National TreasurePrescriptions from the Heart of Medicine (Ishinpō)

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  • 医心方(半井家本)
  • 30 scrolls
  • Ink on paper
  • Heian period/12th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • B-3178

Ishinhô, comprising a total of thirty scrolls, is the earliest extant medical book in Japan. Originally written in 984 (Eikan 2) by Tamba Yasunori (912-995), it describes the causes of various illnesses and their treatment, drawn from numerous medical books from China. This edition is the oldest, complete transcription of the original text. Twenty-seven of the scrolls were produced in the Heian period (794-1185), one scroll in the Kamakura era (1185-1333), and two scrolls and one bound manuscript were added as supplements during the Edo period (1615-1868). Twenty-five of these scrolls from the Heian period were transcribed by about ten calligraphers on elegantly decorated paper mulberry (J. kôzo) paper. The addition in red or black ink of phonetic characters (J. kana), annotations, and various symbols that facilitate reading of the main text provides valuable information on how Japanese was being read in the Heian period. Each of the two supplementary scrolls from the Edo period has additional writing on the back.

It is said that this set of scrolls, known as the Nakarai Family Edition, was given to Nakarai Mitsunari, the director of the Bureau of Medicine, by Emperor Ôgimachi (1517-93, r. 1557-86) in the Muromachi period (1392-1573). The only time the work has been out of the family's possession is when it was loaned to the Tokugawa shogunate in 1854 (Ansei 1). Only in recent years has it been seen by the public.