Comparative Guts

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Manase Dōsan 曲直瀬道三, Hyakufuku zusetsu

(百腹図説, “Illustrated Explanations of a Hundred Bellies”; n.d.)

Nothing more directly translated the early modern stress on practical, tangible realities than the Japanese innovation known as fukushin 腹診 (abdominal inspection). Whereas Chinese doctors had relied chiefly on feeling the pulse at the wrist to diagnose diseases, Japanese advocates of fukushin claimed that palpating the belly offered a more direct and reliable way to know a person’s condition. Since life was rooted in the wuzang liufu, the surest way to assess disruptions to life was to probe the surfaces right above them. In fukushin, the light, delicate touch of the pulsetaker interrogating fleeting flickers at the wrist gave way to the firm pressures of the masseur seeking more stable, graspable, unequivocal signs on the belly, evoked here by different colors: characteristic patterns of hot and cold, tenseness and flabbiness, as well as in telltale maps of lumps and nodules. (3)


(3) On the belly as the site for experiencing the new world of money, see Shigehisa Kuriyama, “The historical origins of katakori,” Japan Review 9 (1997): 127-149; and Shigehisa Kuriyama, “Money as a humour,” in Peregrine Horden and Elisabeth Hsu eds., The Body in Balance: Humoral Medicines in Practice (Bergahan Books, 2015).