Back at the time when human’s knowledge of our inner workings was scarce, folks of the olden days already knew roughly the functions of the various organs and sometime in the Edo period, some Japanese artists who were well versed in Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of floating worlds” (basically wood block prints, a technique for printing text, images or patterns), had taken that knowledge to create a series of anatomical depictions of a human’s internal bodily functions, known as Inshoku Yojo Kagami, or Mirror of the Physiology of Drinking and Eating.
The illustrations were accompanied by text written in ancient Japanese language and depicts tiny people working at different vital organs of a person, keeping the organs functioning as they should. For example, a man’s digestive system was represented by a group of tiny figures turning a huge ancient manual grinder while some tiny folks emptied buckets of food brought by other tiny figures into the quern-stones grinder. It is an interesting take of our body in artistic point of view. Unfortunately, as the text were penned in ancient Japanese, little is known about the story. Though a cataloguer at Sotheby’s did have some basic explanation:
“the gall-bladder assumes the function of an inspector controlling in proper order the condition of the entire body. After the food supply is worked up, it is carried to the spleen which, paradoxically, is located in the upper right-hand side of the abdomen. The heart is participating in the “burning process”. In the centre of the heart a scholar samurai is presiding over the life process with two piles of books in front of him.”
Inshoku Yojo Kagami wasn’t the only Ukiyo-e though; there was also sister print known as Boji Yojo Kagami, or Rules of Sexual Life that touched on a woman’s internal workings including the birth organs and apparently, the illustrations were a warning that overindulgence in food, drink, as well as sex would be detrimental one’s health. If this ancient Japanese art piques your interest, you can USCSF Library to find more of such ancient arts in digital form.
Source and images via Spoon & Tamago