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Chapter 1

Frontier Tales
Tokugawa Japan in Translation

Robe Rt L i s s

A go-between wears out a thousand sandals.


traditional Japanese folktale

any are the authors who remind us that the most deining characteristics of Tokugawa Japan derived from its policy of seclusion, sakoku
in Japanese. What seems less widely known is that the term sakoku and the
popular images it continues to evoke are at least partially the results of an
extended series of translations. he policy in question, based on a number of
edicts promulgated in the 1630s to limit the entry of foreigners and foreign
imports to Japan and the movement of natives away from Japan, went at the
time under various names such as kaikin, go-kensei, go-genkin and gokin, all
of which signiied forms of (maritime) restriction or prohibition, but not seclusion. It was the Nagasaki translator Shizuki Tadao who irst coined the
term sakoku, in the context of translating a portion of the Dutch version of
an English translation of the seventeenth-century Dutch East India Company
physician Engelbert Kaempfers Heutiges Japan.1 And this is where things start
1 Engelbert Kaempfer, he history of Japan, translated by J.G. Scheuchzer (London,
1727). It is interesting to note that the title, which literally means Japan today was
translated as he history of Japan, thereby rendering a phrase that is open to a negotiable future into an appellation that refers to a closed past. On Shizukis translation
and its reception, see W.J. Boot, Shizuki Tadaos Sakoku-ron, W.J. Boot and W.G.J.
Remmelink, eds., he Patriarch of Dutch Learning Shizuki Tadao (17601806), (Tokyo:
Japan-Netherlands Institute, 2008), pp. 88106. I thank Professor Boot for sharing his
work with me.

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to get complicated. For the portion Shizuki chose to translate was actually
not part of Kaempfers original text. Rather, Kaempfers English translator,
hans Sloanes secretary Johann Gaspar Scheuchzer, had taken the liberty
one among manyof adding material drawn from another of Kaempfers
writings, Amoenitates exoticae (1712), including an appendix entitled Regnum
Japoniae optim ratione, ab egressu civium, et externarum genium ingressu et
communione, clausum. Translated into English, the title appeared as An Enquiry, whether it be conducive for the good of the Japanese Empire, to keep it
shut up, as it now is, and not to sufer its inhabitants to have any Commerce
with foreign nations, either at home or abroad. In Shizukis hands, the phrase
to keep it shut up (geslooten te houden in Dutch) evolved into sakoku, which
literally means land in chains. While Shizukis text, entitled Sakokuron, appears to have been widely read in government and elite cultural circles, it was
not until 1858in the shadow of negotiations with the United States to open
Japan to tradethat the word inally found its way into oicial government
correspondence.2
Translation and translators, in their various permutations, are at the
heart of this volume. As described by many of my fellow authors, itineraries of
translationunderstood irst as movement from place to placesketched out
mediating routes of passage for a wide range of individuals and goods whose
own acts of mediation helped shape the intricately woven history of encounters and exchanges that compose the history of the period under investigation
here.3 But if movement was crucial to many acts of translation, Kapil Rajs
essay focuses on the equally important role of place, while David Turnbull
expands on constructed spaces as fundamental contexts in which translations
between languages and cultures took shape and gained signiicance. his essay
brings all three sorts of geography to bear in examining late eighteenth-century Japan as a multi-faceted site of going-between. For, in addition to relecting on those who visited Japan, we need to consider that, far from being easily
deined as a uniied and objectively positioned entity, Tokugawa Japan was
variously conigured by a number of overlapping cartographies. One grappled
2 he Dutch rendition reads Onderzoek, of het van belang is voor t Ryk van Japan
om het zelve geslooten te houden, gelyk he nu is, en aan desselfs inwooners niet toe te
laaten koophandel te driven met uytheemsche natien t zy binnen of buyten s lands,
De beschryving van Japan (Amsterdam, 1729), p. 476. For further background and
citations, see Tashiro Kazui, Foreign relations during the Edo period: Sakoku reexamined, Journal of Japanese studies 8 (1982): 283306; Beatrice M. Bodart Bailey, Kaempfer restord, Monumenta Nipponica 43 (1988): 133; Ronald Toby, Reopening the
question of sakoku: Diplomacy in the legitimation of the Tokugawa bakufu, Journal of
Japanese studies 3 (1997): 323363, esp. pp. 323324.
3 he reader will recall here that many of this volumes essays also relate the ways
in which these acts of mediation were read out of oicial histories, oten in relation
to processes whereby (semi-) independent go-betweens were replaced by dependent
employees and bureaucrats.

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FIGURE 1 Men from China, Korea, Ryukyu, Netherlands and Russia. Woodblock
print, Nagasaki-e, circa 1800.

Courtesy: he British Museum.

with the earthy actualities of Japans urban-studded topography, its vulnerability to the forces of nature and frequent proximity to water. But if Japanese
mundanely experienced the contours of both their natural and built environments, so too was the question of Japans location vis--vis the rest of the globe
at issue for some. Between these two mappings ran the conundrum of Japans
regional and national borders, seen variously as dividing internal from external and as permeable zones of contact and exchange. Not yet a nation in the
modern sense of the word, a complex cultural map was nonetheless also evolving in which the situation of something akin to what Benedict Anderson has
called an imagined community could be detected.4 But even here, regional
4 Benedict Anderson, Imagined communities: Relections on the origin and spread of
nationalism (London: Verso, 1983). My equivocation in referring to Anderson has to
do with his explicit concern with nationalism. While there are those who speak of
Japanese nationalism under Tokugawa rule, my point is directed elsewhere. Following
Marcia Yonemoto and others, I am more interested in the way in which a speciically
deined space was cultivated in Japan as a context in which to shape cultural development on a communal scale. See Marcia Yonemoto, Mapping early modern Japan:
Space, place, and culture in the Tokugawa period (16031868) (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2003). On the question of cultural integration on a national scale
under the Tokugawa regime, see Mary Elizabeth Berry, Was early-modern Japan
culturally integrated, Modern Asian studies 31 (1997): 547581. For an explicit link

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and socio-cultural diferences asserted themselves or were asserted by others,


plotting boundaries that were repeatedly crossed as cultures of various regions
and social stations intermingled in major cities such as Edo (Tokyo), the shoguns capital, and as individual go-betweens moved between sites, translating
the objects, practices and knowledge owned or produced by one group into
forms and languages apprehensible to others.
Not surprisingly, these geographical orientations did not live separate
lives, as it were. Instead, the stories related here show how the shiting and porous boundariesborne of changing exigencies, limits and possibilitiesof
travel, place and space intersected and interacted to help shape the context and
content of Japanese exchanges, both domestic and international. his essay
seeks to engage with these geographical entanglements by focusing loosely on
three sites. First is the port city of Nagasaki, home to Chinese traders, representatives of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) and the oicial corps
of translators charged with mediating between both these groups and the rest
of Japan. he only oicially sanctioned port of entry for foreigners and their
goods, Nagasaki housed a carefully orchestrated zone of commercial exchange
whose governors and inhabitantsfor various reasonsexpanded to encompass intellectual and cultural exchange and translation as well.
Second is the life of the Japanese polymath hiraga Gennai (17291779),
whose biography provides an interesting counterpart to a number of go-betweens featured in this volumes other essays. Following his career provides us
with a revealing map of the practices and policies that linked natural history
with an impressive range of political, socio-cultural and commercial concerns
across various parts of Tokugawa Japan. So too does it introduce us to the dificult balancing act that awaited those who sought to translate the property
and achievements of elite culture into genres that might be tainted with the
air of popular entertainment and crass commercialism or, conversely, who
endeavoured to render elements of popular and commercial culture acceptable to the elite.
Finally, this essay follows a portion of the global adventurer Count
Maurice Benyowskys journey, which brought him briely to Japan, and the
harrowingly accidental travels of a number of Japanese castaways. hough
coming from diferent directions (Benyowsky from Europe, the castaways
from Japan), these men all traversed Japans northern frontier in ways that
made its permeability and permutability clear. In so doing, they helped draw
attention to the real or threatened presence of Russia, whose cartographers,
explorers and merchants were pushing south from Kamchatka, through the
Kurile Islands and closer to the northern, semi-Japanese island known today
as hokkaido. he tales these men told, either directly or in print, all let their
between Japanese cartographic projects and Benedict Andersons concept, see Brett L.
Walker, Mamiya Rinz and the Japanese exploration of Sakhalin Island: cartography
and empire, Journal of historical geography 33 (2007): 283313, p. 286.

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mark on European intelligence, Japanese policy discussions and each cultures


vision of the oten exotic character of what lay beyond their shores. What their
stories thereby represented was the variety of ways in which a prisoner of fate
might transmute himself into a go-between.
To set the stage for these topics, a few introductory words about Japan are
in order. It has been argued that Japan and Western Europe share an important geo-historical characteristic dating back to the thirteenth century: both
managed to maintain themselves as unconquered peripheries of the Mongol
Empire, followed by a period of navigationally-driven expansion of trade and
naval power. But while Europeans continued acting on their expansionary
urges in the seventeenth century, Japanese policy makers chose to turn their
countrys social energies inward, directing them toward both oicial and de
facto programmes of domestic development. 5 In place of the stereotypical
image of Tokugawa Japan isolating itself from a world that it feared, then,
we would do well to focus on the relations between its carefully orchestrated
international exchanges and its internal dynamism.6 As will become clear in
this essay, a number of Japanese sites provide good vantage points for doing
this, but all of them lead us somehow back to the Tokugawa capital of Edo
(modern-day Tokyo).7
While the Japanese emperor continued to hold court in Kyoto throughout
this period, Edo was the true seat of socio-political power and policy-making
under the Tokugawa shogunate. his is where the shogun and his government
(bakufu) were situated and, as a direct consequence of government policy,
where a thriving urban culture of consumption developed alongside the oficial culture fostered by his court. In fact, these two fed of each other. Governmental encouragement and support for infrastructural programmes and
5 Kato hidetoshi, Signiicance of the period of national seclusion reconsidered, Journal of Japanese studies 7 (1981): 85109. To exemplify the consequences of this turn
inward, Kato refers to the Kyoto merchant family Suminokura, who had grown rich
on foreign trade with Korea and, ater the prohibitive edicts of 1630s managed to redirect their wealth and energies toward large-scale civil engineering projects that helped
build an inland system of waterways for transporting agricultural and other goods
throughout various parts of Japan. See p. 100.
6 For a similar attempt to do this, see Lissa Roberts, he mindful hand goes to Japan,
History and Technology, forthcoming.
7 By focusing here on the central and illustrative role played by Edo, I do not mean to
imply that Japan sported a homogenous urban culture. One need only consider the
distinguishing characteristics of various major cities in Japan to see that this was not
so. As the following section discusses, Nagasaki was characterized by the presence of
foreigners and foreign trade. Kyoto felt the cultural impact of the local presence of the
emperors court, while Osakaas Japans prime commercial and banking centerwas
thoroughly marked by the overwhelming presence of merchants there. For details, see
Tetsua Najita, Visions of virtue in Tokugawa Japan: he Kaitokud Merchant Academy
of Osaka (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

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import-substitution helped bolster productivity in a variety of agricultural,


mining and manufacturing ields, as well as intra- and inter-provincial trade,
which in turn stimulated urban growth while creating pockets of wealth and
expectations that challenged Japans traditional socio-cultural hierarchy.
he consequential rise of an urban culture marked by material consumption
and novel (sometimes subversive) forms of expression was especially evident
in Edo, thanks partially to the governments imposition of forced residence
(sanking ktai), a policy that required Japans provincial lords (daimy) and
their entourage to spend alternating years as residents of Edo. he results
of these developments were manifold. Edos population continued to grow
as many members of daimy households and their retainers chose to reside there on a more permanent basis, providing a willing customer base for
urban merchants and other service providers. Whether full-time residents
or not, provincial elites and intelligentsia had occasion to come increasingly
in contact with each other in Edo, allowing for the productive exchange of
regionally-based information, knowledge and artistic expression. Further, increasing numbers of samurai found their traditional sources of income more
diicult to secure, leaving them ripe for the various forms of compensatory
engagement ofered by urban denizens of pleasurable consumption, while
inventive ronin (masterless samurai) began inding opportunities to obtain
more independent livelihoods. Finally, as commercial wealth and the sociopolitical clout borne of concentrated urban living fed Japans merchant class,
its members found themselves increasingly in a position to construct and assert their own cultural identity and to mix with more traditional elites who
found the liminal spaces provided by shared interests and urban pleasure districts inviting.8
So, if Japanese were limited in terms of their contact with foreigners and
foreign lands, they inhabited a space of both heightened inter-regional and socio-cultural exchange into which selected foreign goods and forms of knowledge were allowed to low, staccatically augmented by smuggled products and
unannounced guests. he complex reasons that governed this economy of
exchange were the same as those which instigated, justiied and interpreted
the carefully chosen imports that were taken up for circulation and use. hey
relected the widespread desireshared by bakufu oicials, philosophers and
entrepreneurs aliketo develop and put what they viewed as useful knowledge to work. So too did they relect the intellectual and aesthetic curiosity
that attended encounters with novel knowledge and artefacts, the pecuniary
8 To refer to Japans merchants as a class is, of course, historically risky and not
intended to indicate either a socio-economic group in the Marxist sense or to claim
a high degree of homogeneity amongst Japanese merchants. For a clear description,
which also indicates the social and economic limitations placed on them, see Charles
D. Sheldon, Merchants and society in Tokugawa Japan, Modern Asian Studies 17
(1983): 477488.

