Rangaku (the study of Western sciences) (蘭学)

Rangaku is a general term for European art and science, culture and skills imported into Japan through the Netherlands in the Edo period.

Early pioneers of Rangaku

Among the pioneers, Joken NISHIKAWA from Nagasaki, Hizen Province wrote "Kaitsushoko" (Considerations on commerce with foreign countries) which described overseas circumstances he learned in Nagasaki from the viewpoint of trade relations. He also learned astronomy and calendar from Yoshinobu KOBAYASHI, and his theory, based on Chinese astronomy though, showed great understanding of European astronomy as well.

Prosperity of Rangaku

At first, interpreters began to study Rangaku, and Hakuseki ARAI demonstrated the enlightened understanding of overseas circumstances in his book "Seiyo kibun" (Western Accounts), and then, Yoshimune TOKUGAWA relaxed the import ban on Chinese translations of Dutch documents, and told Konmei AOKI and Genjo NORO to study Dutch and promoted practical learning, which eventually allowed Rangaku to thrive. In the latter half of the Edo period, some wealthy Saigoku Daimyo (Japanese territorial lord in western Japan) including Shigehide SHIMAZU were so enthusiastic about Rangaku as to be called Ranheki daimyo (daimyo that affects anything Dutch), and then, Rangaku further developed with the support from these daimyo.

In 1774 during Tanuma period (when Okitsugu TANUMA led the bakufu), Genpaku SUGITA, Ryotaku MAENO and others translated a Dutch medical textbook, "Ontleedkundige Tafelen" into Japanese and published as "Kaitai Shinsho" (New Book of Anatomy), and Tadao SHIZUKI studied Newtonian mechanics and published the translation, "Rekisho Shinsho" (New Writings on Calendrical Phenomena). Gennai HIRAGA learned Rangaku in general and fixed Erekiteru (a hand-operated electric generator) and made inventions such as the thermometer. In the Kubota Domain, Dewa Province, under Gennai's guidance on Ranga (Western painting), Akita Ranga flourished. Bakufu Tenmonkata (officers in charge of astronomy) started translating maps of the world, and published "Shintei Bankokuzenzu" (A revised World Map) in 1810.

In 1782, Kodayu DAIKOKUYA, a merchant in Ise Province, drifted and went to Russia via the Aleutian Islands, and returned to Japan ten years later. His rich knowledge of overseas was organized by Hoshu KATSURAGAWA into the book titled "Hokusa bunryaku" (Stories about Russia Told by a Repatriated Drifter) and encouraged the development of Rangaku.

As for dictionaries, based on Halma's "Dutch-French Dictionary," the first Dutch-Japanese dictionary in Japan was compiled by Sanpaku INAMURA, Genzui UDAGAWA and others in 1796 and published as "Haruma wage" (the Japanese Edition of Halma's Dictionary" in 1798. Further, the voluminous "Doeff-Halma Dictionary" was completed in 1833.

Trying times for Rangaku

As Rangaku flourished, bakufu adopted a proposal by Kageyasu TAKAHASHI, and established Bansho-wage Goyo (Government Office for Translation of Barbarian Books) and made them translate foreign books, but the project was left unfinished. During the Bunsei era, Philipp Franz von SIEBOLD came to Japan and founded his school, Narutaki-juku in the suburbs of Nagasaki and taught pupils including Choei TAKANO and Sanei KOSEKI. On the other hand, the Edo bakufu, on the alert for foreign countries calling for the opening of Japan, started to suppress political and ideological activities, and crackdowns such as Siebold Incident and Bansha no goku (Imprisonment of scholars of Western learning) took place, which were followed by orders to restrict translation of foreign books.

Yogaku (Western studies)

At the end of the Edo period, Japan was forced to open up to the West, and new learning such as German studies in the German language flew into Japan. Therefore, arts and sciences from Western countries other than the Netherlands were generally called Yogaku (Western learning). Bakufu Yogaku such as Western gunnery of Shuhan TAKASHIMA, Nirayama Reverberatory furnace of Hidetatsu (Tarozaemon) EGAWA, and Kaigun Denshu-sho (The Nagasaki Naval Training Center) of Kaishu KATSU were highly practical for military purposes. Bansho-wage Goyo started to translate diplomatic documents and was renamed Yogakusho (Institute of Foreign Study), and in 1858, it was reorganized as Bansho shirabesho. Bansho shirabesho as an institute for studying and educating Western learning increased its object language to include English and other languages in addition to Dutch in 1862. It was renamed Kaiseijo in 1863 and changed hands to the new Meiji government after the fall of the bakufu and led to the University of Tokyo and other institutes later.

Several domains practiced unique Yogaku, such as Kaiseijo and Shuseikan in Satsuma Domain, and establishment of Rangakuryo (house of Rangaku) and construction of a reverberatory furnace in Saga Domain.

Rangaku Juku (Institutes for Rangaku)

Shiran-do of Gentaku OTSUKI in Edo
Teki-juku of Koan OGATA in Osaka
Narutaki-juku of Siebold in Nagasaki
Juntendo of Taizen SATO in Sakura.

[Original Japanese]