

Discussions on all aspects of the Japanese Empire, from the capture of Taiwan until the end of the Second World War.
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Peter H
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Empire building and the conquest of disease

Post by Peter H » 02 Jul 2006 07:24

Beriberi appeared to be a major health problem in the Japanese Army circa 1895.

http://www.aasianst.org/absts/2006abst/ ... /I-113.htm
In modern Japan, beriberi was a major public health issue: The Meiji Emperor had it, it was endemic in the military, and so prevalent that it was called "the people's plague" (kokuminbyo). Beriberi was not only a disease of the people, but it was also a disease of empire, one that afflicted the army as Japan established and held its imperial enclaves. My paper looks at the role of medicine in empire by examining beriberi prevention during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). This was crucial for empire building. For example, after taking Taiwan in 1895, there was a 107% infection rate for beriberi among the Japanese occupation forces. The medical corps began adding barley to the soldiers' diet in 1896; the infection rate began to fall, and by 1900 it was down to 7%. The army used a similar treatment for the 300,000 plus cases of the disease during the Russo-Japanese War. Barley had been used on beriberi patients since the Edo period, and was part of the practice of Chinese medicine. In Tools of Empire, Daniel Headrick posits that the development of quinine for malaria made it possible for Europeans to expand into the tropical world. For the Japanese military in Asia, beriberi prevention was equally important as malaria prophylaxis was for European colonizers in West Africa. I argue that barley, like quinine, was a "tool of empire," and that this tool stemmed in part from the Chinese medical tradition.
Its re-emergence in WW2 should also be noted:

http://ajrp.awm.gov.au/AJRP/remember.ns ... enDocument
The Imperial Japanese Army’s reliance on polished white rice to feed its troops deprived them of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) resulting in beriberi.....Experience from the Russo-Japanese War proved that adding barley to rice prevented beriberi and food shipments to New Guinea included barley. However, the high incidence of beriberi and Japanese distaste for "black rice" raises the question whether the barley actually made it into the Japanese soldier’s diet.

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Post by Peter H » 02 Jul 2006 07:31

Malaria.

Japanese forces ran into malaria in the early days of 1942.

The Philippines April 1942:

http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/5 ... 9.htm#p521
The second major problem that faced the planners-and for a time placed the entire operation in jeopardy-was the outbreak of malaria in the 4th Division. The shortage of medical supplies and food had plagued General Homma throughout the campaign, and even before the 3 April attack he had had 15,500 men in the hospitals. After the fall of Bataan, when the troops entered the low, malaria-infested river valleys in the southern part of the peninsula, the sick rate rose sharply. Of the 30,600 patients in Japanese hospitals during the month of April, 28,000 were malaria victims. The 4th Division was hardest hit, and when, about the middle of April, one of its regiments reported for training in amphibious operations it numbered only 250 men. At one time the strength of the division dropped to one third of normal. General Homma importuned his superiors for quinine and additional hospital facilities and finally received 300,000 quinine tablets by air at the end of the month. With this supply the malaria epidemic was brought under control just in time to meet the scheduled date for the assault.
The problem extended to the South Pacific as well:

New Guinea:
http://ajrp.awm.gov.au/AJRP/remember.ns ... enDocument
Rear-echelon Japanese troops attempted mosquito eradication, mostly by digging ditches to drain stagnant water where mosquitoes breed. However, the highly saturated soil in New Guinea thwarted their efforts. Soldiers were issued insect repellent and mosquito head-nets, although many did not use them due to the heat. Mosquito netting was issued for use with bedrolls, although the American internee reported that some Japanese officers discarded their mosquito netting and used white surgical gauze, which they believed to be more becoming of their rank. In an effort to prevent malaria, Japanese soldiers were required to take 0.2 gm of quinine for six days and one tablet of Plasmochin every seventh day, a dosage incapable of suppressing neither strain of malaria.

