Sugita Genpaku (杉田玄白)

Genpaku SUGITA (October 20, 1733 - June 1, 1817) was a rangakui (a person who studied Western medicine by means of the Dutch language) during the Edo Period. He was a doctor of the Obama Domain, Wakasa Province (Fukui Prefecture). Genpaku sponsored a private school called Tenshinro. His father was Genpo SUGITA and his mother was a daughter of the YAO clan. His imina (personal name) was Tasuku, azana (adult male's nickname) was Shiho, and go (pen name) was 鷧 (九幸翁 in his later years).

The SUGITA clan stemmed from the MANO clan, a branch family of the SASAKI clan (one of the OMI-GENJI clan). His ancestor, Nobuyasu MANO who served the GOHOJO clan, changed the family name to MAMIYA and Nobuyasu's son, Nagayasu MAMIYA, restored it to MANO. Genpaku is the third generation of the family to practice medicine. Rinzo MAMIYA, who was an explorer and after whom the mamiya strait was named, was from the same family as Genpaku.


Genpaku was born in the suburban residence of the SAKAI family of the Obama Domain, Ushigome, Edo, but his biological mother died while giving birth to him. After growing up in the residence, his family moved to Obama in 1740 where he spent his childhood until 1745 when his father, Genpo, was ordered to work in Edo. Genpaku started learning his family business, medical science, in his adolescence; he studied western medicine under Gentetsu NISHI, a feudal doctor, and Chinese medicine under Ryumon MIYASE, a Confucian belonging to School of Ancient Learning and a founder of the medical school in Hongo (Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo).

Genpaku was appointed as a doctor of the Obama Domain in 1752 and started working in the main residence of the Domain. In 1757, he became a town doctor by opening his business in the Nihonbashi area (Chuo Ward, Tokyo). In July the same year, Motoo TAMURA, a scholar of natural history and herbalism, and Gennai HIRAGA sponsored a Domain commodity fair in Edo. Attending was Junan NAKAGAWA, a doctor, an herbalism scholar and rangakui, indicating that Dutch scholars had already formed a good fellowship at this time. In 1754, Toyo YAMAWAKI dissected the cadaver of a criminal who was executed in Kyoto. The first domestic dissection proved how accurate books of western medicine were, causing repercussions in Japanese medical circles and giving the chance for Genpaku to doubt the traditionally-supported Chinese theory that a human body consisted of five viscera (liver, lungs, heart, kidney and spleen) and six bowels (small intestine, large intestine, gall bladder, urinary bladder, stomach and san jiao).

Genpaku became a Domain doctor in 1765. When a group of a curator of Dutch trading house (the Kapitan) and Dutch translators paid a visit to the feudal government in Edo in the same year, Genpaku and Gennai HIRAGA visited the inn of Genemon NAGASAKIYA where the group was staying. At that time, Zensaburo NISHI, a Dutch translator, admonished Genpaku against learning Dutch due to its difficulty, and Genpaku took the advice and gave up mastering the language. In 1769, Genpaku's father, Genpo, died. Genpaku succeeded both the reigns of the family and the family business as a court physician, and started working in the second city residence of the Domain in Shinohashi.

According to the "Rangaku Kotohajime" (The Beginning of Dutch Studies), Genpaku's self memoirs, Junan NAKAGAWA visited Genpaku in 1771 with a Dutch medical science book, "Ontleedkundige Tafelen," which was borrowed from the Dutch trading house. Although Genpaku could not read the book written in Dutch, he was startled with the accuracy of the anatomical chart and advised the Domain to purchase the book. He also had an opportunity to observe the dissection of a dead body in Kozuka execution ground (Minamisenju, Arakawa Ward, Tokyo Prefecture) with Ryotaku MAENO, who happened to bring back the same medical science book from Nagasaki and Junan NAKAGAWA, and admired how accurate the anatomical chart of the book was. Genpaku SUGITA and Ryotaku MAENO translated the "Ontleedkundige Tafelen" and published it as "Kaitai Shinsho (literally, New Book of Anatomy)" in 1774.

In 1776, Genpaku left the second city residence of the Domain and started renting a neighboring Hama-cho residence of 1,650 sq.m., a residence owned by Tobei TAKEMOTO (hatamoto [a direct vassal of the shogun], with a 500 koku stipend).

In his later years, Genpaku wrote his memoirs, "Rangaku Kotohajime (The Beginning of Dutch Studies)," which was published by Yukichi FUKUZAWA later. In 1805, he was granted an audience with Ienari TOKUGAWA, the 11th shogun, to present the shogun with good medicine. In 1807, Genpaku handed over the reigns of the family to his son, Hakugen, and retired from the job.

Genpaku's writings include "Keiei Yawa" (memoirs on medical science).

Genpaku's tomb is in Eikanin of Atago (Minato Ward), Tokyo Prefecture. The most famous portrait of Genpaku is the one drawn by Tairo ISHIKAWA, which is now in the possession of the Library of Waseda University.


Genpaku is the most admired for his achievement in spreading the Western studies across Japan.

Also, Genpaku eagerly fostered young doctors and medical researchers, contributing to building a foundation for the Western studies to develop further in future.

[Original Japanese]