Johann Adam Kulmus was born on Danzig in 1689 and studied medicine at Halle, Strassburg, and Basel. In 1725 he became a lecturer in medicine at the Gymnasium in Danzig, where he died in 1745. His most noted work was the anatomical textbook, Anatomischen Tabellen, first published in Danzig, 1722. The work was extremely popular and was translated into Latin, French, Dutch, and eventually Japanese. Most of the illustrations are imitations of those in Philippe Verheyen's Corporis humani anatomia, which are themselves heavily patterned after Vesalius.
By 1770, Japan had been cut off from the rest of the world for well over a century with the exception of limited trade with the Netherlands and China. About that time, a group of Japanese physicians led by Maeno Ryōtaku (1733–1803) and Genpaku Sugita (1733–1817) undertook the study of Dutch medicine and in 1771 managed to obtain copies of the Dutch translation of Kulmus' anatomical work, entitled Ontleedkundige tafelen, published in Amsterdam in 1734. Taking the book with them to the dissection of an executed criminal's corpse, they were enthralled by the accuracy of the Dutch work and decided to translate it into Japanese. After years of work, which involved finding a new vocabulary in Japanese for many anatomical terms, the work was published under the title Kaitai shinsho in Tokyo in 1774.
Kaitai shinsho is considered to be the first Western book published in Japan in the Japanese language. It was also a large step in the development of European medicine in Japan, mainly because it called into question the Chinese anatomical theories of Japan's kampō medicine.
While the majority of the woodcut illustrations are from Kulmus’ work, a few are from different sources. The introductory illustration featuring Adam and Eve is taken from the title page of Juan Valverde de Amusco’s Vivae imagines partium corporis humani, published by Christopher Plantin in Antwerp in 1572. The final four images showing the tendons of the hands and feet are taken from Govand Bidloo’s Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams, published in Amsterdam in 1690.
Bowers, John Z. Western medical pioneers in feudal Japan. (Baltimore: Published for the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation by the Johns Hopkins Press, 1970). Pp. 67-72.
Choulant, L. History and bibliography of anatomic illustration. Trans. and annotated by Mortimer Frank. (New York: Hafner, 1962). P. 34.
Hirsch, A. Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker. 2. Aufl. (Berlin [et al.], 1929–1935). Entry for Kulmus, J. A.