Guadalcanal was also the second most malarious region outside the continent of Africa:

http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/brochures/72-8/72-8.htm
For the Japanese, losses were even more traumatic: 14,800 killed in battle,another 9,000 dead from disease, and about 1,000 taken prisoner.
http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs ... erVIII.htm
Captured medical reports… stated that among the Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands and Bismarck Archipelago the primary malaria rates per 1,000 per annum were 450 in December 1942, 1,098 in January, and 1,637 in February 1943. At Rabaul, New Britain, 32.4 percent of one unit and 22.09 percent of another were malaria patients during February 1943. The total malaria rate for Rabaul and vicinity was 2,503 per 1,000 per annum in April 1943.
Burma as well:

http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/ttt/ ... vices.html
In Burma malaria has been the greatest problem of the medical services. The Japanese have used mosquito nets large enough for a whole squad, antimosquito cream and spray being available for sentries and others who have to be outside the net. Atabrin or quinine are also taken every day by all who have not had malaria. In spite of these precautions every man in one Japanese regiment had had malaria at least once.

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Post by Peter H » 02 Jul 2006 07:36

Scrub Typhus.

Another disease encountered by both Japanese and Allied troops in the jungles.

This disease caused more deaths than malaria in World War II.

http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-W ... t2-c8.html
In the South-West Pacific, as in South-East Asia, there was a danger of scrub typhus, especially where troops were in contact with the Japanese. This form of typhus, also called tsutsugamushi disease, is mite-borne, and the medical services with the New Zealand troops in the Solomon Islands were on the lookout for its appearance, but fortunately no cases developed during the campaign. This disease is not of the epidemic type, but it caused unexpected trouble among troops in New Guinea and Burma.

Cholera

A killer going back to 1895...


http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/savage/WATER.PDF
....a further outbreak in 1895 was described by Hearn. 'It followed the returning armies of Japan,
invaded the victorious empire, and killed about thirty thousand during the hot season.

Initially encountered in China but it soon spread to SE Asia

http://www.awm.gov.au/histories/chapter.asp?volume=35
During 1943 there were severe epidemics of the disease in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and from Formosa it had spread by sea routes to the Carolines, Singapore and Makassar in the Celebes, and later in this year was spreading widely through the Philippines.

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Post by Peter H » 02 Jul 2006 07:40

Dysentery

There were 38,094 deaths among 155,140 cases in the Sino-Japanese War (1894)(Combined Chines & Japanese cases).

Still a problem of campaigning nearly 40 years later:

http://www.usyd.edu.au/about/publicatio ... koda.shtml
At that time the Japanese army was coming down on Port Moresby, and diarrhoea and dysentery was rife on both sides of the one man front on the Kokoda Track. Bacillary dysentery put a soldier out of action for at least two weeks, if he survived.

When sulphaguanidine arrived, Australian soldiers who reported diarrhoea on sick parade were handed a handful of tablets and a glass of water. They were told: "Down with those, now both hands on your hat!" and ordered back to their units.

The Japanese were similarly troubled with dysentery but did not have sulphaguanidine. That was the turning point on the Kokoda Track and the first reversal the Japanese army suffered.
http://ajrp.awm.gov.au/AJRP/remember.ns ... enDocument
Although there are no known reliable statistics, most Japanese soldiers suffered from diarrhoea and dysentery. Those suffering from dysentery usually stayed with their unit, frequently walking naked with leaves hanging from their buttocks to prevent them from soiling their uniform. The cases that were hospitalised, since they were the most serious cases, had a high mortality rate. In 1943, the case mortality rate of gastroenteritis patients from the 21st Independent Mixed Brigade was 69 per cent.

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever broke out in Taiwan island-wide in 1915, 1931, and 1942, when it was a Japanese colony.

Also prevalent in the Philippines and SWP Pacific.Brought back to the Japanese mainland 1942.

http://naosite.lb.nagasaki-u.ac.jp:8080 ... 4_03_t.pdf
DF outbreak was experienced in Japan in 1942 and the epidemics occurred until 1945
in the main southern part of Japan including Osaka, Kobe and Nagasaki. Data on the actual
number of patients was unclear but it was estimated to be around 200,000 to 1-2 million
and in Osaka alone, one-third to one-half of the population was ill of the disease in 1944
(Sabin, 1948). The dengue epidemic in Japan from 1942 to 1945 was one of the greatest
epidemics ever recorded in a temperate zone and was unique in that the disease disappeared
after 1945 and no endemic cases have been reported in the country since.

