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Urban development in Edo / Edo no Taihen (great pivotal events of Edo) / Great-Edo Map   

A Wish for the End of the Infectious Diseasesa

Infectious diseases were just as feared by the people of the Edo period as earthquakes and fires. Smallpox, measles, and chicken pox were known as the "three great diseases." Despite being once-in-a-lifetime ailments, all of these had high mortality rates, and people hoped fervently that they would make a full recovery after they caught them. The diseases were thought to be divine curses or calamities brought by ghosts and demons. All kinds of prayers and incantations were performed, as evidenced in works such as hōsō-e and hashika-e.

Chinzei Hachirō Tametomo and the Smallpox Deity (Chinzei Hachirotametomo Hosogami) Painted by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Hōsō-e, literally "smallpox pictures," were used as charms to ward off smallpox, and those printed in red ink were especially popular as the color was thought to guard against calamities. The pictures typically depicted the smallpox deity being vanquished by Chinzei Hachirō Tametomo and the deity Shōki, who was believed to ward off evil spirits.

On the other hand, hashika-e or "measles pictures" contained not only scenes of the measles being defeated but also, in many cases, textual information including how to diagnose the disease, dietary prohibitions, and advertisements for medicines. Almost all the hashika-e still in existence today were published during the measles epidemic in Edo in 1862. This epidemic coincided with an outbreak of cholera in the same year, resulting in countless deaths among the Edo townsfolk. Records concerning the spread of cholera in Edo during the final years of the Shogunate also exist in a variety of forms.

Vanquishing the Measles (Hashikataiji)
Painted by Utagawa Yoshifuji 1862(Bunkyū 2)
Chronicle of the Cholera Outbreak of Fall 1858 (Ansei Uma no Aki Korori Ryukoki) Preface by Kinōroka 1858(Ansei 5)

* To view more explanation, please click the each image.