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urges that motivated smugglers and merchants to feed public demand which
hungrily called for novel goods and entertainments, both for their cultural
cache as embodied knowledge and the bare fact of their novelty. And inally, in
the right hands, they provided striking vehicles of cultural criticism.

Ta le s of Nagasa ki tongues9
Every story has to begin somewhere. It makes sense to begin this one in the
port city of Nagasaki, the only governmentally sanctioned point of entry for
foreign merchants since the operations of the Dutch East Indies Company
(VOC) were moved there in 1641.10 For it was here that the most immediately
obvious inter-cultural encounters took place, mediated (in typical Tokugawa
fashion) by two oicial corps of translators, one for the Dutch and one for the
community of Chinese merchants. Since much has already been written on
the subject, this section does not pretend to introduce new empirical material.
Rather its purpose is to two-fold. It ofers a brief overview of the orchestrated
encounter between Japan and the outside world through the window provided
by trade with the VOC. Along the way, it introduces us to the go-betweens
who made such exchanges possible, on a mundane basis by serving as oicial
translators, but also through their entrepreneurial appropriation of foreign
knowledge, skills and goods.
Following the expulsion of the Portuguese in 1638, only Chinese merchants and representatives of the VOC were allowed to enter Japan to engage
in trade. For the sake of perspective, it is worth emphasising that Japanese
trade with China was far more extensive than that with the VOC. It is further
worth noting that among the commodities that the Chinese imported (some
of which made their way into Japan through smuggling) were texts, some of
which were either Chinese translations of or included information about European texts, largely the product of Chinese interaction with Jesuit traders.11
Further, the items taken away by Chinese and VOC ships were quite similar in
the sense that both were primarily carriers for the export of Japanese copper
during the long eighteenth century. In fact, it has been argued that one of the
principal reasons that Japan continued to allow trade with the VOC was that
the company served as middleman for the distribution of Japanese copper to
9 he interpreters discussed in this section were oten referred to as (mere) tongues to
distinguish them from the educated elite whose knowledge of language was privileged
as being embedded in a culture of genteel intellectuality.
10 hough certainly important from the perspective of Japanese history, this essay does
not concern itself with Japans trade and diplomatic relations with Korea and Ryky.
For an introduction, see Kazui, Foreign relations, (cit. n. 2).
11 On the Jesuit trading network, see Steven J. harris, Long-distance corporations, big
sciences, and the geography of knowledge, Conigurations 6 (1998): 269304.

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other Asian and European ports.12 he two other principal reasons were the
shogunates desire to keep informed about events beyond Japans shores and
domestic demand for speciic goods, to which I will return momentarily.
It is important to keep the VOCs position as commercial intermediary in
mind as it helps to explain why the great expense of maintaining a factory at
Dejima was continued, even as the number of ships allowed to enter the harbour decreased during the eighteenth century; no more than one or two ships
arrived from Batavia per year and none arrived for a number of years during
the disruptive period marked by the bankruptcy of the VOC and Napoleonic
wars. Many have pointed to the lucrative nature of private trade that is, the
unoicial tradecarried on by VOC employees as a reason for supporting the
continuation of trade. But, far more important from the standpoint of those
who kept track of the companys business back in the Netherlands, the VOC
continued to reap substantial proits by re-selling Japanese copper in India
until the fourth Anglo-Dutch War, more than enough to justify continued
trade with Japan, even when that trade considered on its own, more narrow,
merits might be seen as leading to a inancial loss.13
he commodities brought into Nagasaki by the VOC were dictated by
theoten quite explicitrequests and regulations of their Japanese hosts. By
the end of the seventeenth century, for example, oicials in Edo began limiting
the amount of raw silk that could be imported, hoping to stimulate a domestic
industry. As the eighteenth century progressed, the VOC adapted by, among
other things, increasing the volume of sugar it brought in. But this too met
with a growing emphasis on import substitution; by the early nineteenth century, Japan produced enough of its own reined sugar at an attractive price to
wean itself from foreign dependence.14
he extended (though not exhaustive) list of imported goods (from both
oicial and private trade) presented here provides a clear relection of what
the Japanese wanted in terms of goods that their European partners could
provide. VOC ships brought in European woollens and cotton, aloes wood,
amber and amber oil, antlers and animal horns, balsam, bar-iron, benzoin,
books (mostly dictionaries or about medicine, chemistry, natural history and
astronomy; quite oten illustrated), borax, brazil wood, bric-a-brac, cinchona
bark, cinnabar, clocks and watches, cologne, coconut oil, coconuts, compasses,
coral, cough syrup, deer hides, drinking glasses and other tableware, drugs,
eyeglasses, iles, gauze, ginseng, glass, gum Arabic, horse brushes, ivory, jewel12 Kees Camferman and Terence E. Cooke, he proits of the Dutch East India Companys Japan trade, Abacus 40 (2004): 4975.
13 Ibid., pp. 7072. Els M. Jacobs, Koopman in Azi: De handel van de Verenigde OostIndische Compagnie tijdens de 18de eeuw (Zutphen: Walburg Press, 2000), p. 119.
14 Akira hayami, Takafusa Nakamura, Knosuke Odaka, Osamu Saito, Ronald Toby,
he economic history of Japan: 16001990 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.
168.

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lery, lead, lead pencils, leather, liquorice, loadstones, magnifying glasses, mangos, medicine chests (illed), mercury, microscopes, mirrors, mother of pearl,
music boxes, musk, narwhal horns, needles, pickled vegetables, rattan, red
alum, rock-crystal, safron, saltpetre, sandalwood, sea cow tusks, shark skins,
silk, snuf and tobacco, soap, spices, sugar, sulphur, sweet grass, telescopes, tin,
tortoise shell, treacle, verdigris and wax.15 Japanese were interested in consuming European medicines, but also exotic foods, which might be served on
European tableware. More likely, however, glass itemsdrinking glasses, but
also more decorative items such as vaseswere purchased for show, displayed
alongside various foreign bric-a-brac, ornaments, instruments (especially optical) and naturalia. how diferent was this commodiication of knowledge
and culture from what European contemporaries were experiencing on the
other side of the globe?16
In terms of geography and the ability to communicate, VOC employees
(not all of whom were Dutch, it should be recalled) were more restricted in
mundane terms than their Chinese counterparts. Relecting the more limited
extent of their commerce with Japan, the former were a small group averaging between twelve and twenty in number, conined to the fenced and gated,
artiicial island of Dejima in Nagasaki harbour, which measured a paltry 120
75 meters. Closely guarded, Dejima was oicially of-limits for Japanese
non-oicials, with the exception of prostitutes from the Nagasaki district of
Maruyama, a number of whom found servicing the red haired barbarians so
unpalatable that they paid others to take their place.17
With rare exceptions, VOC representatives were not allowed to leave the
island, though regulations seem to have become less strict as time went on.
Most well known were the yearly (bi-annually ater 1764 and, during the dificult years of war at the end of the eighteenth century, once every four or ive
15 his list was drawn from a review of inventories from the second half of the eighteenth century, found in Het archief van de Nederlandse factorij in Japan, Dejima
Dagregisters (Algemeen Rijksarchief, the hague). hree sample inventories for
18351837 are reproduced in Martha Chaiklin, Cultural commerce and Dutch commercial culture: he inluence of European material culture on Japan, 17001850 (Leiden:
CNWS, 2003), pp. 78191.
16 Roberts, Mindful hand (cit. n. 6).
17 he topic of relations between VOC employees and Japanese prostitutes has been
well studied by Gary Leupp in his Interracial intimacy in Japan (London: Continuum
International Publishing Group, 2003), see especially pp. 100115. For eye-witness testimony, including the claim that many Japanese prostitutes found going to Dejima
highly disagreeable and did so only under the duress of oicial compulsion, see Furukawa Koshken, Saiy zakki (Miscellaneous records of travels to the west) (1783), quoted
in Yonemoto, Mapping early-modern Japan (cit. n. 4), p. 86. For prostitutes knowledge
of the Dutch language and western diseases, see Frits Vos, Forgotten foibles: Love
and the Dutch at Dejima, 16411854, Festschrit fr Horst Hammitzsch zu seinem 60.
geburtstag (Weisbaden: harrowitz, 1968), pp. 614633.

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years) pilgrimages made by a select group to Edo to bow, scrape and thank
the shogun for allowing them the honour of trading with Japan. Along with
gits of western goods speciically requested by the Japanese, these men also
brought the git of foreign knowledge and (highly selective) news, required as
they were to report on both matters of knowledgeable interest and important
events beyond Japans shores.18 Discussions at court, aforded by the intervention of the Nagasaki translators who accompanied the group on its extended
journey to Edo, thus ranged from topics such as natural history and medicine
to the details of European horseback riding and (self-servingly delayed) news
of the French Revolution.19
One other notable addition to this list of exceptions was the permission
given in the 1660s for an annual walk around Nagasaki and its environs, during which VOC factory staf was accompanied by a number of Japanese translators and oicials. Whatever the original intention behind this ield trip, it
came to be used by the Japanese as an opportunity to identify local plants
that could substitute for the diicult to obtain and costly herbal medicines
imported by the VOC. Wolfgang Michel has argued that collecting herbs
gradually became the oicial reason for these excursions.20 And while this
may indeed have been so from the perspective of a limited number of Japanese participants, the more mundane reality seems to have been otherwise.
For while permission was granted in 1690 for a second yearly excursion, the
destination of most members of the party was one particular Nagasaki neighbourhood: the Maruyama pleasure district. Because Japanese were required
to accompany their VOC guests, however, these excursions could turn into
rather expensive propositions, which might have limited enthusiasm somewhat. here are, nonetheless, numerous records of red-hair visits to local tea
houses in the latter years of the eighteenth century.21
In fact, it is not completely clear whether the permission granted in 1690
was for a second visit to the city and its environs or whether VOC employees
18 As with all git giving, this involved a careful determination of what speciic bits of
knowledge it was advantageous to present to the Japanese. For a detailed discussion
of git giving in the context of Japanese-Dutch trade, see Chaiklin, Cultural commerce
(cit. n. 15) chapter 3. hough Chaiklin does not discuss the presentation of knowledge
as a form of git-giving, she does ofer a detailed discussion of the cultural economy
in which this took place.
19 Willem van Gulik, A distant court journey: Dutch traders visit the shogun of Japan
(Amsterdam: Stichting Koninklijk Paleis, 2000); Matthi Forrer and Fii Eferts, trans.
and eds., Court Journey to the Shogun of Japan: From a Private Account by Jan Cock
Blomof (Amsterdam: hotei Publishers, 2000).
20 Wolfgang Michel, Western medicine and pharmaceutics in seventeenth-century
Japan, Jiang Xiaoyuan, ed., History of science in the multiculture: Proceedings of the
tenth international conference on the history of science in East Asia (Shanghai: Shanghai Jiao Tong University Press, 2005), pp. 173181, especially p. 176.
21 Leupp, Interracial intimacy (cit. n. 17), p. 110.

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FIGURE 2

Chinese market in Tjin yashiki (Chinese Residence), Nagasaki. Woodblock print, circa 1800.

Courtesy: he British Museum.

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were now allowed two visits in addition to what had become, in the eyes of
Japanese oicials, a botanical ield trip. Either way, regularly scheduled, intercultural botanizing seems to have fallen into disuse as the eighteenth century
progressed, as we ind the VOC physician Carl Peter hunberg successfully
petitioning anew for permission to take botanical walks around Nagasaki in
1776. hunbergs own description gives a feel for how such outings were ritualized in keeping with the structuring oversight of both Japanese oicials and
culture.
having been fortunate enough to receive from the governor a second
time, his permission to botanize, I, for the irst time, took a walk
about the town of Nagasaki. I was accompanied by several head and
sub-interpreters, head and sub-banjoses [harbour guards], purveyors, and a number of servants. his numerous train, did not, it is true,
impede me in my quick progression up mountains and hills, but it
made my diurnal expeditions rather expensive, as it became incumbent upon me towards evening to regale my wearied companions at
some inn or other, which amounted each time to sixteen or eighteen
rix-dollars. As oten as the weather permitted, I made use of the liberty thus accorded to me, at least once or twice a week, till such time
as I accompanied the ambassador to the imperial court.22
One cannot but help noting how diferently hunberg used the word liberty
than did others in 1776.
he Chinese contingent was similarly conined by regulation to a walled
and moated compound (Tjin yashiki, the Chinese residence), located on the
mainland in the vicinity of Dejima. By some estimates there was an average
of over two thousand Chinese living in the compound at any one time, while
others calculate the Chinese population to have been large enough by the 1780s
to account for one-ith of Nagasakis entire population. It is therefore not surprising that their compound was also much larger than the VOCs, occupying
some seven acres of land.23 And though the oicial status of the Chinese might
be seen as lower than that of the Dutch, since they were denied the diplomatic
recognition entailed in being received at the court in Edo, they enjoyed greater
freedom of movement and interaction in daily practiceincreasingly so as the

22 Charles Peter hunberg, Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia, performed between the
years 1770 and 1779 (3rd ed., London, 1796), III, p. 79.
23 Timon Screech quotes contemporary igures that place Nagasakis 1783 population at 51,702 and the number of Chinese residents at 10,000. Timon Screech, he lens
within the heart: he western scientiic gaze and popular imagery in later Edo Japan
(honolulu: University of hawaii Press, 2002), p. 256.