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Post by Sewer King » 03 Jul 2006 16:01

The medical corps began adding barley to the soldiers' diet in 1896; the infection rate began to fall, and by 1900 it was down to 7%. The army used a similar treatment for the 300,000 plus cases of the disease during the Russo-Japanese War. Barley had been used on beriberi patients since the Edo period, and was part of the practice of Chinese medicine. In Tools of Empire, Daniel Headrick posits that the development of quinine for malaria made it possible for Europeans to expand into the tropical world. For the Japanese military in Asia, beriberi prevention was equally important as malaria prophylaxis was for European colonizers in West Africa. I argue that barley, like quinine, was a "tool of empire," and that this tool stemmed in part from the Chinese medical tradition.
A general guide by George Forty, Japanese Army Handbook 1939-45 (Sutton Publishing, 1999) mentions barley in rice rations as a beri-beri preventative but that "this was not popular, the alternative being to cook the rice with a few pickled plums; these were a laxative so counteracted the constipating effect of the rice."

Leo J. Daugherty's similar book Fighting Techniques of a Japanese Infantryman 1941-1945 (Kent: Spellmount Ltd, 2002) mentions the same, with rice mixed with barley in 7:3 proportion respectively. The US War Department's 1944 Handbook of Japanese Forces describes a proportion of some 21oz rice to 7oz barley, though it does not refer specifically to this as a preventative. If the latter ration is anywhere near correct that would seem to be a lot.

Plums would serve as an antiscorbutic if not cooked, but I am not sure if they would serve as an alternative to thiamine from barley. These sound like the "Rising Sun" lunches eaten on the homefront, with a pickled plum in the center of a bento of white rice.

I have seen other mention of dislike for barley in the rice, where the Japanese would leave the barley for the Korean laborers. Since these cereals were stored separately and not mixed until cooking, it was easy to do so. But if beri-beri thus made such a comeback in the wartime Army, it would almost seem to have been a matter for discipline.

Imperial Army pharmacology made much use of patent-type medicines through World War II. General MacArthur mentioned its early use of creosote tablets, which the soldiers disliked. In this way it might be comparable to western armies early in the century, after which World War I led to medical advances that Japan did not directly experience, not having suffered terrible casualties in it. Japan's medical corps in peacetime had been highly rated by western observers during the 1904 war, particularly for sanitation. Not so by the next war. Interestingly, the medical corps came to be held in low esteem within the Army by this same time partly because it was not a combat arm-of-service

As in other technologies, military or not, Japan kept much of the old with the modern. By the 1930s, however, the modernity in Japanese military medicine began to turn toward biological warfare research. For example, advanced freeze-drying equipment was said to be almost wholly taken up by sera preparation for the military, so that Japanese troops were fairly well-immunized by inoculation. But it seems to me that in general, basic medical needs of the field armies held a low priority throughout the war. This was not policy in itself, but an emphasis on attack and not support for the many distant battlefronts to which Japan extended her forces.

Japanese military medicine seems not to be as widely studied in available, authoritative literature -- except for that of biological warfare, which has many limitations all its own. I suppose that in the histories of most modern armies, medicine is too specialized a subject for close popular interest. But if so, it may be a wide-open field in which the humble matter of barley can arguably be seen as a tool of empire.

