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A Century of Healing - Insoodang Pharmacy and Dr. Han-joo Kim
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승인 2013.04.20  20:03:17
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Kim Han-joo Hanuisa. Photo by Anne Hilty

“We are not dealing in medicine, but dealing with humanity.”

Those words represent the philosophy of Kim Han-joo, pharmacist of traditional medicine and scholar of Jeju's medicinal plants. In the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him, Dr. Kim's work is grounded in empathy for his fellow human beings – work he hopes one day to pass on to a 4th generation.

“I'm only 74,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “which is young by Jeju standards; I have a long time yet to practice.”

Indeed, as suggested by the lecture series he is presently delivering on the longevity for which Jeju is renowned, he is in the prime of his life.

Dr. Kim's grandfather opened the family practice in 1911. During the prior Joseon Era the practice of Korean traditional medicine was encouraged, and numerous scholars studied same. Under the Japanese rule, a system of licensing for doctors of Korean medicine was established, and the senior Dr. Kim, originally titled “hanyak chongsang” [Korean pharmacology specialist], became a “han-uisa” or doctor of Korean traditional pharmacology.

When he died at the time of liberation in 1945, the business was passed to his son, the current Dr. Kim's father, who ran it until his death in 1970. During this time, Western medicine took firm hold in Korea, and traditional Korean medicine suffered and was discouraged. Many such practices closed, and the Kims' business moved to its second and current location – just a few doors away from the first.

Traditional Medicine Market. Photo by Anne Hilty

Somewhat surprisingly, Dr. Kim recounts that during the Park Chung-hee administration with its “Saemaeul Undong” or New Villages policy of economic reform under which traditional ways were renounced in favor of modernity, traditional Korean medicine was not targeted but regained its status; this is likely due to the strong national identity favored at that time.

Upon his father's death, Dr. Kim assumed full responsibility for what would be highlighted in 1974 by Joongang Daily, in a series of articles on family-owned businesses, as the premier example in its field throughout Korea. The people of Jeju over the years have not only relied on this family for medical treatment, but have also frequently brought local plants to be identified and studied, enhancing the family's ongoing tradition of research.

Dr. Kim was originally educated in Western pharmacology at Seoul National University. He gained a comprehensive knowledge of Korean and Chinese pharmacology from his father and other mentors.

In 2004, in endeavor to preserve the knowledge of Jeju's traditional medicine and medicinal plant species as well as the local vocabulary related to this field, Dr. Kim obtained a PhD in biology / life science from Jeju National University [JNU] – at the age of 67.

His thesis, “Studies on the Medicinal Resource Plants on Jeju Island,” contains a 125-page chart detailing 173 biomedical plants that grow on Jeju, including scientific [Latin] name, name in standard Korean and (if different) in Jeju dialect, crude drug name, part(s) used, constituents, medicinal action, folklore, prescription, area of distribution, and relevant literature. Further, he developed a table which groups these plants by their uses according to the diagnostic methods of Oriental Medicine. In addition, he charted 203 Jeju plants not yet used medicinally but with potential for same.

Traditional medicine at the five-day market. Photo by Anne Hilty

To say that Dr. Kim's body of work represents a gift to the people of Jeju and to the medical field itself would be an understatement. This is perhaps his opus magnum, for which he received recognition from Korea's Ministry of Environment.

He continues to conduct research with colleagues at JNU, currently focused on the uses of Jeju's medicinal botany. Last year, he developed a series of video lectures on this topic, filmed in honor of the World Conservation Congress [WCC] of the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] which took place on Jeju.

The aforementioned lecture series on longevity is being delivered at the Agriculture Technical Institute located in TechnoPark, as a special project under the Regional Innovation Systems [RIS] program. The field of medicinal plants has been identified as one of the country's growth industries, and Jeju is a major exporter of same.

Two of Dr. Kim's descendants, a son and a daughter, are doctors of western medicine, and a few of his nephews are also doctors, one of western and two in Korean medicine. In Busan there is a specialized 4-year graduate program for those educated in western medicine to also become doctors of Korean medicine, and Dr. Kim trusts that one of the young doctors in his family will follow this path and continue the family business.

Insoodang Pharmacy is located in Ido-1dong, near the southeast corner of the Jungang-no intersection. Although Dr. Kim speaks moderate English, one must be accompanied by an interpreter for comprehensive consultation.

History, and the riches of traditional medicine, live on in this family-owned “hanyak-guk” – and in Dr. Kim Han-joo.


Dr. Hilty is a cultural psychologist from New York who now makes Jeju her home. Dr. Hilty was additionally educated in and practiced Traditional Chinese Medicine for 14 years.

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