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13

eighteenth-century progressedand found themselves more accepted by the


local population.24
his could be seen in a major diference between the corps of translators
that served each of these two groups.25 hose whose job it was to mediate
between the Chinese community and Japanese oicials and customers were
themselves Sino-Japanese, born of inter-cultural encounters of the most intimate kind. Inter-marriage and procreation between Japanese and Europeans
was neither legally nor socially accepted, on the other hand, necessitating a
rather diferent composition of the Dutch translators corps. Primarily an inherited position, the corps was dominated by families whose members had
previously mediated between the Japanese and the Portuguese, those who had
originally served the VOC as private employees when its operations were based
in hirado and had been appointed by the Japanese government to oversee the
move to Dejima in 1641 and those who were added to the ranks ater this time.
Exceptionally, a particularly meritorious or resourceful individual might also
be able to move up the ranks from occasional to established translator.26 Generally speaking, these were men whose roots were in the commercial sphere of
Japanese society, but who were also linked to the sorts of government regulation that institutionalized the need for their services and to which they were
oicially responsible. he three-way pull of government accountability, commercial proit-making and human curiosity marked the space within which
members of the corporation operated.
While numbers varied through time, there seems generally to have been
somewhere between 120 and 140 translators to mediate between the VOC and
the Japanese. Disparaging remarks can be found regarding how well these
Japanese go-betweens actually knew the language from and to which they
were charged with translating, but a good deal of evidence also points in the
other direction, to at least some of the translators having attained a reasonable
level of proiciency. To begin, it was certainly in the translators interest to
learn at least a modicum of Dutch so as to be able to carry out their primary
responsibility of facilitating trade between the VOC and Japanese merchants.
Always on hand during commercial negotiations, translators managed this
24 Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World (Cambridge: harvard University
Press, 1992), especially pp. 2830; Andrea Vasishth, A model minority: he Chinese
community in Japan, Michael Weiner, ed., Japans minorities: he illusion of homogeneity (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 108139, esp. p. 117.
25 he literature usually refers to these men as interpreters rather than translators. I
trust that the reader will accept my decision to use the term translator, which emphasizes the link between my discussion of these go-betweens with this essays broader
interest in translation.
26 For a more detailed overview, see Grant Goodman, Japan and the Dutch, 16001853
(London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 3234.

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knowledge so as to insinuate themselves in the trade for western goods, which


proved extremely lucrative in some cases.27
Some formal language training was set up at a fairly early stage. he VOC
Dejima Dagregister (daily register) records the establishment of language
training for the sons of translators from the 1670s, as well as noting occasions when the Japanese were engaged in reading incoming Dutch books. his
practice clearly continued throughout the eighteenth century, as recorded by
hunberg.
he interpreters are extremely fond of European books, and procure
one or more of them every year from the merchants that arrive in
this country. hey are not only in possession, but make diligent use
of them, and retain strongly in their memory what they learn from
them. hey are besides very careful to learn something from the Europeans, and question them without ceasing, and frequently so as to
be irksome, upon all subjects, especially relating to physic, natural
philosophy, and natural history.28
his apparent thirst for knowledge, however, wasnt only driven by intellectual
curiosity. here were at least two other reasons for the corps to read and otherwise gather information.
First, as the men who interacted most closely with Japans foreign guests,
translators were charged with gathering intelligence that could be of use to
the government, serving essentially as censors and spies. Part of this required
them to examine all incoming books to make sure that they didnt contain the
virus of Christianity, which Japanese oicials wanted most earnestly to keep
from re-infecting the population.29 Second, as men raised in the commercial
milieu of Nagasakis merchant culture, translators entrepreneurial interests
were sometimes piqued by what they read. Given the growing market in Japan
from the second half of the eighteenth century for European books on topics such as natural history, such texts held the promise of proit, especially
if they were illustrated. Some translators were thus happy to play a double
role, as both censors and commercial intermediaries. But foreign texts were
not only appreciated for their aesthetic or natural philosophical value. hanks
27 Yumiko Torii, Dutch studies: Interpreters, geography and world history, Leonard
Bluss, Willem Remmelink and Ivo Smits, eds., Bridging the divide: 400 years, the
Netherlands-Japan (Leiden: Teleac/NOT and hotei Publishing, 2000), pp. 117138.
28 Language training in Dejima is mentioned a number of times in the daily register.
See, for example Het archief (cit. n. 15), vol. 87, 9 November 1673. For the quotation, see
hunberg, Travels in Europe (cit. n. 22), III, pp. 3334.
29 his was especially true in Nagasaki, which had traditionally housed the largest
concentration of Christians.

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15

to government encouragement, there was growing Japanese interest during


the eighteenth century in knowledge that could be put to work, including for
various import substitution schemes. As will be discussed at greater length
in the following section, for example, natural history was of interest in Japan
for reasons ranging from the above-mentioned desire to ind local herbs that
could substitute for expensive European medicines to the local adaptation of
crops such as ginseng and sugar cane, which accounted for a sizable percentage of foreign imports.
Translators interest in European texts was also relected in the prominent and highly lucrative position a number of them came to hold as heads
of Dutch medical schools and their broader role in the difusion of European
knowledge about medicine and anatomy in Japan. A salient example of just
how inancially remunerative this could be involved the Yoshio clan, which
had originally accompanied the VOC factorys move from hirado to Dejima.
Yoshio Ksaku, who served as head interpreter in Dejima for some two decades beginning in 1778, also led a widely attended school of Dutch medicine
(ranp). his earned him both a national reputation and, along with the lucrative private trade he carried out in imported goods, enough inancial success
to own a house that was famous for its extravagance. Considered a veritable
museum by some of its many visitors, the house sported numerous European
accoutrements, such as a lie-down bath tub, banistered staircase, what one
visitor described as gruelling European chairs and all the marvellously western gits (including scientiic instruments) Yoshio and his predecessors had
received from their VOC associates through the years.30
Because so much has been written about the introduction of Dutch medicine into Japan, I will limit myself here to one important issue. As scholars
have increasingly come to agree, it was in Nagasaki with its corps of Dutch
translators that the origins of Rangaku (Dutch studies, as the study of the
Dutch language and Western knowledge more generally was called) can be
found, related partly to the shogunal decision of 1720 to allow the entry of a
broader range of foreign books. Earlier generations and current popular texts
continue to point, rather, to the 1774 publication of Sugita Genpaku, Kaitai
shinsho (New book of anatomy) as the act that initiated Rangaku. A member
of the Edo elite, Sugita related a heroic tale in his subsequently published recollection Rangaku kotohajime (Beginning of Dutch Studies) of how he and a
small coterie of like-minded Edo innovators had managed to be present at a
specially arranged dissection of a human body. So taken (and taken aback)
by the gap between standard, tradition-bound medical knowledge and the
knowledge that stared them in the face, he recorded, Sugita and his colleagues
responded by valiantly struggling to translate and publish Johann Adam Kul-

30 For a description that includes an illustration, see Timon Screech, Lens (cit. n. 23),
pp. 1415.

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mus, Anatomische tabellen, complete with illustrations copied by a Japanese


artist.31
I will return to this story in the next section, but the point that needs to be
made here begins with the fact that Sugitas version of the story efaced a good
deal of the important historical presence of the Nagasaki translators in the
rise and difusion of Rangaku.32 he image sketched by Sugita (and too naively
accepted by a number of subsequent commentators) was of a bifurcated split
between members of the Edo intelligentsia who were motivated by a noble and
uninterested thirst for knowledge to take on the role of cultural go-betweens,
on one side, and oicial translators, on the other. his prose painted the Nagasaki translators as cultural others who were driven exclusively by crass commercial motives and who, consequently, possessed a knowledge of Dutch that
was laughably rudimentary and shallow.
his image is countered, not only by the historical evidence of Nagasaki
translators having both pioneered highly popular programmes of medical
training, as already mentioned, but also by their translations of Dutch texts
that circulated throughout Japan in manuscript form, long before Sugita took
the stage.33 But even Sugitas own book points to the important debt owed
to his Nagasaki forebears, introduced as it was by a preface authored by the
above-mentioned Yoshio Ksaku. Despite the trope of deference that Yoshio
employed in his prefatory prose, there was no denying that the knowledge he
had garnered through extended conversations with VOC physicians, his own
practice as head of a school of medical training and his translations of numerous medical treatises, made his inclusion in the project an important source of
credibility.34 his reminds us further of the complex economy of interests and
obligations that motivated the Nagasaki translators. Yoshio must be seen as a
complicated individual who was simultaneously aware of the various forms
of capital embodied in his work and interestsinancial, socio-cultural and
intellectual.
So too does Sugitas fraught relationship with Yoshio and his fellow Nagasaki translators relect the dilemma facing those who sought at this time to incorporate productive knowledge and skills generated and employed elsewhere
31 Sugita Genpaku, Rangaku Kotohajime (1815) translated by Matsumoto Ryz and
Kiyooka Eiichi as he dawn of Western science in Japan (Tokyo: hokuseido Press,
1969). It should be noted that Katai Shinsho was actually a collaboration between Sugita, Ryotaku Maeno and Nakagawa Junan.
32 here I largely follow the argument developed in Annick horiuchi, When science
develops outside state patronage: Dutch studies in Japan at the turn of the nineteenth
century, Early science and medicine 8 (2003): 148172.
33 Ibid., pp. 162163.
34 A close associate and friend of the VOC opperhoofd Isaac Titsingh, Yoshio also
helped translate Japanese texts into Dutch. For details see Isaac Titsingh (Timon
Screech, ed.), Secret memoirs of the shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 17791822 (London: Routledge, 2006).

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17

into the oicial repertoire of elite culture, while simultaneously shielding it


from admitted dependence on competing loci of production and consumption.35 his tension-illed situation presented both opportunities and challenges to translators and other intermediaries, whose long-term success rested
on inding the right balance between (novel) productivity and conformity.
Various strategies were possible, though certainly not all worked in practice.
One could seek to ill a niche, hoping to attain either local success, a modicum
of acceptance within oicial government or cultural circles, orin the most
extreme casesthe status of genius whose unique achievements trumped
reigning conventions. Alternatively, one could exchange the challenges of an
entrepreneurial stance for the stabilising yoke of external management. As we
will see in the conclusion of this essay, this option was in fact stimulated by
government initiatives in the early nineteenth century which led to the establishment of an oicial bureau of translation in Edo.36 Or one could opt for the
alienating promises of marginalisation, either hoping to reap the rewards that
might attend a mavericks stance, or in resigned acceptance of not being valued suiciently to continue generating patrons and customers of substance.

H i r aga Gen na i ( 1 72 8 /9 1 7 7 9/ 80): tales of a


Ja pan ese go - b et ween
he potent mix of capital formation which Yoshio forwarded, on which he
drew and which, among other things, furthered the commodiication of
knowledge and nature in Japan and elsewhere during the eighteenth century,
marked much of the cultural and material dynamism with which the period
can be identiied. Among those who critically witnessed this process was the
Japanese polymath hiraga Gennai. In his best-selling work of satire Nenashi
gusa (Rootless weeds) (1763), Gennai described a typical market scene near the
Rygoku Bridge in Edo.
he cries of insects! A salesman brings autumn early to the city in
cages hanging from both ends of his shoulder pole. Cup of water?
Cold water! A water seller calls from the shade of a willow, which,
unlike the country willows that poets praise, has no clear stream run35 his point is a major theme in Lissa Roberts, Simon Schafer and Peter Dear, eds.,
he mindful hand: Inquiry and invention from the late Renaissance to early industrialization (Amsterdam: Edita/University of Chicago Press, 2007). he fact that this
tension can be observed simultaneously in parts of Europe and Japan makes it an
intriguing area for further comparison.
36 Compare this point with Kapil Rajs discussion in this volume of the bureaucratization of go-betweens in Calcutta and Lissa Roberts discussion of steam engineers who
took employment with large engineering irms in the nineteenth century.

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ning beneath it. A low voice chanting a puppet play in an impromptu


reed-screen shed is drowned out by Repent! Repent! as passing
pilgrims pour purifying water over their heads. A fragrance comes
from Igarashis hair-Oil store, followed by the smell of spitted eels
broiled in soy sauce. People peep into boxes at moving stereoscopic
prints, imagining theyre in other worlds, and the crowd around a
glassblower wonders whether icicles have formed in summer. Potted
trees revive and suddenly look fresh when a lorist sprinkles water on
them, while papier-mch turtles hanging out for sale move in the
wind and take on souls.37
It would seem that Japans urban landscape had been transformed by this
time into an environment that asserted its freedom from the natural rhythms
of seasonal change, sensuous geography and spatial ixity. Applied knowledge
and skill allowed spring, summer and autumn to converge on a single city
street, where the commercially mingled odours of kitchen and boudoir wated
round displays of ocular manipulation. Living nature was here domesticated
while man-made artefacts imbibed the breath of life. he outbreak of ire continued to menace these urban scenes (Japanese cities were built of wood), periodically intruding in a devastating way on this vision of human manipulation
and control. And natural disasters struck with an awesomely cruel regularity, especially during the 1780s, as if to remind residents, travellers and policy
makers alike of the fragility of Japans built environment.38 But the acquisition
and application of natural knowledge continued to run through the history of
this period, both furthered by and furthering the various and sometimes competing interests of commerce, culture and government control. Rather than
ofer a general survey of such developments, this section uses aspects of Gennais biography as a vantage point from which to glimpse the greater whole.39

37 hiraga Gennai, Nenashigusa (Rootless weeds), trans. Chris Drake, harua Shirane,
ed., Early modern Japanese literature: An anthology, 16001900 (New York: Columbia
University Press, 2002), pp. 462484, quotation on p. 473.
38 An important discussion of interactions between government policies, cultural production and the challenges of natural disasters can be found in Timon Screech, he
shoguns painted culture: Fear and creativity in the Japanese states, 17601829 (London:
Reaktion Books, 2000).
39 Much of the empirical information related to Gennais biography can be found in
two studies: Stanleigh hopkins Jones Jr., Scholar, scientist, popular author Hiraga
Gennai, 17281780 (dissertation, Columbia University, 1968) and hubert Mas, Hiraga
Gennai et son temps (Paris: Ecole Franaise dExtrme-Orient, 1970). Rather than lard
the text that follows with too many notes, I will only cite these works when I have
drawn a translated quotation from them. hose who read Japanese will want to consult Hiraga Gennai zensh (Complete works of Hiraga Gennai) (Tokyo: hiraga Gennai
sensei kenshkai, 19321936).