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Post by hisashi » 04 Jul 2006 01:28

In Japanese navy, a doctor Kanehiro Takagi, educated in Britain, suspected that beriberi is a deficiency disease of unknown nutrition. In 1882, a IJN vessel suffered beriberi in her 10 months' voyage resulting in 169 beriberi infectants from 378 crews. Takagi proposed an experiment in the next year letting a vessel cruise the same course with western foods including breads and more meats. The vessel finished the voyage without any beriberi infectant. IJN decided to introduce western style foods for their rations.
On the other hand IJA, influenced by German medical science, insisted that beriberi was infectious disease by unknown bacteria. At last in 1908 IJA authorized to supply rices with barley. Umetaro Suzuki finally found vitamin B1 in 1910 (his article in German was in 1912 and perhaps in Europe he is not treated as the first founder of vitamin B1).
It was still difficult to produce vitamin B1. In 1929 'Strong Wakamoto', brewer's yeast with much vitamin B1, was put into sales. In 1930 similar medicine Ebios was on sale from an monopolistic brewery Dai-Nippon Beer Co. Ltd. After the war this firm was divided by anti-trust law and related laws, and Asahi Breweries' subsidiary is still supplying this medicine.
Ebios was supplied both in IJA and IJN, and Strong Wakamoto was as popular as Ebios among civilians.


Sources:
http://www.mars.dti.ne.jp/~akaki/igaku02.html
http://www.jikei.ac.jp/eng/our.html
http://www.asahibeer.co.jp/english/companye/group.html
http://www.wakamoto-pharm.co.jp/en/product/index.html

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Post by Sewer King » 09 Jul 2006 04:37

maisov wrote:In Japanese navy, a doctor Kanehiro Takagi, educated in Britain, suspected that beriberi is a deficiency disease of unknown nutrition. In 1882, a IJN vessel suffered beriberi in her 10 months' voyage resulting in 169 beriberi infectants from 378 crews. Takagi proposed an experiment in the next year letting a vessel cruise the same course with western foods including breads and more meats. The vessel finished the voyage without any beriberi infectant. IJN decided to introduce western style foods for their rations.
This sounds similar to James Lind, senior Physician to the Royal Navy in 1747 whose famous investigation of scurvy among British sailors showed that citrus fruits cured and prevented that disease. However it took until 1795 for the Admiralty office to officially require lime juice with the sailor's rations. The sick lists fell off greatly, in time to double the available RN crews for the Napoleonic Wars.

Arguably, Lind’s finding was itself was as important as Trafalgar. It may indeed have made that victory possible from the start. What strikes me is how promptly it seems the Japanese Navy took up its cure. Most military forces are conservative in their procedures to a greater or lesser degree, especially in peacetime.

Under the best conditions an army or navy might try not to cross their soldiers' food tastes for the sake of morale. If the IJN began to introduce some (or more) meat in its rations I would have thought that was more of a change than it might seem today. Did not the Imperial serviceman eat better than he might have at home, at certain times in history? As was sometimes true in earlier American and European armies and navies?

The IJA issued some types of biscuits with different ration issues, particularly its "iron ration". But I have seen mention that the Japanese soldier in general did not prefer breads as regular issue any more than the American one would take rice as an everyday staple.
maisov wrote: On the other hand IJA, influenced by German medical science, insisted that beriberi was infectious disease by unknown bacteria. At last in 1908 IJA authorized to supply rice with barley. Umetaro Suzuki finally found vitamin B1 in 1910 (his article in German was in 1912 and perhaps in Europe he is not treated as the first founder of vitamin B1).
In 1901, Dutch physician Gerrit Grijns conclusively reported from Java that beri-beri was traceable to polished rice, and curable with unpolished rice. Before him Christiaan Rijkman had been carrying out the Indies experiments on chickens, unlike Lind and Takagi who experimented on men. Grijns, however, did not isolate the vitamin. He only pinpointed rice hulls as the source of a beri-beri curative.

In 1910, US Army doctor Edward B. Vedder successfully treated beri-beri in the Philippines with an alcohol-based extract of rice hulls. His assistant Robert R. Williams set out to isolate the ingredient responsible, but his work was deferred with a career change to chemistry for Bell Telephone Company. Work slowdown in the Great Depression allowed him to return to beri-beri research, and it was not until 1933 when he successfully isolated its vitamin preventative in quantity. In 1936 he first synthesized it and named it thiamine, Vitamin B1 being its original name.

Could these Japanese, American, and European researchers have been easily aware of each other's work, even if not as fast as modern researchers are today? Did Suzuki formally identify vitamin B1 itself?

