Moulage, originally a French word, literally means a wax model. Before the war, moulages were often produced to teach students about dermatology. But as color slides became commercially available after the war, photos were exclusively used for recording skin rashes, thus putting an end to the production of moulages. Nevertheless, many moulages are still preserved in a number of universities across Japan.
The procedure of manufacturing a moulage is as follows. First, plaster is poured over the patientﾕs rash region, and when it has solidified, the plaster is removed from the skin to make a positive mold. A small amount of skin-color wax is applied to make a thin wax layer, which is then colored. Next, a large amount of wax is poured over, and after it has solidified, a flannel lining is applied. Finally, the wax part is removed from the positive mold and the details are retouched to complete the product.
Moulage production started in Tokyo University at the end of the Meiji Era, from where it spread to other universities across the nation. Professional technicians were assigned to these universities to make one moulage after another. At Kyushu University, production began in the Taisho Era and some 500 items were manufactured in total. It is not known how long moulage production continued, but it was probably up to the war. After Prof. Higuchi (Third Professor of Dermatology, Kysuhu University) took office in 1948, no more moulages were produced.
When I joined the Department of Dermatology, Kyushu University in 1962, there was a large moulage room on the second floor of the former wooden building which was used as a clinic and for dermatology research. Several hundred moulages were displayed in an array of glass boxes on shelves that almost reached the ceiling. As every single piece of moulage was an accurate copy of a human body, the room looked like a house of wax dolls. The vast array of wax reproductions of the human body was simply overwhelming. Whenever I was on night duty, I had to make the rounds to check for fire. When I entered the moulage room alone, I felt an eerie sense as if the moulages were about to move around, so I just peeked inside the room from the entrance and hurried away.
As the total refurbishment of the medical department building began, the hospital ward and outpatient clinics were moved to new buildings one after another. The research room that remained to the last was moved to a new research building in 1975, but the building was small and could not store all the moulages. Therefore, only some of the moulages were preserved, and the remaining majority were scrapped. Currently, about 200 are stored. It was a pity, but there was no alternative, and all such moulages were thrown away at some universities when the facilities were replaced.
Today, rashes are recorded exclusively as color photos, and moulages are now a thing of the past. However, they are impressively realistic even today, as they reproduce texture which is not possible with photos. Furthermore, skin diseases have changed with the times, and some of the diseases reproduced by moulages no longer exist now. Thus, moulages are an important record of what diseases were treated in the past, and should be carefully kept as a valuable historical legacy for dermatology.