Diseases and Deformities (Yamai no Sōshi)

Kyoto National Museum

National Treasure

Diseases and Deformities (Yamai no Sōshi)
This series depicts symptoms of various physical disorders, including rare diseases and deformities. Once had taken over as a single handscroll, the work was later cut up into sections, nine of which are in the collection of the Kyoto National Museum. Like the Gaki Sōshi and Jigoku Sōshi, it is thought to have been produced in the late Heian period (794-1185) as part of a Rokudo-e (“Six Realms of Existence” suite). Each composition depicts not only the curiosity that is the hapless patient but also the bewildered or ridiculing bystanders, adding a sense of detached satire that elevates this work from monotonous catalog to raw human drama. Let us look at each composition in detail. (The series underwent a four-year restoration that was completed at the end of fiscal 2015. The photographs were taken after this restoration.) 


The text accompanying this illustration refers to the symptoms—involuntary tremors of the eyes and body—as fubyo (lit. disease of the wind), possibly indicating palsy.

The illustration shows a man shaking uncontrollably as he points his finger at a game board. Women looking on are sniggering.

Man with a Small Tongue

The man on the left has a second, smaller tongue growing beneath his tongue, potentially a life-threatening condition if left unchecked as it would make eating difficult.


The depicted man, carrying a hand drum from his neck, had often been spotted in Kyoto. A person who grew suspicious of the occasional woman-like behavior of the man looked inside his clothes while the man was asleep to discover both male and female sexual organs.

Treatment of an Eye Disease

Yamato province lived a man who complained of poor eyesight. When a doctor claiming to cure eye diseases presented himself to the man, he thought it was a godsend, and asked the doctor to administer his treatment.

The doctor was admitted into the man’s house, examined his patient’s eyes, and then stuck an acupuncture needle into one of them. “It will get better in no time,” the doctor said as he left.The man ended up blind in one eye.

Man with Pyorrhea

A man is feeling his back teeth with his finger. He has wobbly teeth, and cannot chew anything that is even slightly hard

Man with Many Anuses

The man in this picture was born with multiple anuses. Stools would pass out through all of the anuses, which must have been a very troublesome condition indeed.

Man with Pubic Lice

A man is frantically shaving off his pubic hair. Apparently he had caught lice overnight after sleeping with the woman pictured behind him.

For reasons not known, the woman is smiling gleefully despite being the source of the infection.

Woman with Cholera Nostras (diarrhea and vomiting resembling the symptoms of cholera)

The woman in the picture has loose bowels, and is both vomiting fluid and defecating profusely, a very agonizing condition indeed.

The old woman is nursing her, and a dog has come mistaking the liquid feces for something good to eat.

Woman with Halitosis

In Kyoto lived a very beautiful woman. She had suitors, but her breath was so bad it repelled any approaching man.

The picture shows the woman cleaning her teeth with a toothpick, while onlookers point their fingers at her and laugh. The accompanying text says anyone who came close found the odor unbearable.

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