There is a scientific saying that when conditions are right, breakthroughs from different directions are made quickly and often simultaneously across the world. So if Suzuki was actually before Vedder and Williams, his finding may be quantifiable. The problem then becomes putting the new findings into practice. Even though the British realized lemon juice would save 18th century Royal Navy sailors from scurvy, they then argued over the financial costs of using it. And since no one understood how it worked, the debate over it went on and on for 50 years.

If Japanese Army medicine was influenced by the German and insisted that beri-beri was communicable, the US Public Health Service had this same problem in the 1910s. Many American doctors believed that pellagra, the disease of niacin deficiency, was infectious too. Pellagra ravaged the American South at the time, and the USPHS assigned Dr. Joseph Goldberger to track it down. Through wide-ranging experiments on prisoners and the poor, he conclusively found that pellagra was not infectious, and that meat, eggs, and milk kept it away. But the niacin in these foods would not be identified until 1937.

Nutritional history sources: Sebrell Jr, William H., Director of US National Institute of Health: Food and Nutrition. Life Science Library, Time-Life Publishers revised edition 1980 pages 103-113. Tannahill, Reay: Food in History. Crown Publishers, revised edition 1987 page 226-27.
maisov wrote:It was still difficult to produce vitamin B1. In 1929 'Strong Wakamoto', brewer's yeast with much vitamin B1, was put into sales. In 1930 similar medicine Ebios was on sale from an monopolistic brewery Dai-Nippon Beer Co. Ltd. After the war this firm was divided by anti-trust law and related laws, and Asahi Breweries' subsidiary is still supplying this medicine. Ebios was supplied both in IJA and IJN, and Strong Wakamoto was as popular as Ebios among civilians.
How was this supplement used (or eaten) by soldiers and sailors? You can find so much in documents and veterans' accounts of what the German Army ate, you can even buy reproduction German rations for re-enactors. But most accounts I have seen about what Japanese troops ate are only scattered mentions. The usual US War Department Handbook (page 346) mentions the wide IJA use of vitamin B and C pills, and even vitamins by injection.

I have looked for some mention of barley in everyday Japanese cooking, but found only barley tea so far. Curry from the Royal Navy found a place in Japanese food, and this is what I was looking for about barley -- some kind of trace left by past military life. In Britain you have the lime rickey mixed drink, in Germany there is Komissbrot bread. In the US, various processed foods of today originated with the World Wars. Spam is popular today in South Korea and the Philippines because US forces used it as food aid in rebuilding those countries after war.

I don’t fully understand the soldier’s resistance to barley supplements in the rice. Was it a matter of how it tasted? Or it was simply foreign to the way rice was cooked at home in Japan? In food history – a small field in itself – social class is a part of it too. Was barley something that continental Asians ate? Koreans eat raw garlic, like Russians -- and like I do, much to my family’s jokes. A distant Korean relative told me that Japanese historically look down on eating garlic as low-class. Yet some modern Japanese appreciate the nutrition value of garlic, and they have distilled it into odorless pill form. Was barley thought of as medicinal only, and maybe low-class as food?

MacArthur recalled an early experience of Imperial Japan when he had heard that its soldiers were issued creosote pills. They tasted very bad of course, and were commonly thrown away. This seemed unsolvable until one day the pills were issued with the printed instructions “It is the Emperor’s will that his soldiers consume this pill”. Not a pill was wasted from then on.

Considering the general discipline of the Imperial forces and their need to conserve manpower, it seems strange to me troops would refuse their vitamin supplements and beri-beri return in wartime. Unless it was due mainly to general supply difficulties, stoppages, and shortages, whether or not by enemy action.

