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Wooden figure of man practising moxibustion, Japan, 1750-1800

The black marks on the man’s legs are the result of moxibustion treatment. Moxibustion is the practice of burning a plant, moxa, on the skin at specific points on the body. In traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine, moxibustion stimulates the flow of qi or energy around the body, essential to wellbeing. The carved wooden figure may have been used as a toggle-like ornament called a netsuke. These hang objects such as medicine boxes or tobacco pouches from the sash of a kimono, the Japanese national dress.

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    Glossary: moxibustion

    a therapeutic technique used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in which acupuncture points are stimulated by the application of burning moxa. Moxa is prepared from the ground young leaves of plants of the genus Artemisia – particularly Artemisia vulgaris. Slow burning moxa can be applied directly to the skin or burned on the head of an acupuncture needle in a combination therapy.

    Glossary: netsuke

    Small ornamental object carved in wood or ivory. Netsuke were used as toggles (buttons) for Japanese kimonos or pouches in the 1600s.