Rangaku Kotohajime (The Beginning of Dutch Studies) (蘭学事始)

"Rangaku Kotohajime" (The Beginning of Dutch Studies) is memoirs written by Genpaku SUGITA at the age of 83 in 1815, who was thinking back on to the pioneer days of Dutch studies and sent to Gentaku OTSUKI.

Two volumes.

As a pioneer of Dutch studies, Genpaku Sugita was sorry that there would be no one who knew the beginning of this field of study if he died, so he decided to leave the record of those days.

He finished the draft in 1814 and made his best pupil Gentaku Otsuki edit the manuscript.

The book was completed in the following year. Genpaku was 83 at that time.

Two years after the completion, Genpaku died at the age of 85.

The title of the book was "Ranto Kotohajime" at first.

Some records indicate that the book was also entitled "Waran Kotohajime" or "Rangaku Kotohajime."

During the Edo Period, it was spread by copied books only.

In the last days of Edo Period, Takahira KANDA happened to find a copied book at a street stall, and in 1869 Yukichi FUKUZAWA published the book "Rangaku Kotohajime" (two volumes) (later in the preface to the second edition of Rangaku Kotohajime written on April 1, 1890, Fukuzawa wrote that he was moved to tears), and it became to be read by the general public.

"Rangaku Kotohajime" starts with Japan's encounter with the West in the late Sengoku Period, and went on describing the beginning of Dutch medicine in Japan and the study of Dutch language by Konyo AOKI and Genjo NORO.

The highlight of the book was the memoir on translation of "Kaitai Shinsho (New Book of Anatomy)."

The book vividly describes with much presence the process that Ryotaku MAENO, Genpaku SUGITA, and Junan NAKAGAWA observed an autopsy at the execution site in Kozukahara and then started translating the book, and managed to publish it. The name of Ryotaku was not cited in "Kaitai Shinsho," so his achievements were revealed to the public by "Rangaku Kotohajime" for the first time.

"Rangaku Kotohajime" also included anecdotes of his contemporaries, including Gennai HIRAGA, Hoshu KATSURAGAWA, Seian TATEBE, Gentaku OTSUKI, Genshin UDAGAWA, and Sanpaku INAMURA.

The book is a primary document of the beginning of Dutch studies, and also an excellent literature.

Some are critical to this book, however, arguing that it neglects contributions of Dutch interpreters in Nagasaki to Dutch studies, and that it did not accurately describe scholars of Dutch studies such as Aoki and Noro who were predecessors of Genpaku. These faults may be unavoidable because the book was written by a person concerned.

It should be noted that Yukichi Fukuzawa who published "Rangaku Kotohajime" in the Meiji Period came from the same Nakatsu domain of the Province of Nakatsu as Ryotaku Maeno. It is not hard to imagine that Ryotaku was delighted by finding Fukuzawa's book praised Ryotaku's achievements.

Issue of "verheffen"
An anecdote of translating "Kaitai Shinsho" described in "Rangaku Kotohajime" is that Genpaku didn't understand a word "verheffen" in the section of nose and thought for a while until he got that the word meant "mound". This is a famous anecdote that appears in many history text books.

However, in the section of "Nose" in "Ontleedkundige Tafelen," the original text of "Kaitai Shinsho," the word "verheffen" can't be found. Based on this, some doubt the accuracy of "Rangaku Kotohajime."

The word "verheffen" does appear in the chapter of "Chest" for explaining the form of a breast.

There are several possibilities regarding this issue:

This anecdote was invented by Genpaku Sugita to make the description easier to understand.

Several Dutch books other than "Ontleedkundige Tafelen" were used as reference for "Kaitai Shinsho," so the word came from one of these books.

Sugita simply confused with his memory about the section of breast.

It was embarrassing for him to confess that they seriously discussed about "breast," so he intentionally replaced "breast" with "nose."

He considered it was inappropriate for a book of enlightenment for the general public to include an anecdote relating to a sexual part of the body, so he intentionally replaced "breast" with "nose."

Genpaku Sugita described that he found a translation note stating "when branches of a tree are cut, the branches form "verheffen"; when the garden is cleaned, the dirt is gathered to form "verheffen"." Therefore, the word "verheffen" that he understood should indicate something like a mound. If so, it should be the form of breast instead of nose. In addition, it is natural to recognize a breast as "a mound" but it is too odd to recognize a nose as "a mound." As a result, intentionally or unintentionally, the word "verheffen" must have described a breast.

[Original Japanese]