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Post by Peter H » 09 Jul 2006 05:13

More on beriberi here:

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/ ... _n16350305
....even relatively well-supplied troops were afflicted with beriberi.The army's insistence on minimizing logistics to maximize the number of frontline troops ensured shortages of food and medicines. Unlike the American soldiers who were issued individual prepackaged daily field rations or C-rations, the Japanese army tended to supply their rations in bulk as they did during the Russo-Japanese War. In places safe from air attack, merchant vessels delivered bushel sacks containing rice or barley to a beach supply depot. In areas where enemy air was a threat, bulk food, such as rice and dried vegetables, was poured into 50-gallon oil drums through a 2-inch-diameter hole, which was capped. These drums were then tossed overboard from a passing ship to drift ashore where members of the unit would retrieve them. Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 drums were considered sufficient to supply a regiment of 3,845 to 5,685 men for 1 month. Other means of supply included sacks dropped from bombers or waterproof containers released by submarines. Once on shore, rations would be distributed to the individual companies using trucks, horses, or porters.

Companies distributed the food to individual soldiers in the form of A rations, which included a 2-day supply of uncooked polished rice, canned meat, and cooking fuel packed in a bamboo tube; B rations, 100 pieces of hard tack (¾-inch in diameter × ½-inch thick) in a cloth wrapper, and canned meat; or compressed rations, a single meal consisting of a "staple food," an unpolished rice and polished wheat ball, and "supplementary food," compressed vegetables in a paper wrapper. In some cases, one-third of the polished rice in the A ration was replaced with barley. Few containers used by the Japanese protected their contents from moisture, a serious problem in the humid jungles of the South Pacific. As a comparison, the U.S. Army C-ration contained a full day's food supply in tin cans for an individual soldier. Although not very tasty, they could be eaten cold or heated. The cans, which sometimes rusted in the humidity, were waterproof.....

....If the Japanese Army was taking proper precautions, why did its soldiers continue to suffer from beriberi? Why did a wellsupplied depot like Cape Gloucester have any beriberi at all? During the American Civil War, Charles Tripler, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, assumed that because soldiers were getting desiccated vegetables, they did not have scurvy. Upon investigation, he discovered that the desiccated vegetables were so unpalatable that they were not being eaten and scurvy was common. Was it possible that the Japanese soldiers were not eating the thiamin supplements? According to an American missionary physician, who was captured in 1943 and forced to render medical assistance to the Japanese, soldiers who did not get vegetables were expected to take 15 thiamin-rich yeast tablets daily. Since they did not like the taste, the tablets were often discarded. He also reported how, ". . . some of the native boys begged Japanese soldiers for the rice which they were throwing away into the sea in kerosene cans; but they were chased off. . . ." Given the Japanese reverence for rice, it is hard to imagine them discarding perfectly good rice. Was it possible that they were discarding barley or wheat instead?

...[the army]...failed to promote the means of prevention to their own soldiers, who rejected what, to them, was either essentially a prison diet or unpleasant-tasting tablets. By failing to make thiarnin palatable, they condemned their solders to be ravaged by beriberi.

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Post by hisashi » 09 Jul 2006 18:59

Japanese hard biscuits, kanmenbo 乾麺麭 or 堅麺麭 (later kanpan 乾パン) was made from wheats, salt, sugar and sesami. It was at first produced after German military biscuits.
restored kanpan
http://www.rakuten.co.jp/kagamiya/707874/705160/

kanpan today (sold as emergency foods and supplied in self-defense force)
http://phototec.hp.infoseek.co.jp/kanpan2.htm

For Umetaro Suzuki's work, this site is a standard account.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_Umetaro

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Post by Kim Sung » 10 Jul 2006 12:10

Kanpan 乾パン was my favorite food when I was in the military.

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Re: Empire building and the conquest of disease

Post by Sewer King » 25 Nov 2011 16:10

hisashi wrote:... In 1929 'Strong Wakamoto', brewer's yeast with much vitamin B1, was put into sales. In 1930 similar medicine Ebios was on sale from a monopolistic brewery Dai-Nippon Beer Co. Ltd. After the war this firm was divided by anti-trust law and related laws, and Asahi Breweries' subsidiary is still supplying this medicine.

Ebios was supplied both in IJA and IJN, and Strong Wakamoto was as popular as Ebios among civilians.
Though not listed as a rations component by itself, how did the IJA and IJN actually use their commercial yeast extract in cooking?