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19

he son of a low-level provincial samurai, hiraga Gennai was early slated


for a career as herbalist, apprenticed to a physician at the age of twelve. his
talents must have been considerable, for he was ofered a position in the oicial
herb garden of his territorys daimy (governor) by the time he was eighteen.
Of interest is that both Gennais studies of herbal medicines and the extensive botanizing he did in and around the garden, oten in the company of the
daimy himself, came together under a single Japanese rubric: honzgaku.40
he term literally means the study of roots and grasses, but came in the eighteenth century to cover a rich family of activities that translates roughly as
natural history, if we understand the term to stretch from pharmacological
investigations through an interest in identifying natural specimens for its own
sake, to an active desire to harness natural knowledge for productive purposes
in realms such as mining and manufacture. Finally, it is worth noting that
honzgaku was also closely aligned to the study of language, involving as it did
extensive nomenclatural study in Japanese, Chinese and Dutch.41
he context in which both honzgaku and Gennais career took shape
bore striking similarities to what Lisbet Koerner calls the cameralist concept
of a local modernity. Writing of Linneaus Sweden, Koerner describes the policy goals linked to this concept as eforts made by representatives of the ruling
socio-political elite to improve manufacturing and agricultural by means of
protectionist legal measures and technological innovations to preserve the
political power and social prestige of a rent-seeking state elite, which would
now supervise (and live of) a refashioned and largely self-suicient domestic
economy.42 Key to such programmes were highly regulated trade relations
with the outside world and the encouragement (both cultural and in terms of
oicial policy) of expanding natural knowledge and productive innovation,
40 Gennai described his work in the garden as follows: As it was my job primarily
to collect all sorts of medicines and to distinguish the beneicial from the useless, I
was sent out on trips to gather and bring back such things as unusual herbs, birds,
beasts, stones, shellsthings regarded as curious or worth our having. Quoted in
Jones, Scholar (cit. n. 39), p. 7. Japanese original on p. 255.
41 he most complete analysis of honzgaku to date is Federico Marcon, he names of
nature: he development of natural history in Japan, 16001900 (Doctoral dissertation,
Columbia University, 2007).
42 Lisbet Koerner, Linnaeus: Nature and nation (Cambridge: harvard University Press,
1999). Quotation on p. 1. For a discussion of Japanese mercantilism in relation to
technological development, see Tessa Morris-Suzuki, he technological transformation of Japan from the seventeenth to the twenty-irst century (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1994, pp. 2732. On the relation between natural history and national
self-suiciency, Gennai wrote, hough honzgaku at present enjoys a certain vogue,
few men are devoted to such studies. he products of the various provinces have yet
to be fully exploited. If they were developed to the utmost, we could satisfy our needs
without depending on the goods brought in by Chinese and Dutch ships. Quotation
translated in Jones, Scholar, (cit. n. 39), p. 39. Japanese original on p. 257.

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both of which could be linked to import substitution projects and the stimulation of domestic industry. While the speciicities of the socio-cultural situation
in Japan were certainly quite diferent than those in contemporary Sweden, it
is striking to see how government and elite interests nonetheless meshed with
local initiatives in comparable ways. he utilitarian trope of working for the
public welfare was thus just as likely to be found in the work of people such as
hiraga Gennai as in contemporary European utterances.
While linking him with government policy and cultural impulses, however, the history of Gennais involvement with honzgaku and the broader
theme of utility help portray him as a go-between who brought together
knowledge and skill from a variety of sources, both domestic and foreign,
translating them (with varying degrees of success) into novel modes of exploitation and representation. his irst important exposure to European knowledge in this connection was in 1752, when Gennai was sent to Nagasaki to
study Dutch medicine (possibly with Yoshio Ksaku). hough it is highly unlikely that he came in direct contact with any VOC employees while there, he
no doubt saw the wares that they and their Chinese counterparts unloaded at
the port. Along with deepened exposure to the links between natural history
and medicine, then, Gennai also had occasion to begin thinking about both
the composition and commercial value of ceramics, to which he would return
in later life.43
he years that followed found Gennai travelling extensively to various
parts of Japan, with Edo as his intermittent base, especially following his decision to become a rnin. Cut of from the traditional security of samurai status,
Gennai had to rely on his ability to gain the sympathy and support of men who
were in a position to lend inancial, political or cultural assistance and patronage; he seemed remarkably capable of doing so for most of his career. By 1757,
Gennai had attached himself to the honzgaku scholar Tamura Geny, who
endeavoured (among other things) to domesticate the cultivation of ginseng,
widely considered one of the most potent and broadly applicable of medicinal
plants; Tamura ultimately became superintendent of a government monopoly
established to substitute home-grown ginseng for the large amounts that were
traditionally imported. he next six years would be productive ones, during
which time Gennai (originally with Tamuras support, then independently)
organized ive increasingly large public exhibitions of natural specimens in
Edo whose cultivation and reining could beneit the Japanese economy. he
coupled this with ofering his services to provincial lords who hoped to improve the economic base of their provinces through the cultivation and exploitation of natural resources. Gennai simultaneously sought to develop his own
trade in plants, minerals and imported goods that might be commercially viable. And, in 1763 he published the most important results of his multi-faceted
43 Gennai did subsequently have occasion to meet VOC representatives in Edo. See
Sugita, Rangaku (cit. n. 31); Mas, Hiraga Gennai (cit. n. 39), pp. 108118.

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21

involvement with honzgaku, the six-volume natural history study Butsurui


hinshitsu (Categories and qualities).44
his work is signiicant for a number of reasons. First, in terms of its
composition, it brought together the knowledge Gennai had accrued through
irst-hand experience, conversations with scholars such as Tamura, the more
practically oriented collaborations and displays involved in the exhibitions he
organized and what he learned from examining foreign texts. he most important of these last appears to have been Rembertus Dodonaeus, A New Herball
or Historie of Plants (translated in Dutch simply as Cruydt-boeck), a copy of
which Gennai owned. Crucial for understanding the way in which such Dutch
books encouraged the inter-cultural passage of knowledge is the fact that they
included richly detailed, oten highly realistic illustrations. Whether or not
Gennai and others could read Dutch (mostly they could not), they could read
the pictures.45 Both natural history and anatomy in Japan beneited from this
visual intermediary, a point to which we will return.
Gennais own experience and interests shone through, as stated, in the
inal publication of Butsurui hinshitsu, which led to an emphasis that was unusual for works of this sort. Its six volumes contained entries for some 360
specimens, of which 116 were minerals.46 Gennais involvement with minerals
was what irst led to his direct contact with bakufu oicials (in 1762), when he
let it be known that he had uncovered a domestic supply of a medicinally useful mineral that was previously only available through costly import. But it
was a government edict of 1763 that really aforded Gennai an opportunity to
develop his interests and expertise further. Concerned not only with the high
cost of imports and the desirability of import substitution, shogunate oicials
recognized the dangers entailed in the countrys longstanding dependence on
metals as its primary export. One solution was to expand available supplies by
encouraging prospecting, which was the subject of this edict. Gennai would
spend the next dozen years prospecting, running mines and consulting for
others who wished to do the same.
Subsequent events tell us a great deal about the unpredictable and various
ways in which go-betweens involvement in material and knowledge production could be translated. For Gennais expertise in mining and mineralogy
44 Gennai went so far as to open his own apothecary shop for a time, as well as a shop
in Osaka that specialized in a range of items brought in by the VOC. For a widely
copied image of this sort of shop, one that includes an electrical machine based on the
design Gennai introduced to Japan, see Screech, Lens (cit. n. 23), pp. 2627.
45 Rembertus Dodonaeus, Cruydtboek (Antwerp, 1644). For details of the books career
in Japan, see W.F. van de Walle and Kazuhiko Kasaya, eds., Dodonaeus in Japan:
Translation and the scientiic mind in the Tokugawa period (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2001). For the impact of natural historys visual language, see especially the
essay in this volume by Timon Screech, he visual legacy of Dodonaeus in botanical
and human categorization, pp. 219240.
46 For comparison with comparable texts, see Jones, Scholar (cit. n. 39), p. 42.

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gave birth to an intriguing range of collateral activities. Only one year ater
the government edict unleashed a veritable monsoon of metal and mineral
prospecting in Japan, Gennai uncovered suicient raw materials to begin experimenting with the production of asbestos cloth, for which he collaborated
with the Edo physician (and co-translator of Kaitai shinsho) Nakagawa Junan.
Ever the self-promoter, Gennai took pains to advertise his innovative work. In
a country prone to ire-borne disasters, his claims quickly caught government
attention along with the public imagination. Unfortunately, his innovative
production method could not be harnessed to large-scale production. he bakufus hopes of being able to export asbestos cloth to China were thus dashed,
while Gennais public reputation as an inventive genius grew.
he year 1772 found Gennai busy with the exploitation of an iron mine
and the development of a transportation scheme for shipping iron ore through
Japans inland waterways. he was oten, however, an absentee manager, called
away as he was for various consultation missions. On one such trip to Nagasaki, Gennais continuing pre-occupation with the natural environment led
him to uncover a store of clay that he considered comparable to what was used
for both highly desirable Imari and Cochin ware. his reaction was to petition
for the right to manufacture pottery on a large scale for both export and domestic consumption. In his own words:
If the Japanese ware is good, then naturally we will not spend our
gold and silver on the foreign commodity. Rather to the contrary:
since both the Chinese and hollanders will come to seek out these
wares and carry them home, this will be of everlasting national beneit. Since it is originally clay, no matter how much pottery we send
out, there need be no anxiety about a depletion of resources.47
Ater extended negotiations, the petition was denied. Undaunted, Gennai
turned his mineralogical knowledge of clays and glazes to work on a smallerscale project, establishing a ceramics manufacture in his home town. he resulting Gennai-yaki (Gennai ware) was an immediate domestic success, not
least because its designs played on consumers love of foreign novelty.
Gennai and a fellow prospector, Yoshida Rihei, were called to the province of Akita in 1773 by its daimy Satake Yoshiatsu (better known through
his artistic pseudonym Shozan), to advise on how the exploitation of the provinces reserves of copper and other minerals could be improved.48 While his
47 Translation quoted in ibid., p. 56. Japanese text on p. 259.
48 At least one biographer has argued that Gennai was consulted because of his knowledge of deep-mine pumping, something he supposedly learned through his contacts
in Nagasaki, but which might also have come from irst-hand observation and experiment. haga Tru, Hiraga Gennai (Tokyo: Asahi Sensho, 1989), pp. 364378.

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Robert Liss

FIGURE 3

Ceramic tray, example of Gennai-yaki (Gennai ware).

Courtesy: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

colleague seems to have had a better reputation as a prospector and owner of


a foundry, Gennai had something extra to ofer his new patron. As far back as
his experiential research for Butsurui hinshitsu, he had been interested in the
mineralogical composition of dyes and paints, including those imported from
Europe. Among the resulting entries were discussions of the Japanese equivalents for Prussian blue (berein buru, taken from the Dutch Berlijnsch blauw)
and verdigris (ryokuen). Of the latter, Gennai wrote:
I think that this is the foreign product called supansu guroun
[Spaansch groen in Dutch]. Supansu is the name of a country [Spain];
guroun means green. he colour is green, a bit latter than copper

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green. he taste is astringent. It is used in colouring the Red hairs


paintings.49
his knowledge would have been of great interest to the daimy, whoin
addition to his administrative desire to maximize the economic exploitation
of resources in his domaingained renown as founder of the Akita Ranga
(Akita Dutch painting) school.50
his is not the place to launch a detailed discussion of how much Japanese
pictorial art owed to European inluences in terms of realism and perspective; as with so many other aspects of cultural appropriation in Japan, it is
diicult to disentangle just what is owed to other Asian or European sources,
and how much is a question of native adaptation and innovation.51 But what
cannot be denied is that hiraga Gennai was instrumental in helping to spread
familiarity with the materials that distinguished European painting from
local endeavours. A respectably talented painter himself, Gennai combined
a compositional knowledge of European paints with a compositional knowledge of European pictorial representation, garnered not least from his study of
the realistic illustrations found in Dutch natural history and anatomy texts.
An oten told story related to Gennais stay in Akita shows just how long
and complex the historical train of connections was between honzgaku, mining, art and medicine. Among the people he met while at the daimys court
in Akita was the young samurai retainer Odano Naotake. Clearly taken with
his abilities as a painter, Gennai arranged for Odano to accompany him back
to Edo, where Odano was given a governmental appointment as agent for
mining and goods.52 What his Edo sojourn is best remembered for, however,
49 Translated quotation in Jones, Scholar, (cit. n. 39), p. 65. Japanese text on p. 260. Note
how Gennai refers to the evidence of taste as well as of vision in his identiication of
the substance. Compare this with James Delbourgos discussion of sensual technology
in this volume.
50 hiroko Johnson, Western inluences on Japanese art: Akita Ranga (Amsterdam:
hotei Publishing, 2005).
51 In her survey of urban art during the Tokugawa period, Christine Guth writes
regarding a number of Japanese painters, Although inluenced either directly or
indirectly by artistic developments lowing through Nagasaki, it is diicult to determine whether their sources were Chinese or European. Most Japanese artists drew
inspiration from an amalgam of sources. Christine Guth, Art of Edo Japan: he artist
and the city, 16151868 (New York: harry Abrams, 1996), p. 139. From the 1730s, for
example, a number of artists in Nagasaki followed the realist style introduced by the
Chinese painter Shen Nanpin, who had been invited by the governor of Nagasaki to
spend an extended time in the port city. See Kondo hidemi, Shen Nanpins Japanese
roots, Ars orientalis 19 (1989): 79102.
52 Two points are worth making. First is the oten-repeated anecdote in which it is
claimed that, despite Odanos native talents, Gennai had to teach him the true art of
painting. hirafuiku hyakusui, Nihon yga shok (Tokyo: Iwanami, 1930), p. 9. Second,

