Anatomical illustrations from Edo-period Japan

Here is a selection of old anatomical illustrations that provide a unique perspective on the evolution of medical knowledge in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868).

Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Pregnancy illustrations, circa 1860

These pregnancy illustrations are from a copy of Ishinhō, the oldest existing medical book in Japan. Originally written by Yasuyori Tanba in 982 A.D., the 30-volume work describes a variety of diseases and their treatment. Much of the knowledge presented in the book originated from China. The illustrations shown here are from a copy of the book that dates to about 1860.

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Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Anatomical illustrations, late 17th century [+]

These illustrations are from a late 17th-century document based on the work of Majima Seigan, a 14th-century monk-turned-doctor. According to legend, Seigan had a powerful dream one night that the Buddha would bless him with knowledge to heal eye diseases. The following morning, next to a Buddha statue at the temple, Seigan found a mysterious book packed with medical information. The book allegedly enabled Seigan to become a great eye doctor, and his work contributed greatly to the development of ophthalmology in Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Trepanning instruments, circa 1790 [+]

These illustrations are from a book on European medicine introduced to Japan via the Dutch trading post at Nagasaki. Pictured here are various trepanning tools used to bore holes in the skull as a form of medical treatment.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Trepanning instruments, circa 1790 [+]

The book was written by Kōgyū Yoshio, a top official interpreter of Dutch who became a noted medical practitioner and made significant contributions to the development of Western medicine in Japan.

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Trepanning instruments, 1769 [+]

These illustrations of trepanning instruments appeared in an earlier book on the subject.

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Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Anatomical illustrations (artist/date unknown) [+]

These anatomical illustrations are based on those found in Pinax Microcosmographicus, a book by German anatomist Johann Remmelin (1583-1632) that entered Japan via the Dutch trading post at Nagasaki.

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Human skeleton, 1732

These illustrations — created in 1732 for an article published in 1741 by an ophthalmologist in Kyōto named Toshuku Negoro — show the skeletal remains of two criminals that had been burned at the stake.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Human skeleton, 1732

This document is thought to have inspired physician Tōyō Yamawaki to conduct Japan’s first recorded human dissection.

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Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Japan’s first recorded human dissection, 1754

These illustrations are from a 1754 edition of a book entitled Zōzu, which documented the first human dissection in Japan, performed by Tōyō Yamawaki in 1750. Although human dissection had previously been prohibited in Japan, authorities granted Yamawaki permission to cut up the body of an executed criminal in the name of science.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Illustration from 1759 edition of Zōzu

The actual carving was done by a hired assistant, as it was still considered taboo for certain classes of people to handle human remains.

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Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Japan’s second human dissection, 1758 // First human female dissection, 1759

In 1758, a student of Tōyō Yamawaki’s named Kōan Kuriyama performed Japan’s second human dissection (see illustration on left). The following year, Kuriyama produced a written record of Japan’s first dissection of a human female (see illustration on right). In addition to providing Japan with its first real peek at the female anatomy, this dissection was the first in which the carving was performed by a doctor. In previous dissections, the cutting work was done by hired assistants due to taboos associated with handling human remains.

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Kaishihen (Dissection Notes), 1772

Japan’s fifth human dissection — and the first to examine the human brain — was documented in a 1772 book by Shinnin Kawaguchi, entitled Kaishihen (Dissection Notes). The dissection was performed in 1770 on two cadavers and a head received from an execution ground in Kyōto.

Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Kaishihen (Dissection Notes), 1772

Edo-period medical illustration --
Kaishihen (Dissection Notes), 1772

Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Kaishihen (Dissection Notes), 1772

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Tōmon Yamawaki, son of Tōyō Yamawaki, followed in his father’s footsteps and performed three human dissections.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Female dissection, 1774

He conducted his first one in 1771 on the body of a 34-year-old female executed criminal. The document, entitled Gyokusai Zōzu, was published in 1774.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Female dissection, 1774

Edo-period medical illustration --
Female dissection, 1774

Edo-period medical illustration --
Female dissection, 1774

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Female dissection, 1800

These illustrations are from a book by Bunken Kagami (1755-1819) that documents the dissection of a body belonging to a female criminal executed in 1800.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Female dissection, 1800

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Human anatomy (date unknown)

This anatomical illustration is from the book Kanshin Biyō, by Bunken Kagami.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Human anatomy (date unknown)

In this image, a sheet of transparent paper showing the outline of the body is placed over the anatomical illustration.

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Seyakuin Kainan Taizōzu (circa 1798)

These illustrations are from the book entitled Seyakuin Kainan Taizōzu, which documents the dissection of a 34-year-old criminal executed in 1798. The dissection team included the physicians Kanzen Mikumo, Ranshū Yoshimura, and Genshun Koishi.

Edo-period medical illustration --
Seyakuin Kainan Taizōzu (circa 1798)

Edo-period medical illustration --
Seyakuin Kainan Taizōzu (circa 1798)

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Dissection, 1783 [+]

This illustration is from a book by Genshun Koishi on the dissection of a 40-year-old male criminal executed in Kyōto in 1783.

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Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Breast cancer treatment, 1809

These illustrations are from an 1809 book documenting various surgeries performed by Seishū Hanaoka for the treatment of breast cancer. The illustrations here depict the treatment for a 60-year-old female patient.

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Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Bandage instructions from two medical encyclopedias, 1813

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Edo-period medical illustration --
Yōka Hiroku (Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1847

These illustrations are from the 1847 book Yōka Hiroku (Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths) by surgeon Sōken Honma (1804-1872).

Edo-period medical illustration --
Yōka Hiroku (Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1847

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The following illustrations are from the 1859 book Zoku Yōka Hiroku (Sequel to Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), an 1859 book by Sei Kawamata that presented the teachings of surgeon Sōken Honma.

Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Zoku Yōka Hiroku (Sequel to Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1859

Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Zoku Yōka Hiroku (Sequel to Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1859

Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Zoku Yōka Hiroku (Sequel to Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1859

Edo-period medical illustration -- Edo-period medical illustration --
Zoku Yōka Hiroku (Sequel to Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1859

[Source: Nihon Iryō Bunkashi (History of Japanese Medical Culture), Shibunkaku Publishing, 1989]

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About Quinn Comendant

Mr. Comendant joined Kilometer Zero in 2001 and is responsible for identifying and glueing together unnoticed tears in reality. He also operates Strangecode and Wheeled Migration from the safety of metaphorical mountaintops.
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