I have heard of Marmite and Vegemite as a similar, well-known yeast extract in Britain and its Commonwealth. Marmite in particular was supplied to the British forces in World War II, and also to German PoWs in Britain. But yeast extracts seem less known in the US, outside of health-food use.

====================================

The armored corvette Ryūjō (1864) had played the following parts in the beginning days of the IJN. By this account, this included disease control.
The Ryūjō was a steam ironclad warship of the Imperial Japanese Navy, designed by Thomas Blake Glover and built in Scotland for the private navy of the fief of Kumamoto, where it was called the Jo Sho Maru. It was surrendered to the new Imperial Japanese Navy on 8 May 1870, and sailed from Nagasaki to Yokohama with a British captain. Until the commissioning of the ironclad [frigate] Fusō [in 1878], she was the flagship (and the most powerful ship) of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Ryūjō was honored by a visit by Emperor Meiji in 1871, and formed part of the escort of Russian Crown Prince Nicholas [later Tsar-Emperor Nicholas II], when he visited Japan in 1872. [She] participated in the battles of the early Meiji Restoration, including the Saga Rebellion, Seinan War and the first Taiwan Expedition of 1874.

… From February - July 1881, the Ryūjō made a successful visit to Sydney, Melbourne in Australia and a circumnavigation of Tasmania. The following year, the Ryūjō made a voyage through the South Pacific, to Honolulu in Hawaii.

On 15 September 1883, 169 crewmen (of a crew of 378) were stricken with food poisoning, of which 23 died. This incident led to the use of bread as the main diet of the Japanese navy.
An impressive record for the leading ship of a beginning naval power. However, the last item is incorrect since Ryūjō’s crew had suffered from beri-beri, or vitamin B1 deficiency, rather than food poisoning. It was only one of several cases where the Emperor’s warships had been disabled by kakke, as the Japanese called beri-beri.

This led up to the better-known experiment aboard IJN corvette Tsukuba, described earlier here and in our thread about Imperial Japanese military food rations. From Tsukuba’s cruise to Hawaii in 1884, the navy's Surgeon-General Baron Takagi Kanehiro (1849-1920) found that proper diet could cure and prevent beriberi. Although the exact reason (vitamin B1) would not be discovered until some years later, Takagi promoted a Western-style diet centering on bread, meat, and beans.

Takagi had studied medicine in Britain and modeled his experimental sailors’ diet on that of the Royal Navy –- using bread, ship's biscuits, salt meat, and beans.
  • from Buck, Carol; and the Pan American Health Organization: The Challenge of Epidemiology: Issues and Selected Readings, page 76-78:
Takagi’s own account as translated and excerpted in Medical Record, volume 70, September 1, 1906:
About that time it was found to be necessary to provide an extra medical officer besides the usual number on board the training ships going for long cruises on account of the abundance of beri-beri cases among the men during the voyage. In 1882 there was a crucial state of affairs with Korea and three warships were sent to Ninsen (Chemulpo) and Saibutsu Bay. They stayed there only 40 days but owing to shortness of hands caused by the prevalence of beri-beri among sailors the officers felt quite unfit for battle and it was a very anxious time for those in positions of responsibility because those three ships would have been of no fighting value in the critical moment. For example, in one of the ships 195 out of 330 were down with beri-beri. As a consequence I handed down to the chief of the Naval Medical Bureau on June 24, 1882, a memorandum describing the facts. Following this, in August 1882, H.I.M.S. Fuso, in spite of anchoring off Shinegawa Bay, had to send half of its crew ashore in turns for the treatment of beri-beri. Continuing still further, I examined the reports of the Tokyo and Yokohama naval hospitals for 1881 and found that three-fourths of the patients had suffered from beri-beri.