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is that Gennai recommended him to illustrate Sugita Genpakus previously


mentioned translation of Kalmus Anatomische tafellen.
Odanos illustrations were, in fact, fairly exact copies of already extant
anatomical compositions.53 hey nonetheless demonstrate a sound familiarity with the principles of realist perspective and representation, along with an
impressive technical ability to translate the visual details made possible by the
European publishing tradition of working with copper plates to images made
with woodblock print technology. But more important than this individual
accomplishment, perhaps, is the fact that Odanos illustrations aided the diffusion of a visually-oriented appreciation for Western anatomy and, by extension, natural knowledge in general. Sugita recorded how he and others had
irst been drawn to appreciate European anatomy by their exposure to representative illustrations.54 We have seen as well how Gennai and others were
inspired by the realist representation of European natural history books such
as Dodonaeus Cruydt-boeck. Timon Screech relates this to the way in which
many Japanese commentators more generally considered the Dutch and their
natural knowledge. Screech quotes countless cases in which the Dutch and
their vision of nature were characterized as grounded in the analysis of material detail and valuation. he Dutch focus on empirical description and
precision was thus translated and evaluated within a cultural economy that
simultaneously made space for the appreciation of what it revealed about the
tangible characteristics of nature, while criticizing its commercial orientation
and moral supericiality in terms of diverting critical attention away from the
analysis of a deeper, contemplative truth.55
Returning to Odanos collaboration with the translators of Kaitai shinsho,
we are reminded of how this was the result of a long chain of intermediations
performed by Gennai. In his long career as a go-between, Gennai managed
to bring together people who inhabited various geographical locations and
cultural realmsthe rural and literary worlds of gardens and botany with
the subterranean world of mining, the world of provincial courts with Edo
salons, the sphere of pictorial art with that of medicine, and all these with the
worlds of commerce and proit. Along the way, Gennais activities embodied
the multi-faceted character and connections of honzgaku, which linked the
realms of herbal medicine, gardening, natural history, language and classiication, economic botany and mineralogy, as well as the chemistry of paints and
dyes. But there is yet more to be told from the tale of hiraga Gennai.
the position to which Odano was appointed in Edo was constructed expressly for him;
it did not previously exist.
53 Odano Naotake relied closely on extant Dutch illustrations primarily done by Gerard
de Lairesse for Govert Bidloos Anatomia humani corporis (Amsterdam, 1685)which
provides another glimpse at how many western publications were available in Japan.
54 Sugita, Rangaku (cit. n. 31).
55 Ibid., Screech, Lens (cit. n. 23).

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Faced with the loss of investors and poor-quality ore, Gennai had to
admit the unfeasibility of continuing to exploit his own iron mine by 1774,
forcing him to ind new sources of income. No longer able to obtain patronage
from bakufu oicials in Edo, Gennai was thrown back on a combination of
his own inventiveness and the hope that he might ind private investors for his
schemes. he range of solutions to which he was willing to turn his hand is impressively broad. Mixing the refuse of his mine with wood produced a steady
supply of charcoal, for example, which he was able to market with success. he
also manufactured and sold imitation leather and decorative ivory and silver
hair combs. At virtually the same time that Josiah Wedgwood was developing
his marketing genius in Great Britain by having aristocratic celebrities use the
latest patterns of his porcelain, Gennai recruited one of Edos most famous
geishas to wear his combs in public with similarly lucrative results. But he was
also willing to use his advertising skills to promote the work of others, writing
jingles, for example, for a mochi (rice cake) manufacturer.56
he activities for which Gennai is most well known, however, have yet to
be discussed. he irst of these takes us back to his second visit to Nagasaki,
sometime around 1771, where he was on good terms with a number of the Dejima translators. In addition to supplying him with Dutch texts, one of them
gave Gennai a broken Dutch electrical machine which had been originally
intended as a git for the shogun, but was rejected as a useless object.57 he existence of such contraptions and their use for medical purposes in Europe had
already been reported in Japan by at least 1765 when Got Rishuns Orandabanashi (Tales of Holland) appeared. But the book was quickly banned for
its unauthorized use of western letters and no actual machines were publicly
displayed before Gennai intervened. Ater ive years of intermittent tinkering,
Gennai inally got the machine he had been given to spark consistently, ater
which he began giving demonstrations, treating select patients with electrotherapy and constructing a number of other machines to sell or give as gits.
Like the asbestos cloth that he had woven years before, the erekiteru (as it
came to be called in Japanese) quickly grabbed the public imagination. While
Gennais previous invention resisted ires voracious appetite, this new one
was capable of creating ire with the turn of a crank. Before long, electrical
machines of his design began appearing in public markets and shows as well
as in the homes of Gennais culturally elite patrons.
In the midst of the greatest celebrity he had known to date, Gennai thus
found himself pulled in a number of directions. At the same time he was being
widely fted for his inventive genius, the taint of popular (read: vulgar) show56 For details of Gennais entrepreneurial activities, see Mas, Hiraga Gennai (cit.
n. 39), chapter four. For comparison with Josiah Wedgwood, see Neil McKendrick,
Josiah Wedgwood: An eighteenth-century entrepreneur in salesmanship and marketing techniques, Economic history review XII (1960): 408433.
57 Jones, Scholar (cit. n. 39), p. 74.

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27

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FIGURE 4

Newest curiosities from foreign countries. Demonstrating static electricity in a Japanese curio shop.

Courtesy: University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies.

28

ThE BROKERED WORLD

manship began to attach itself to him and his erekiteru. Equally dire, he found
himself embroiled in a dispute over ownership as a former assistant of his
teamed up with another artisan to manufacture and sell his invention under
their own names. Pecuniary necessity as well as a sense of justice seems to
have forced Gennais hand, lending his actions the undesired air of commercial interest. Just as contemporary European electricians were struggling to
situate their reputations safely within a moral order that sought to distinguish
between serious natural philosophy and popular entertainment, Gennai
found his reputation and that of his machine under ire.58 Small wonder that
ater long years of projecting himself and his talents as dedicated to the public
good, Gennai was growing weary and increasingly cynical.
While not abandoning his entrepreneurial activities (indeed, as a ronin, he
could not aford to), Gennai continued to ind an outlet for his cynical doubts
and frustrations in the realm of iction, where he had already made a name for
himself under a variety of pseudonyms. Even here, however, he seemed unable to recapture the heights of his earlier successes. his section began with
a quotation from the novel that irst brought Gennai before the public eye as
an author, Nenashi gusa. he books premise is worth mentioning, as it foreshadowed a dilemma that would haunt him throughout his subsequent career.
he world he sketched in this work of iction was overrun with the pest of
competing projectors, who were thereby constantly forced to conjure up new
and more outlandish schemes. So intense and ruthless was the competition, in
fact, that one entrepreneurial syndicate was driven to contract with the devil
to improve hells infrastructure, ofering to harness water-power to drive its
instruments of torture.
As hilarious as Gennais readers found the scenarios he described, we
might well ask what sort of mirror the text held up for its author. For the
Japanese term he borrowed from popular slang to label the charlatans who
populated his book, yamashi, originally denoted mining technician or prospector. he bakufus edict of 1763, which was meant to stimulate productivity
in Japans mining sector, must also have brought attention to the rash of entrepreneurial eforts that were not always as trustworthy as might be hoped. In
a culture that simultaneously supported productive innovation and frowned
upon the commercial interests by which it was oten (by necessity) motivated,
how was one to balance the pressurizing requirements of cultural respectabil58 Iwan Rhys Morus, Currents from the underworld: Electricity and the technology of
display in early Victorian England, Isis 84 (1993): 5069; Simon Schafer, he consuming lame: Electrical showmen and Tory mystics in the world of goods, John Brewer
and Roy Porter, eds., Consumption and the world of goods (London: Routledge, 1993),
pp. 489526; Simon Schafer, Experimenters techniques, dyers hands and the electric
planetarium, Isis 88 (1997): 456483; Lissa Roberts, Science becomes electric: Dutch
interaction with the electrical machine during the eighteenth century, Isis 90 (1999):
680714.

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ity and entrepreneurial success? Gennai was himself a successful prospector, a


yamashi, it might be said. What did this mean in his case?
he theme of moneys foul yet attractive necessity continued as a running
theme through much of Gennais literary output, appearing for example in
his Hohiron (Treatise on farting) in 1777. here he contrasted the money-grubbing mania that seemed to steer so much of the worlds daily activity, with the
peace of mind enjoyed by the independent ronin (such as Gennai) who refused
to be bound by the shackles of obligation or property. But this could only have
ofered meagre comfort to a man whose sharp wit had illeted so many of the
occupations with which he had had contact. A prime example can be found in
the novel Furyu Shidoken-den (he dashing life of Shidoken), whose successful reception soon followed that of Nenashi gusa. his work related a series of
journeys undertaken by the young Shidoken, who travelled the world with a
magic feather fan given him by a wise magician. Shidoken visited mythical
lands inhabited by giants and midgets, people with holes in the middle of their
chests and people with inordinately long arms or legs. he spent an exhausting time in the land of women where he and the men with whom he had been
shipwrecked were forced into prostitution, the coercive nature of which was
initially masked by the mens own hungry pleasure.
We quickly recognize (as Gennais readers must have done) this last as an
allusion to the daily pressures that pushed the otherwise noble into a life of
crass marketeering, initially sotened by the cheap glint of material reward.
But what should we make of Gennais decision to have Shidoken briely visit
the neighbouring land of medical quacks? historical studies of Rangaku and
the growth of natural knowledge in Tokugawa Japan almost universally point
to the ields of medicine and medically driven natural history as crucial areas
in which knowledge exchange fuelled scientiic development. But there is apparently another story to be told, one that reveals the challenges and ambiguities faced by the vast majority of those who operated in the medical market.
Tadano Makuzu, one of this periods few known female writers, described her
neighbourhood apothecary and its place in the local economy in these terms:
Besides dealing in medicines, he takes in pawned goods, changes
money, and sells candles. As soon as salaries are distributed in the
servants quarters of the daimy houses, the servants bring their gold
to change into copper cash and to buy candles. he servants spend
the night gambling. he next morning, the winners bring bags full
of copper coins to exchange for gold Once again the gamblers buy
candles to continue the game. It seems that they keep this pace up for
about ten nights . I have heard that more than half the salaries received by the servants falls into the hands of Shichiemon [the apothecary], exchanged from gold to copper and used to procure candles.
he house in which Shichiemon lives is built on land set aside
to pay for the cosmetics for the ladies-in-waiting to the shogun

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ThE BROKERED WORLD

his money goes up to the shoguns domestic quarters; then it immediately lows back down to the theatre district. Since there is little
chance of actual warfare, today everyone battles over money.59
Removed from the loty heights of disinterested relection or gentlemanly
concern for the public well-being (the virtuous image of Rangaku practitioners
painted by authors going back at least to Sugita), the more mundane context
inhabited by most Japanese apothecaries was at least partially governed by the
circulating low of money.60
his is perhaps not so surprising, given the obvious fact that many apothecaries were also, by necessity, shop-keepers and traders. he literature on
early-modern European apothecaries has, in fact, made a virtue of apothecaries having served as go-betweens in areas ranging from the productive circulation of chemical knowledge to the brokering of exotic naturalia.61 But what
about doctors? To what extent was Gennais portrayal of the land of quacks
a relection of around-the-corner realities in the urban centres of Tokugawa
Japan?
he people of this land all put on an outward show of learning
and took up the profession of curing peoples ills, [but] of late they
had deteriorated terribly. Just to look at a book made their eyes grow
dim and so incapable were they to sit for even a moment in quiet
study that one got the impression that lames had broken out under
their buttocks. heir only endeavour was to get along comfortably in
the world. hey were such constant latterers that they had become
masters of the arts of cajolery and sycophancy hey would wag
their heads oiciously as they went about playing the jester, acting as
go-betweens, and meddling in real estate transactions.62

59 Tadano Makuzu, Hitori Kangae (Solitary thoughts), translated by Janet R. Goodwin,


Bettina Gramlich-Oka, Elizabeth A. Leicester, Yuki Terazawa and Anne Walthall,
Monumenta Nipponica 56 (2001): 173195. Quotation on p. 177. Hitori Kangae was originally written in 1817.
60 Sugita, Rangaku kothaijme (cit. n. 39).
61 For apothecaries as simultaneously knowledge producers and brokers in the ield
of chemistry (though she doesnt use this term), see Ursula Klein, Apothecary shops,
laboratories and chemical manufacture in eighteenth-century Germany, Roberts et
al., he mindful hand (cit. n. 35), pp. 247276; for apothecaries as brokers of naturalia,
see Benjamin Schmidt, Imperfect chaos: Tropical medicine and exotic natural history circa 1700, Andrew Cunningham and Ole Peter Grell, eds., Medicine and Religion
in Enlightenment Europe (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 145173.
62 hiraga Gennai, Furyu Shidoken-den, book four. he novel has been completely
translated into French. hubert Mas, trans., Histoire galante de Shidoken (Paris:
LAsiathque, 1979), see p. 43, and partially translated (book three is let out) in Jones,

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Shidokens journeys took him to strange and exotic lands that proved to
be populated with igures who were somehow highly recognizable to the readers of his exploits and encounters. Purveyor of natural knowledge, saviour of
human health, but also scheming bufoon; this image of the physician seems
to have struck a chord with Gennais audience as much as did similar caricatures in contemporary European literature. hus, if Gennais early training
with apothecaries and doctors helped to set him on a lifelong road of innovative learning and achievement, oten under the rubric of honzgaku, so too
did it associate him with the less savoury, pecuniary aspects that coloured the
medical market.
Gennais life ended sometime in 1779 or 1780 on a sad and hazy note,
shrouded in rumours of violence and insanity. But his tension-laden reputation as inventive genius and commercially tainted projector lived on, held
together in the public eye by the continuing popularity of his novels, plays
and poetry. It must be said that Gennai contributed to his ambiguous legacy
not only by his activities and protestations directed toward serving the public
good, on one hand, and his simultaneous involvement in numerous entrepreneurial enterprises on the other, but also by his highly evocative, acerbic
descriptions of a culture in the intertwined throes of market-driven innovation and corruption.

