Daranisuke - Household Medicine with Shugendo Roots

Originally published in Nanora Vol. 3 by Y.J Moon

Daranisuke is a popular household medicine that can be found in every home in Nara. I have been interested in it for a while since a friend gave me some, which completely got rid of a bad stomach-ache I once had. During this trip, we visited Tenkawa Village during the beautiful season of autumn. After a three hour drive from Nara City, we entered the charming district of Dorogawa-onsen, where we were greeted by the main street lined with traditional Japanese hot springs and lodges. I saw that many of the buildings even had signs advertising Daranisuke. Finally, I would be able to experience the feeling of bringing some of the medicine back as a souvenir.

As we walked down the street, I spotted a wooden building that fit right in with the surrounding inns and hot springs - Zenitani Shokakudo. Although Daranisuke is available in many of Tenkawa’s stores, the owner of this particular establishment, Mr. Zenitani, was the one we contacted to visit during our trip. Inside was a wide range of products, from elaborately decorated boxes of the remedy to creative characterizations of the little black balls of medicine, making it obvious that the store was not only interested in selling a traditional and natural cure, but also in trying to make its product more attractive to younger generations of customers.

Here we were able to speak with Mr. Zenitani, the fifth generation in owners of Zenitani Shokakudo, about his product and the village of Tenkawa. 

Q: The name “Daranisuke” is rather unique. Do you know anything about its origins or history of the name?

A: There is a legend that says the ascetic priest who developed Shugendo, En'nogyoja (also known as Shokaku), developed
the medicine and used it to help many people. The name supposedly comes from an old story saying that priests would put some of the medicine in their mouths because its bitterness helped them stay awake while they recited long and dull sutras called Dharani. It’s got a really strong bitter taste, and before its modern easy-to-take pill form was developed about a century and half ago, it used to only be available in large, flat pieces. 

Q: What are some ingredients in Daranisuke, and what sort of effects do they have?

A: The main ingredient comes from the extract of shredded Amur cork tree bark, from the same family as the Satsuma orange tree,
which is then hardened to make the medicine. The bitter tasting Amur cork bark has long been used for its antidiarrheal and disinfectant properties. Daranisuke is an affective remedy for stomach-aches, diarrhoea, and hangovers. Plus, since it’s a medicine made from natural ingredients, it has few side effects and is not harmful on the body. 

Q: In the Dorogawa district, there are many places that sell Daranisuke. Is there anything different about these other types?

A: Daranisuke that is sold in Dorogawa is all made the same way, but its packaging changes depending on who sells it. The kind
made in Yoshino, though, has a slightly different composition, and has a different size and dosage amount. It was very interesting learning that Daranisuke was not as simple of a medicine as I had imagined. It has a deep connection with Shugendo, and a long history of use as a folk medicine. Due to restrictions placed on Korean Buddhism in the past, historical temples can be found deep in the mountains. This resulted in them being used not only as religious facilities, but also as medical facilities in times when local hospitals were uncommon. There the people practiced folk medical treatments and cultivated plants for natural medicines. I felt closeness to Japan when I discovered that it shares similar natural medicine and religious traditions with Korea. Daranisuke is a medicine brought to us by the knowledge and traditions of Shugendo. When you visit Tenkawa, don’t forget to pick some up and take it home with you!