Inshoku yojo kagami ('Mirror of the Physiology of Drinking and Eating')

Utagawa Kunisada (b.1786, d.1865)
Circa 1850
A ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock print - originally one of two produced around 1850, to illustrate the widely accepted operations of the inner body during the Edo period of Japan, making these systems of knowledge understandable for the common people. The first, 'Inshoku yojo kagami' ('Mirror of the Physiology of Drinking and Eating', colloquially known as 'Rules of Dietary Life'), illustrates a man drinking sake, with a celebratory tray of food before him on a tray, including a red snapper fish with ginger. Small figures are portrayed in the torso, operating the organs, and indicating the different functions of the digestive system. According to Sothebys: "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."

The second ukiyo-e, 'Boji yojo kagami (Rules of Sexual Life) shows a woman, apparently a courtesan, in elaborate dress, smoking a pipe. The latter print is likely to have been produced by one of Kunisada's students. Together, the two prints were meant to be a cautionary tale message about overindulging in food, drink and sex, as these would lead to illness.

Ukiyo-e or "pictures of floating worlds", were woodblock prints popular in 17th-19th century Japan. Subject matters were diverse, and ranged from travel scenes and landscapes to flora, erotica and medical prints. These prints depicted activities in landscape settings, and at this time, new technology made possible the production of single sheets in a range of colours.
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Object detail

woodblock print
32.0 x 22.8 cm (image size)
(original work is 51.5 x 38.0 cm)
Accession Number
Medical History Museum Category


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