Ta le s of a dv en t u rers and castaways


While the Japanese were long acquainted with strange and wondrous lands
situated in the far corners of maps and texts that illustrated their geographical
imagination, the adventures of Shidoken, discussed in the previous section,
will no doubt remind western readers of Gullivers travels, published by Jonathan Swit in 1726.63 But while Shidokens fantastic voyages also took him to a
number of geographically recognizable places, Gulliver visited only one exotic
land known physically to existJapan. his time there was too short to provide
many details, but other sections of the book show that Swit had informed
himself well on this subject before completing his inal manuscript, possibly
including a perusal of Kaempfers forthcoming History of Japan.64 As was so
oten the case with this sort of literature, and despite the claim Swit put into
Gullivers mouth that the primary purpose of his journal was to Inform, and
Scholar (cit. n. 39). he excerpt quoted here is on p. 215. he term go-between here
speciically refers to the brokering of marriages.
63 Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Re-inventing Japan: Time, space, nation (New York: M.E.
Sharpe, 1997), especially pp. 1416. Readers should note that there is no evidence that
Gennai had ever heard of Gullivers travels or was in any way inluenced by Swit.
64 Robert Markley, he Far East and the English imagination, 16001730 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2006 ), p. 255

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not to amuse thee, (part IV, chapter 12) he projected Japan as the exotic other,
using it as a mirror in which to relect images much closer to home. In this
case, Japan and the Japanese served largely as a vehicle for Swit to voice his
disgust with the mercenary Dutch who stood in the way of British designs
in Asia. But the vision of Japan as a mysterious, yet civilized destination, on
one hand, and the promise of lucrative trade on the other helped to preserve a
place for Japan in the European imagination for a long time to come. So too,
as we will see in this section, did the yarns spun by visitors to and from Japan
impinge on the geographical imagination of the Japanese, leading to further
discussions about their place in the world.
A fascinating example of both these points was occasioned by the adventures of Count Moritz Aladar von Benyowsky (17461786), whose ship reached
the shores of Japan in 1771, leaving behind questions regarding Russian interests in Japan as well as leading to a European bestseller following the publication of his journal in 1790.65 Benyowsky stemmed from hungarian nobility
and seems to have been reasonably well educated. As an oicer in the Polish
army, he battled against Russian forces, was captured in 1768 and transported
as a prisoner of war to far-of Kamchatka. his journal is full of accounts in
which his seductive charm, superior reason and moral sensitivity justiied his
command over others, but he must indeed have been a remarkable character,
having managed to lead a prisoners revolt that placed him in charge of a ship
with ninety-six passengers (nine of whom were women) with no set itinerary
other than to sail far away from the Russians.66
Following talk of navigating their way to California, Benyowsky and his
crew chose a course that led them instead, famished and on the verge of disaster, to Awa, a port in south-eastern Japan. Unaccustomed to foreign visitors
and aware of government restrictions against the presence of foreign ships in
harbours other than Nagasaki, local oicials quickly but generously provisioned and sent them on their way. Before leaving, however, Benyowsky gave
the provincial daimy letters to pass on through the Dutch to the shogun,
hoping that this would buy him extended entry to Japan.67 hen, rather than
cast of for other lands (perhaps unable to because of bad weather), Benyowsky
tried again to engage the Dutch through correspondence from the southern
65 Memoirs and travels of Mauritius Augustus Count de Benyowsky consisting of his
military operations in Poland, his exile into Kamchatka, his escape and voyage from
that peninsula through the northern Paciic Ocean, touching at Japan and Formosa, to
Canton in China, with an account of the French settlement he was appointed to form
upon the island of Madagascar, translated by William Nicholson (London: 1790). While
the spelling Benyowsky is used in this essay, in keeping with his famous publication,
the original spelling would have been closer to Benyovszky. In correspondence with
the Dutch on Dejima, he used a Germanic version of his name, Bengoro, by which he
was subsequently known to the Japanese.
66 For the number of crew and passengers, see ibid., p. 300.
67 For Benyowskys version of the story, see ibid., pp. 387415.

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port of shima. his time he sent six letters, ive of which were meant to please
the Japanese with praise for their generous treatment of his ship and crew.
he last letter contained elaborate details of a purported Russian plan to attack Japan from the north, using the Kuril Islands as a base of operations. In
the previous set of letters he sent, Benyowsky had claimed (like Gulliver) to
be Dutch. his time around, he let it be known that he had been coerced into
joining a reconnoitring operation sent by the Russians to establish how and
when an invasion of Japan might be organized. Opposed to the very idea, he
sought to warn the Dutch of impending danger and asked that they convey
this information to the proper Japanese authorities.68
Benyowsky set sail again, without waiting for reply, stopping in Macao,
Formosa, Canton and Madagascar (where he later returned to set up a trading
colony and establish himself as emperor) before inally reaching France. But
rather than continue to follow his colourful adventures, which also led him to
America as a friend of Benjamin Franklin and republican liberties, we need
to examine the fate of his warning to the Japanese. Prior to the publication
of his journal in 1790, the impact on Russiawhere nothing was known of
his accusationswas nil. Seeking to curry favour with oicials in Paris with
his tales of intrigue, however, Benyowsky did rate an anonymous diplomatic
memoir that quotes his warnings of an Anglo-Russian plan for expansion into
Japan.69
he decision to publish Benyowskys journal, spearheaded by the same J.
h. Magellan who appears in the introduction of Lissa Roberts essay in this
volume, brought the story of his exploits to a much wider public. It had irst
to be translated into English and annotated, which was ably done by William Nicholson, who included a lengthy introduction.70 he work was further
translated into German, Dutch, French (actually the original language), Pol68 he original text of the letter can be found in the Dejima Dagregister. For an English
translation of the letter, see George Alexander Lensen, Early Russo-Japanese relations, he far-eastern quarterly 10 (1950): 237, pp. 1213 and Donald Keene, he Japanese discovery of Europe (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1954), p. 34.
69 George Verne Blue, A rumor of an Anglo-Russian raid on Japan, 1776, he Paciic
historical review 8 (1939): 453455. he memoir in question referred to a pending AngloRussian attack on Japan to be led by Captain Cook and called for a French response
under the leadership of Bougainville, who was called upon to pick Benyowsky up in
Madagascar on his way to the waters of Japan.
70 William Nicholson (17531815) lived a life that was quite similar to a number of the
go-betweens who occupy the pages of this volume, and certainly deserves a biographical study in his own right. As a young man he entered the service of the East Indies
Company and sailed twice to the East Indies. he worked for a time as European commercial agent for Josiah Wedgwood, published various texts on natural philosophy
and improvement, and gained attention as a noted and sympathetic translator of
French chemical works. An inventor as well, Nicholson held a number of patents and
worked as a civil engineer.

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ish, Swedish, hungarian and (later) Slovak. While primarily popular, one assumes, because it recounted daring adventures, tender moments with damsels
in distress and travels through romantically exotic lands, the book could also
be read as a primer in geography, navigation, natural history and life at sea. In
between the suspense of pending disasters, Benyowsky described local landscapes along with the lora, fauna and indigenous people with which they were
populated. In some cases, including his description of Japan, he chose fanciful
images that fed cultural expectations already shaped by the embellishments of
previous travel accounts. But, true or not, the images lingered, lent credibility
perhaps by their situation next to Benyowskys daily reports of his ships and
passengers health.71
In Japan, Benyowskys mischief let a rather diferent trace, as it hooked
into questions of the countrys own sense of geographical identity, its borders
and its relations with the rest of the world. his name thus appears in some
of the most important texts written in the following years about the nature
and security of Japans northern frontier. As is so oten the case, fear proved
the mother of investigation, leading to greatly enhanced production and circulation of knowledge about the northern island Ezo (hokkaido), the Kuril
Islands and Russia, as well as about what we might call military science in
the last decades of the long eighteenth century. Following an oicial visit to
Nagasaki in 1774, the scholar hirazawa Kyokuzan was the irst to record news
of Benyowskys warning, stating that it had led him to head north and survey
the situation in Ezo (which was not yet integrated into Japan) irsthand. But
the irst serious study spurred at least partly by news of Benyowskys ominous
visit was hayashi Shihei, Kaikoku Heidan (Military talks for a maritime nation), which appeared between 1787 and 1791.
hayashi had already made a name for himself in 1785 with a book entitled Sankoku tsran zusetsu (An illustrated account of the three countries),
in which he mapped Japans geographical relation with Korea, Rykok and
Ezo, ofered topographic and climatological information about neighbouring
islands and called for adopting a policy of colonization as the best way to secure Japans borders. What made this work so striking, however, was not only
its focus on Japans foreign relations. Unlike previous maps that represented
Japan as a conglomeration of diferently coloured regions, hayashis Japan was
a monochromatically uniied whole, projected as solidly able to meet external challenges.72 Disappointed that his eforts drew so little response, hayashi
expanded his views in Kaikoku Heidan, which traced what he saw as the im-

71 On the intermingling of fact and iction in travel writing, see Nigel Leask, Curiosity
and the aesthetics of travel writing 17701840 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002),
and Carl hompson, he Sufering Traveller and the Romantic Imagination (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2007).
72 Morris-Suzuki, Re-inventing Japan (cit. n. 63), p. 23.

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manent threat to Japan posed by Russia back to Benyowskys 1771 visit. 73 Long
and serious study had led him to believe that Japan needed to adopt a radically
diferent policy in order to protect itself from foreign incursion. Japan would
have to go on the ofensive, not only building coastline defences, but also colonizing the northern islands that could thus serve as a bufer between Japan
and Russia, building a naval leet that sported sea-borne cannon and even
considering the use of hot-air balloons, images of which had irst appeared in
Japan in 1786.74 But hayashis military science was not limited to knowledge
of ships, cannon and fortiication. What truly made Russia strong, he argued,
was the constitution of its politico-military culture, embodied especially in
two factors: irst, that the country was led by an empress who was well versed
in both literary and martial knowledge; second, thatlike other European
countriesit honed and directed its military power toward external conquest
rather than toward waging civil war. Japan, on the other hand, had turned
inward, concerning itself with domestic peace (understandable in the face of
pre-Tokugawa strife) as if the surrounding seas might cushion it from the rest
of the world.75
In addition to what this work tells us about hayashis attitude toward and
vision of Japan, it indicates his detailed study and relection on Russiaits
political structure, the habits of its ruler, its military and expeditionary capabilities and cultural orientation. his invites us to ask, not only what impact
hayashis publication had on subsequent events in Japan, but also what the
sources of his information and knowledge were. he question of how Kaikoku
Heidan was received can be answered rather quickly. Because hayashi had
dared to publicize matters of state without express permission, he was very
quickly arrested. his does not mean, however, that the shoguns closest advisers were not equally concerned. Matsudaira Sadanobu, the shoguns chief
senior councillor between 1787 and 1793, continued a policy of coastline defence rather than go on the ofensive by building a navy. But he simultaneously
educated himself by reading western military books and commissioned the
publication of a seventeen-volume compilation of such sources as were available. Sadanobu also undertook a national survey, accompanying the expedition to various parts of Japan to witness the measurement of its coastlines and
73 See his own words quoted in English translation in Keene, Japanese discovery (cit.
n. 68), p. 43.
74 hough he doesnt connect these publications, Timon Screech mentions the importation of the book which contained the irst images seen in Japan of a luchtschip, purchased by the daimy of Fukuchiyama Kutsuki Masatsuna. Screech, Lens (cit. n. 23),
p. 225.
75 he sea is an open road running without obstacle from Nihon-bashi [the centre
of Edo], right to the continent and even to holland. Why is it that there are defense
installations only in Nagasaki? Combined translation from Timon Screech, he shoguns painted culture (London: Reaktion Books, 2000), p. 228 and Keene, Japanese discovery (cit. n. 38), p. 42.

