Takano Choei (高野長英)

Choei TAKANO (June 12, 1804 - December 3, 1850) was a doctor and Dutch scholar who lived during the late Edo Period. His common name was Etsusaburo and his imina (personal name) was Yuzuru. His go (pen name) was Zuiko. His father was Sanenobu GOTO. Choei was fostered by his uncle, Gensai TAKANO. Choei criticized the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by the TOKUGAWA family) for enforcing the Order for the Repelling of Foreign Ships and argued for opening Japan to the world, but he died in the bakufu's repression without seeing the opening of the country to the world. After the opening of Japan to the world, however, Choei was conferred a court rank for the achievements in July 4, 1898.


Choei started his career as a domain doctor of the Rusu clan of the Mizusawa Domain, a branch domain of the Sendai Domain, of Mutsu Province (later Rikuzen Province). As his foster father, Gensai, studied Western medicine under Genpaku SUGITA in Edo and had a lot of Western books at home, Choei had strongly become interested in studying since he was young. In 1820, Choei moved to Edo and studied under Hakugen SUGITA and Choshuku YOSHIDA, both of whom were Dutch doctors.
Recognizing his talent, Choshuku allowed him to call himself Choei by giving him his name 'Cho.'

Later, Choei moved to Nagasaki for learning medical science and Western studies at the Narutakijuku founded by Philipp Franz von Siebold, where he was appointed as a school manager for his outstanding academic ability. In 1828, when the Siebold Incident occurred, some of his disciples such as Keisaku NINOMIYA and Ryosai Ko were arrested and faced harsh investigation, but Choei managed to elude the arrest cleverly. According to one heresy, Choei became a pupil of Tanso HIROSE of Hita, Bungo Province (present-day, Hita City, Oita Prefecture) before long. Following the death of his foster father, Gensai, the Takano family repeatedly asked him to return home, but he decided not to return after some hesitation. In addition to giving up taking over as head of the family, he lost the social status as samurai.

In 1830, Choei returned to Edo to practice medicine as a town doctor and established a private school for Western studies. After a short while, Choei got acquainted with Kazan WATANABE, a senior vassal of the Tahara Domain of Mikawa Province and was employed as a Dutch scholar at the domain for his brilliant talent, where he translated Western studies literature with Sanei KOSEKI and Shunzan SUZUKI. In 1832, Choei joined Shoshi-kai, which was founded as an academic circle addressing the Tempo Famine by Shosuke ENDO, a Confucianism teacher of the Kishu Domain, and played a central role in it along with Kazan. Some of his writings such as "Kyuko Nibustsuko," which described about agricultural approaches to take to combat famines, resulted from his participation in Shoshi-kai.

The following episode demonstrates Choei's excellent language ability. The pupils of Narutakijuku held a banquet, in which they would be fined if they spoke other languages than Dutch. While most of the participants, who, drunk, spoke Japanese carelessly, were fined, only Choei kept talking in Dutch. When Genboku ITO, a fellow pupil, pushed him down a flight of stairs out of jealousy for his talent, he screamed in Dutch, 'GEVAARLIKI!' (Watch out!). Because Choei tended to be swellheaded for his brilliance, he was not popular with his peers, but they recognized him as the best Dutch scholar at that time.

In 1837, the Morrison Incident occurred when an American merchant ship named Morrison was driven away from a Japanese coast by cannon fire in accordance with the Order for the Repelling of Foreign Ships.
Choei criticized the bakufu with Kazan for its repelling of the ship Morrison by saying, 'Such a stupidity. Stop it.'
Choei summarized his opinions on the incident in "Bojutsu Yume Monogatari" (literally, a fantasy in the Bojutsu year), which was read internally (however, against his expectations, this book became well-known among many scholars). In 1839, Bansha no goku (Imprisonment of scholars of Western learning) broke out. Choei was arrested for criticizing the bakufu and imprisoned in Denmacho after having been sentenced to life in prison. In prison, he was engaged in medical care of prisoners and also called for the improvement of the poor prison environment. Other prisoners respected him as 'ronanushi' (head of prisoners) for these acts and his boss person character.

On June 30, 1844, Choei escaped from prison when a fire broke out at the prison. According to a widely-accepted theory, Choei coaxed a prison worker named Eizo who belonged to hinin (one group comprising the lowest rank of Japan's Edo-period caste system, often ex-convicts or vagrants) into setting fire to the place. Although his escape routes were not exactly known, Choei changed his face with chemicals to live as a fugitive (because Choei's descriptions were circulated in Edo). He later entered Edo, where he was given shelter by Shunzan SUZUKI and spent time translating military science books, but Shunzan died suddenly. And then, Choei, taken under the wing of Munenari DATE, the lord of the Uwajima Domain of Iyo Province, with the help of Keisaku NINOMIYA, one of Narutakijuku peers, was engaged in the translation of Western studies literature including strategy books as well as in the westernization of the domain's military equipment under Munenari. Hoka Hitsudoku (literary, guidelines on gun battery) (Vol. 1-11) is one of his main translations. The Hisayoshi gun battery (Hisayoshi, Ainan Town) built by Choei during this period is reputed to be the crystallization of the best technology of that time. However, he returned to Edo after a while and started to work as a town doctor under the false name of Sanpaku SAWA. He was highly likely to be recognized because he, as a doctor, would have more chances to see people face to face. To reduce such risk, Choei reportedly burned his face with nitric acid to change his face.

On October 30, 1850, the town magistrate's office raided his hiding place in Aoyamahyakunin-cho (present-day, Aoyama, Tokyo [Minato Ward, Tokyo]) and captured him. Badly beaten by officers with jutte (short one hook truncheon), he was half dead when bound with a rope. The authorities therefore killed Choei while transporting him in a palanquin (from the memorandum written by one of the officers who captured Choei. However, according to the report submitted to the magistrate's office, Choei killed himself by stabbing him in the throat after some fights).

Some people also say that Choei met Kaishu KATSU or was given shelter by him in Edo. His important writings include "Bojutsu Yume Monogatari" which criticized the bakufu for repelling the ship Morrison in accordance with the Order for the Repelling of Foreign Ships. Also, Choei was engaged in translating numerous Dutch literature.

Choei in his hometown, Mizusawa

In Mizusawa City, Iwate Prefecture (present-day, Oshu City), Choei was honored as one of three heroes (Choei TAKANO, Makoto SAITO and Shinpei GOTO). In addition, many elementary schools feature Choei in the integrated learning period to hand down his life and achievements to younger generations. In 2004, Mizusawa City celebrated the 200th anniversary of Choei's birth and various events were held.

[Original Japanese]