Between Mind and Eye: Japanese Anatomy in the Eighteenth Century

Charles Leslie and Allan Young

in Paths to Asian Medical Knowledge

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 1992 | ISBN: 9780520073173
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520910935 | DOI:
Between Mind and Eye: Japanese Anatomy in the Eighteenth Century

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The publication of Sugita Gempaku's Kaitai Shinsho was a major turning point in Japanese cultural history. As one of the earliest translations of a Western anatomical text, Kaitai Shinsho represented the beginning of two epoch-making developments. It revealed not only many anatomical structures hitherto unknown in traditional medicine, but also introduced the very notion of an anatomical approach to the body—the idea of visual inspection in dissection as the primary and most essential way of understanding the nature of the human body. It also inspired the rise of Dutch studies in Japan. This chapter suggests some new perspective on this old and familiar material, Kaitai Shinsho. It reconsiders Kaitai Shinsho in the context of the history of visual perception. It is the questions about the relationship between eye and mind and between looking and seeing that constitute the conceptual challenge of Kaitai Shinsho. To apprehend the deeper implications of the cultural transformation that was taking place in late eighteenth-century Japan, one has to address the relationships framed by these questions.

Keywords: Sugita Gempaku; Kaitai Shinsho; anatomical text; Japanese medical thought; Japan

Chapter.  8970 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medical Anthropology

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