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resources. he further commissioned a survey of Ezo in obvious recognition


of the challenges coming from the north. But such eforts were beginning to
be seen in some quarters as too little too late. When a Russian ship appeared
in Nagasaki harbour in 1791, for example, it carried with it naval charts that
mapped the contours and position of Ezo with a detailed exactness of which
the Japanese could only dream.76
In fact, more and more foreign ships were making their way to Japanese
waters, borne on the strengthening tide of European technology, navigational
ability and lust for trade. he French Paciic leet had drawn uncomfortably
near Japans coast in 1787, while various American, Russian and British ships
laid anchor into Nagasaki harbour in the coming years. New voices joined
hayashis to warn of European intentions.77 Aoiki Okikatsu, a highly placed
samurai in the shoguns employ, wrote that Europeans
pass their time in roaming the countries of the world in ships, assessing the condition of each place, and planning their naval assaults;
where attempts to land are frustrated and booty cannot be seized,
they just reduce everything to dust and ashesthis is what they consider the rightful function of their navies to be.78
his was an ominous vision of the destructive power derived from European
knowledge and skill.
At stake was the constitution and texture of Japans frontier. how would
the Bakufu respond to external threats, to evidence of its borders porosity and
the opportunities embodied in domestic discussions of and experiments with
European developments in the ields of science and technology? Sealing of Japans borders was proving a practical impossibility, increasingly and ironically
evident at the very time its policy was irst identiied as one of sakokubeing
shut up (see introduction and conclusion). It is possible, to build on a suggestion made by the historian Timon Screech, that Sadanobu pondered the anal76 he charts in question were from Jean-Baptiste dApr de Mannevillette, Neptune
orientale (St. Petersburg, 1787). A Japanese expedition to chart Ezo scientiically was
not organized until 1804. See Walker, Mamiya Rinz, (cit. n. 4).
77 Bruno Latour has immortalized the French leets visit to Sakhalin, under the leadership of La Prouse, as the quintessential example of the power gained through inscription and immutable mobility. See Bruno Latour, Drawing things together, Michael
Lunch and Steve Woolgar, eds., Representation in scientiic activity (Cambridge: MIT
University Press, 1990), pp. 1968. For criticisms of Latours interpretation, which
stress the importance of local translation and exchange, along with the ways in which
Japan made use of similar, supposedly western forms of domination through mapping,
see Michael Bravo, Ethnographic navigation and the geographical git, David Livingstone and Charles Withers, eds., Enlightenment and geography (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1999), pp. 199235 and Brett Walker, Mamiya Rinzo (cit. n. 4).
78 Quoted in translation, Screech, Shoguns painted culture (cit. n. 38), p. 228.

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ogy between this irony and that involved in the successful construction of an
air pump, which was gaining notoriety in Japan at this time. (First discussed
by hiraga Gennai in the 1760s, a domestically produced air pump was inally
achieved in 1797.) An air pump only functions perfectly when fully sealed, but
leaks are what keep a bird or mouse inside the glassas depicted in a number
of images that circulated in Japanalive; a popular Japanese name for the air
pump at this time was, in fact, the life and death glass.79 If properly managed,
it would seem, porosity might not be such a bad thing.
historians have paid most attention, along these lines, to the port of Nagasaki where closely regulated exchanges with the Dutch and Chinese provided
a conduit for knowledge and goods to low in and out of Japan. But material
and knowledge exchanges with other countries took place through other, less
heralded, channels as well. Due to Ezos geographical remoteness from Japan,
its relative proximity to Russia and the political circumstances that reigned on
the island, its status as Japans northern frontier remained problematic. Only
part of the island was governed by a daimy, but the ruling Matsumae family
had exchanged its loyalty to Edo for exemption from a number of obligations
which aforded a degree of independence. hence, while oicially upholding
the ban on foreign trade outside of Nagasaki, the Matsumae clan joined Japanese smugglers who pursued private trade with Russians.80 So too did Russian expeditions seek contact with the Ainu communities living on the more
northern parts of the island, beyond the reach of Matsumae control. Farther
north still, the Kuril Islands provided stepping stones that tenuously linked
Kamchatka to Ezo and which Russian expeditionaries were exploring one by
one during the late eighteenth century in hopes of establishing a means to
supply Russias remote eastern holdings without having to cross the Urals and
Siberia. As desires for trade became more ardent and contacts more frequent,
exchanges were sure to follow.
But the routes by which such exchanges took place were oten not so direct. For Japanese scholars interested in learning more about Russia, Nagasaki
remained a critical point of intermediation; the VOC continued to provide
informative books and news, oten studied and passed on through Nagasaki
translators. It is therefore not surprising to learn that the translator Yoshio
Kozaku (see section one) was an active member in the Rangaku circle around
the well-known Edo physician Kud heisuke, known for the special attention it paid to Russia. he two probably met when heisuke visited Nagasaki
to study Dutch medicine. While there, heisuke also became friends with the
Dejima opperhoofd Isaac Titsingh, who conided his dismay at the bakufus
willingness to allow Russian expansion in the Kuril Islands.81 Back in Edo and
based on available Dutch material, heisuke wrote Akaezo fsetsu k (Report
79 Ibid., pp. 229232.
80 Jones, Scholar (cit. n. 39), p. 147.
81 Noted in Keene, Japanese discovery, (cit. n. 68), p. 37.

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on the land of the red Ainu [i.e. Russians]) in 1780, partially in answer to a bakufu request to learn more about Russian intentions.
heisukes report is interesting both because of his argument against the
veracity of Benyowskys warning and his advocacy of a policy to check Russian
expansion through direct colonization of Ezo, on one hand, and the opening
of trade with Russia on the other. his studies had taught him that Russias
wealth and power were built at least as much on trade as on military might.
Allowing trade, he reasoned, would thus steal the momentum of Russian expansionist desires while afording the further development of Ezoand its integration with Japanwith the proits of trade. In response, the high council
Tanuma Okitsugu commissioned a large expedition in 1785 to begin laying the
grounds for Ezos development. had Tanuma not been replaced the following
year by the more conservative Sadanobu, Russo-Japanese relations might have
taken a very diferent course. Instead, the expedition led to naught, leaving a
frustrated heisuke only the limited power of his brush, which he used to write
an introduction to his friend hayashis Kaikoku heidan.82
heisukes work is also interesting because it introduces us to yet one other
medium through which Russo-Japanese exchanges took place. In his report
heisuke noted the cunning use Russia made of Japanese castaways who had
accidently landed on Russian soil. Treating them with kindness, they used
these unfortunates as language teachers and interpreters who thus unwittingly
paved the way for their hosts to gain knowledge and entry into Japan.83 hese
were prescient words, given that subsequent Russian expeditions did indeed
use the repatriation of castaways as an attempted ruse to gain Japanese trading privileges. But who were these castaways and what kind of go-betweens
were they?
housands of Japanese ishermen and sailors found themselves carried
away by storms and currents during the Tokugawa era, some washing ashore
as far away as California. Enough men and stories returned, despite oicially
severe punishments for leaving Japan, to give rise to an evolving genre of literature and public familiarity with the hardships they faced and foreign contacts (oten with prostitutes) they experienced.84 One particularly spectacular
tale allows us to conclude this section by observing how the accidental travels
82 For details on heisuke and his circle, see Bettina Gramlich-Oka, Tadano Makuzu
and her hitori Kangae, Monumenta Nipponica 56 (2001): 120, pp. 45; idem., Kirishitan K by Tadano Makuzu: A late Tokugawa womans warnings, Bulletin of Portuguese/Japanese studies 8 (2004): 6592, pp. 7076.
83 Quoted in ibid., pp. 7172.
84 Kazuo Ninomiya, A view of the outside world during Tokugawa Japan: An analysis
of travel by castaways, 16361856 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington, 1972);
Michael S. Wood, Masculinism, colonialism, and the late Edo castaway narrative:
Japanese accounts of port brothels in the Paciic, E-ASPAC: an electronic journal in
Asian studies 2005. Available at http://journals2.iranscience.net:800/mcel.paciicu.
edu/mcel.paciicu.edu/easpac/2005/wood.php3.

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of an ordinary individual allowed him to translate for both the Russians and
Japanese. Daikokuya Kday was captain of a shipping vessel that normally
carried rice and other goods between Ise (a port to the south of Edo) and
Edo. Ater a harrowing, storm-crossed voyage, he and his small crew beached
on Amchitka in the Aleutians; it took another ive years for the ive remaining survivors to make their way by rat to Kamchatka and on foot to Irkutsk,
where Kdays luck began to change. Following orders to cultivate castaways
for their potential (linguistic) usefulness and thinking they might be useful for
facilitating trade with Japan, the botanist Erik Laxmanwho had dedicated
himself to mapping the lora and fauna of the regionarranged for Kday
and his men to be sent on to St. Petersburg.
he Russian court already had experience with Japanese castaways going
back to the arrival of the isherman Dembei in the early 1700s, who had been
recruited to stay on as the irst instructor of the governments irst instructor
of the Japanese language. hough he and most of his successors had little to
tell about Japanese politics or military information, they could certainly provide information about geography, ocean currents and local customs. More
importantly, perhaps, they managed to spreadoten highly exaggerated
tales of their homelands great wealth, which whetted the Russian appetite for
contact and trade. It was largely in this vein that many took such keen interest
in Kday. While he requested an audience with Catherine the Great so that
he could ask to be taken home, others viewed it as a timely opportunity to
visit Edo with their own request for trade. With Laxmans son Adam (who
had trained as an astronomer and navigator) on board, a ship was outitted
in 1791 to take the castaways home and receive the git of trade in return.85 To
make a long story short, the Japanese said thanks, but no thanks, leaving the
Russians with little to show for their eforts beyond the results of Laxmans
assiduous note-taking about the local environment, the collection of natural
specimens he managed to amass and the gratitude of the men who were now
back on native soil.86 Oicially, this was the end of the story. he Russians let
while capital punishment awaited those who abandoned Japan.
But as the already mentioned, growing presence of castaway literature in
Japan attests, such severe punishment was rarely meted out.87 What is more,
85 For excerpts from Laxmans journal, see David Wells, Russian views of Japan,
17921913: An anthology of travel writing (London: Routledge, 2004), pp. 3259.
86 For more details, see Ninomiya, A view (cit. n. 84); George Lensen, he Russian push
towards Japan: Russo-Japanese relations, 16971875 (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1959); Reinier hesselink, A Dutch new year at the Shirando Academy, Monumenta Nipponica 50 (1995): 189234.
87 his was also far from the end for Russian interests in establishing trade with Japan.
A fascinating story remains to be told about their successive attempts, which led,
among other things, to the imprisonment of Vasily Golovnin, who went on to become
a vice-admiral in the Russian navy, by the Japanese in 1811. For details, see his Narrative of my captivity in Japan, during the years 1811, 1812 and 1813 (London: h. Colburn

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Kday returned bearing gits, whichalong with his reportedly keen wit
made him of value, though he would henceforth have to disguise the fact that
he was indeed still alive. he gits he brought were of two sorts. First was the
git of intelligence, wrapped in Kdays apparent ability to provide vivid details of his sojourn in Russia.88 Not only could he report on the character of
Russias eastern outposts and the topography of its vast lands, Kday had
much to tell about the splendour of its capital, its penitentiary system, calendar, system of weights and measures, coinage, female companionship and
culinary pleasures.89 hanks to the other git Kday brought with him, the
extensive information he relayed to bakufu oicials was recorded by one of
Edos foremost Rangaku scholars, whose manuscript Hokusa buryaku (Report
on a northern rat) (1794) enjoyed wide circulation and he found a new home.
Before sending him back to Japan, Erik Laxman had given Kday a collection of Russian naturalia and an accompanying letter that he hoped would
be handed over to two highly placed Edo botanists. how did Laxman know
of their existence? Long interested in Japan, he had carefully read Carl Peter
hunbergs account of his sojourn there as VOC physician and botanist (see
section one), noting the names of two of his closest contacts in Edo, the amateur botanists Katsuragawa hosh and Morishima Chry.90 hough some
seventeen years ater hunbergs stay, the two were still alive, the latter working as a retainer of councillor Sadanobu and both avid participants in Edo
culture. Out of Kdays contact with these two men came Hokusa buryaku,
as mentioned, and one other book on Russia, also penned by Katsuragawa, as
well as a secret home for Kday and the one other member of his crew who
had survived and chose to return with him to Japan. henceforth they would
reside in one of the shoguns botanical gardens, surrounded by the material
and Co., 1818). Golovnins memoirs show him to have been a go-between very much
in line with those discussed in this essay; space constraints keep me from including
his story.
88 he French voyager J.J.B. de Lesseps, who met Kday in Kamchatka, already noted
his keen eye. he is possessed of great penetration, and apprehends with admirable
readiness everything you are desirous to communicate. he has much curiosity, and is
an accurate observer. I was assured he kept a minute journal of everything he saw, and
all that happens to him J.J.B. de Lesseps, Travels in Kamchatka (London, 1790), p.
214.
89 Katsuragawas hosh, Naufrage et tribulations dun Jpaonais dans la Russie de Catherine II (17821792) (translation by Grard Siary of Hokusa bunryakuDaikokuya
Kday roshia hryki) (Paris: Editions Chandeigne, 2004).
90 Carl Peter hunberg was a student and successor of Linnaeus. In between, he served
as VOC physician in Dejima with the express purpose of studying the lora of Japan.
hunbergs Travels to Japan was irst published in 1795 and not reprinted prior to the
recent version edited by Timon Screech. See Timon Screech, ed., Japan extolled and
decried: Carl Peter hunberg and the shoguns realm, 17751796 (London: Routledge,
2005).