In 1883 I received permission from the Minister of the Navy to examine the hygienic conditions of ships, barracks, schools, &c., belonging to the navy. I found that although working hours, clothing, dwelling-houses, &c., were similar everywhere, yet in food there was a great deal of difference. So I now asked the head of each sectional department to send me in the reports describing the details of food taken three times daily for a week ...
Takagi thought that beri-beri might be the result of too little protein and too much carbohydrate – and also missing a yet-unknown nutrient. Starting in 1882 he sent a proposal to reform the sailor's diet, despite opposition.
... The occurrence of beri-beri due to the deficiency of a certain element … is shown in the long voyages of the Asama, Tsukuba, Ryūjō &c. The disease does not occur if the food is well-supplied; for example, it does not occur among men having a sufficient supply of food or among officers, and in voyages with long stoppages at ports and short sailings. From 1882 to 1883 when the Ryūjō went for long voyages, the disease disappeared completely as soon as she arrived at Hawaii and was supplied with fresh articles of food.

… High temperatures, hard labours, nervous exhaustion, coarse food, &c., cannot be considered the chief causes of beri-beri, because if they are the causes both Europeans and Americans ought to suffer, but on the contrary they do not … On considering the question both from theoretical and practical points, it seems quite reasonable therefore to suppose that the true cause of beri-beri lies in a wrong method of diet ...
Takagi saw to it that Tsukuba followed the same track as Ryūjō had earlier. A committee of observers was also on board for her cruise, but this time:
... the food-supply was ordered according to the new system. Tsukuba sailed on Feb. 2nd, 1884, and returned to Shinagawa on Nov. 16th. The result obtained was good …

When the good report (“no beri-beri”) of the experimental voyage of the Tsukuba became known, the principal men in the navy for the first time began to support me in my fixed purpose [after their early opposition, but] they would give in now after such powerful practical proofs … the number of general diseases was nearly halved and that of beri-beri was considerably decreased without a death.

On Feb. 13th, 1885, I made a new proposal for using barley and rice in equal proportion instead of rice alone and of having this adopted from March 1st, as the season of beri-beri was approaching, under the following rules – that is, from March 1st to 15th, only once at breakfast; from March 16th to 31st, twice a day, morning and evening; after April 1t, at every meal. I did this for the following reason. Although the number of cases of beri-beri in the navy decreased considerably (almost half the number in the year before) and the deaths had become almost unprecedentedly few since the formation of our navy owing to the new food regulations of February, 1884, yet the disease had not yet disappeared completely and we were obliged to make further efforts to exterminate it. Then I thought of the plan of using barley instead of bread alone, as the men could eat the former better than the bread. From this I expected batter results. The Minister of the Navy ordered the addition of the word “barley” amongst the articles of food and its practical application on Dec. 21st throughout the whole navy ...
In March 1885 Takagi was able to present his success in an audience with the Emperor Meiji, and later to a Japanese professional medical society. Five months later:
On August 24th, 1885, I made a proposal to change bread and biscuit for equally proportioned barley and rice which had been supplied since March of that year, because I recognised its necessity owing to the great difficulties in cooking [aboard ship] during rough weather, even in time of peace. In November of that year my proposal was taken up and its application was at once ordered …

By the beginning of 1890 the reformed diet was crowned with a complete success, and not only was the beri-beri wholly exterminated but also the general diseases became greatly decreased. In the same year the Imperial Ordinance for the reformed diet was issued and thus my original object was fulfilled.

All through these years of hardships I tried to explain my views to others by comparing the food to gunpowder. I said that the former is the primary force of the human body as is the powder in the case of the gun, so it is just as important to select the food suitable for sailors as the powder for guns and rifles.
Interestingly, Takagi noted that the navy officers did not suffer from kakke. But he does not expand on this. Although officers paid for their own meals in their own messes, where did they get their vitamin B1 while at sea?

Reportedly, Takagi's promotion of bread led to his being nicknamed “Naval Bread Surgeon” and “Barley Baron.”

A Dr. Taguchi Fumiaki of Kitasato University wrote a broad essay about the debate over beriberi through this time. He widened the context that Hisashi told -– that German-trained Army doctors argued it with British-trained Navy surgeons But even though Baron Takagi had effectively made his case by 1890, making it official policy would take more time.

-- Alan

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