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sources of honzgaku (Japanese natural historysee section two) and in contact with those who studied and translated the various sorts of knowledge
discussed in this essay.91

C onc lusion
We know of at least one occasion when Kday was allowed secretly to leave
the conines of his living tomb. An oten reproduced painting from the period shows him present, along with virtually every contemporary amateur of
Rangaku in Edo, at a party organized to celebrate the Dutch New Year in 1795.
Flanked by his two botanist-protectors, the painting depicts Kdayhis
name displayed in Russian scriptas a guest of honour at this soiree. Further visual accoutrements such as a by-lingual dictionary and other works
translated from Dutch, along with several orchids (the Japanese character for
which reads rana character associated also with Oranda (holland) and,
thus Rangaku), make it clear that this tableau was meant to convey more than
a snap-shot memory of an enjoyable feast.92 For our purposes, it is telling that
a castaway-commoner was deemed important enough to be celebrated along
with marking the irst day of the solar year, in a country and culture that
were formally mapped on a grid of water-bound geographical space and lunarcalibrated time.
It might be said that this hybrid party, in which East clandestinely met
West, stood at odds with the traditional matrix of Japans geographical orientation and temporal low upon which cultural exercises were expected to be
mapped. But the countrys orientation and rhythm were themselves in lux,
thanks at least partially to ongoing developments initiated both by the Bakufu
in Edo and various foreign expeditions, all of which had interests in charting
Japan and its frontiers for the simultaneousif sometimes contradictory
purposes of ascertaining borders and facilitating exchange. his brings us back
to the issue with which this essay began, the ambiguous framing of Tokugawa
Japan as a porously bounded space which translators and other intermediaries helped both to construct and to cross. To exemplify this inally, we return
to Shizuki Tadao, who originally authored the term sakoku in 1801 as a retrospectively assertive description of policies that had been in place since the
1630s (see introduction).
Mapping the contours of history and geographyof time and space
went hand in hand for Shizuki, who tied his annotated translation of Kaempfers seventeenth-century image of Japan to what he viewed as the current
threats posed to Japanese sovereignty by Russian encroachment. It will be recalled that, in fact, Shizuki translated only the appendix that Kaempfers Eng91 hesselink, Dutch new year, (cit. n. 85), p. 192.
92 For the most thorough analysis to date, see ibid.

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FIGURE 5 Shirand Shingenkaizu (A picture of the New Years Party at the Shirando
Academy), 1 January 1795.

Courtesy: he Netherlands Institute for Military history Library.

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lish translator had grated onto the original text. In order to explain why he
had chosen to focus exclusively on this portion of Kaempfers oeuvre, Shizuki
began by sketching his own vision of Japans situation:
Because our imperial country with its countless islands corresponds
to the world with its myriad of countries, it is one globe in miniature.
When the people of these islands, mutually traversing considerable
distances by water and land, entertain friendly relations and trade
with each other, they already have the pleasure of roaming around
and seeing exceptional sights throughout the whole of the country. Is
it really necessary that they take pleasure in travelling far to foreign
parts, braving the perils of the great ocean? hose are precisely the
kind of actions we should, on the contrary, qualify as misfortune
[A country] like our imperial land is not only richly illed with everything it needs, but also contains many great marvels; this is why
[our country] does not engage in foreign relations. Formerly, our
customs were perverted and our treasures stolen by foreigners; this
is why [our country] has severed its foreign relations. Under these
circumstances, from the outset the closing of the country was a task
that was highly moral and proitable, and thus the enlightened rulers
who incessantly arose, [one ater the other,] in the end decided on,
and implemented this [policy]. his, too, must be, because our imperial country is an imperial country.93
Shizukis geography and history are both remarkable reconstructions
of mundane fact. he seas that surrounded Japanas we have seendid not
constitute an impenetrable moat, comparable as Shizuki claimed to the aether
that permanently separates heavenly bodies. And, this was historically due
at least partially to Japanese policy, which continued throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to pursue organized exchanges with China,
the Netherlands, Korea and Ryky.94
Nonetheless, this spatio-temporal idealisation provided the context in
which Shizuki sought both to minimize the threat he perceived Russia posed
to Japans imperial autonomy and to advocate that the Bakufu respond in
a speciic way. Russia, he argued, was geographically distant and separated
from Japan by diicult-to-cross water and the frontier territories of Ezo and
Sakhalin. Concurrently, it was also experiencing challenges to its own borders, thanks to geo-political struggles with Turkey and Prussia, and weakened
by its expansionary intentions in other parts of the world. And yet, Shizuki
counseled, its increasingly looming presence should not be ignored. Rather,
93 Shizuki Tado, Sakoku-ron, excerpt translated and quoted by W.J. Boot, Shizuki
(cit. n. 1).
94 Tashiro Kazui, Foreign relations (cit. n. 2).

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the best course would be to intensify Japans dedication to closure (sakoku)


and here we see the way in which Shizukis translation of history served his
plans for the futureby refusing to establish relations with Russia while securing Japans northern frontier (that is, Ezo and Sakhalin) with fortiications
and orderly commercial exchange with the local inhabitants. Shizukis policy
goal and claimed reason for producing his annotated translation were one and
the same, to ward of [dangers from] abroad and to improve concord and solidarity [between the rulers and the ruled] inside [the country]. W.J. Boot has
argued that Shizuki hoped to bring these two motivations together by parlaying his translation work into a position as foreign relations expert under the
Bakufus patronagea bid that would have spelt a new turn for the application
and status of a Nagasaki translator turned Rangaku scholar.95
But events quickly passed Shizuki by. In 1804 a Russian (actually British
built) man-of-war appeared in Nagasaki harbour, carrying an oicial mission
whose goal was to establish trading rights with Japan that would help provision Russias eastern settlements and strengthen its position there. Under the
leadership of the aristocratic businessman Nikolai Petrovich Rezanov, who was
both Chamberlain to the Czar and director of the Russian-American Company, the mission stayed in Nagasaki for six months. he Russians sojourn
was marked by a number of demonstrations with an electrical machine and
hot air balloon that drew great public interest, and extended negotiations that
seem to have caught the publics attention as well; Shizukis own amanuensis
recorded that the Russians were all one heard about on the streets of Nagasaki.96 In the end, though, Rezanov let empty-handed and disgruntled enough
to respond by organizing (on his own private initiative) an attack on Japanese
settlements on Sakhalin. While, if we can believe Rezanovs own journal, a
number of Nagasaki merchants, translators and Edo politicians had been favourable to his request for trade, this turn toward violence made it clear that
Japan could not count on the safety of its watery cocooncertainly not if its
own policy included imperial designs on frontier islands and continued trade
through Nagasaki, no matter how closely managed and limited.97
If time and space were not a problem, this essay could go on to describe
further entanglements with Russia, the British blockade of Dejima in 1807 and
95 Shizuki Tado, Sakoku-ron, excerpt translated and quoted by W.J. Boot, Shizuki
(cit. n. 1).
96 Prefatory note to Shizuki Tadao, Nikoku kaimei roku, quotation translated by Torii
Yumiko, Shizuki Tadaos awareness of international politics: A case study of Nikoku
kaimei roku, W.J. Boot and W.G.J. Remmelink, eds., he Patricarch of Dutch Learning
Shizuki Tadao (17601806), Tokyo: Japan-Netherlands Institute, 2008), pp. 10724.
97 Available in Russian and Japanese, Rezanovs diary has not yet been completely
translated into English. For extended excerpts, see William McOmie, From Russia
with all due respect: Revisiting the Rezanov embassy to Japan, Journal of the society
of humanities 163 (2007): 71154. Available online http://human.kanagawa-u.ac.jp/gakkai/publ/pdf/no163/16306.pdf.

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the arrival in Nagasaki harbour of a number of American ships. It could further relate the tale of Japanese castaways who found themselves washed ashore
on the coast of Washington State in 1834, prompting a plan to use their repatriation as a ploy to open trade between the United States and Japan, and the
story of Ranald MacDonald, a native American who staged his appearance as
castaway on the coast of Ezo in 1848 so as to be allowed to stay in Japan, where
he taught English to a number of samurai oicials.98 But the point should
already be clear that the history of Japans domestic and foreign relations is
best told as a complex weave of smaller translations, of individual travels and
group interactions, which fed the dynamism of its domestic markets and cultures while simultaneously threatening to corrode the sovereignty of its (geographical and cultural) borders. he Bakufu in Edo sought to manage this
tension, with varying degrees of success. Two inal examples are worth mentioning to give a sense of the forms this management took at the turn of the
nineteenth century.
he irst followed in the wake of events including the outbreak of war in
Europe, the VOCs bankruptcy, and the takeover of Batavia by the English.
he Dutch did their best to keep detrimental news from their Japanese hosts,
but the absence of VOC ships and its local representatives inability to support
themselves became increasingly conspicuous. Rather than forcing the Dutch
to abandon Dejima, however, the Bakufu chose to support their presence (including monetary support), maintaining the temporary iction of their exclusive right to trade with Japan. hence the Americans decision to ly a Dutch
lag when moored in Nagasaki harbour between 1797 and 1809, a ploy supported by Dutch and Nagasaki collusion.
But, as we have seen, the Americans werent the only other foreigners to
come knocking. Nor did Dutch continue to be seen as the only European language worth knowing. Recognizing the importance of language and the need
to control its translation into Japan, the bakufu decided to take matters in
hand. Rather than simply reacting to the continuing trend of private initiative
in the ield of translation from Dutch into Japanese, the shogunate established
its own bureau for the translation of western books (Bansho wage goy) in 1808,
under the leadership of tsuki Gentaku, a disciple of Shizuki and host to the
Dutch New Years party that Kday attended in 1795. his shited the locus
of translation to Edo where closer interaction between scholar-translators and
government oicials could insure that the translation of foreign texts aided
domestic development programmes.99 Relective of the ongoing efort to stimulate domestic industry and import substitution, the irst translation project
undertaken by the bureau was of the Dutch edition of Nol Chomel, Diction98 Jo Ann Roe, Ranald MacDonald: Paciic Rim adventurer (Pullman: Washington
State University Press, 1997).
99 Ann Bowman Jannetta, he vaccinators: Smallpox, medical knowledge and the opening of Japan (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2007), p. 68.

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naire oeconomique (1709), a work dedicated to harnessing useful knowledge


for the good of the land and its people. And, relective of the increasing recognition that broader-based communication and understanding were practical
necessities, a number of translators who were proicient in French, English or
Russian were appointed to the bureau.100
Together these moves indicate the way in which the Bakufu in Edo sought
to orient itself in relation to Japans borders in the early nineteenth century.
Rather than translating sakoku as a policy intended to isolate Japan from the
rest of the world, we should view it as a cover for ongoing eforts to manage
the geographical and cultural frontiers that lent shape to Japans contours and
constitution. If we generally accept the porosity of borderswhether physical,
social, cultural or intellectualas a productively mundane fact, viewing them
as zones of contact and exchange rather than as lines of separation, we see
how translation and translators functioned as vehicles whereby the integrity
of these borders and what they contained were both dynamically upheld and
challenged.101

Pri m a ry B ib l io gra phy


Published Sources
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Benyowsky consisting of his military operations in Poland, his exile into Kamchatka, his escape and voyage from that peninsula through the northern Paciic
Ocean, touching at Japan and Formosa, to Canton in China, with an account of the
French settlement he was appointed to form upon the island of Madagascar, translated by William Nicholson (London: 1790).
Bidloo, Govert, Anatomia humani corporis (Amsterdam, 1685).
Dodonaeus, Rembertus, Cruydtboek (Antwerp, 1644).
Gennai, hiraga, Furyu Shidoken-den, hubert Mas, trans., Histoire galante de Shidoken (Paris: LAsiathque, 1979).
Gennai, hiraga, Hiraga Gennai zensh (Complete works of Hiraga Gennai) (Tokyo:
hiraga Gennai sensei kenshkai, 19321936).
Gennai, hiraga, Nenashigusa (Rootless weeds), trans. Chris Drake, harua Shirane, ed.,
Early modern Japanese literature: An anthology, 16001900 (New York: Columbia
University Press, 2002), pp. 462484.
Golovnin, Vasily, Narrative of my captivity in Japan, during the years 1811, 1812 and 1813
(London: h. Colburn and Co., 1818).
Het archief van de Nederlandse factorij in Japan, Dejima Dagregisters (Algemeen Rijksarchief, the hague).
100 For precise numbers and histories of individual translators, see Louis Cullen, A history of Japan, 15821941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 149150.
101 he locus classicus for contact zones is Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial eyes: Travel
writing and transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992).

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hosh, Katsuragawa, Naufrage et tribulations dun Jpaonais dans la Russie de Catherine II (17821792) (translation by Grard Siary of Hokusa bunryakuDaikokuya
Kday roshia hryki) (Paris: Editions Chandeigne, 2004).
Kaempfer, Engelbert, he history of Japan, translated by J.G. Scheuchzer (London,
1727).
Lesseps, J.J.B. de, Travels in Kamchatka (London, 1790).
Makuzu, Tadano, Hitori Kangae (Solitary thoughts) (1817), translated by Janet R. Goodwin, Bettina Gramlich-Oka, Elizabeth A. Leicester, Yuki Terazawa and Anne
Walthall, Monumenta Nipponica 56 (2001): 173195.
Mannevillette, Jean-Baptiste dApr de, Neptune orientale (St. Petersburg, 1787).
Sugita, Genpaku, Rangaku Kotohajime (1815) translated by Matsumoto Ryz and Kiyooka Eiichi as he dawn of Western science in Japan (Tokyo: hokuseido Press,
1969).
Swit, Jonathan, Gullivers travels (London: 1726).
hunberg, Charles Peter, Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia, performed between the
years 1770 and 1779 (3rd ed., London, 1796).
Titsingh, Isaac, (Timon Screech, ed.), Secret memoirs of the shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and
Japan, 17791822 (London: Routledge, 2006).

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