Rangaku - Dutch Learning
August 3, 2006 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Rangaku (literally "Dutch Learning") refers to the body of knowledge developed in Japan during the Sakoku period (1641-1853) during which the country was closed to foreigners. As the Dutch trading post at Dejima was effectively an enclave of the Netherlands, for 212 years it was just about Japan's only way to keep tabs on European scientific progress (pdf). Rangaku has influenced Japanese medicine, anatomy, engineering, meteorology, and chemistry, among other fields.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
In spite of all the Dutch good efforts, the biggest key player in the Japanese-European exchanges during this period was - of course - a German: Phillip Franz von Siebold, whose name lives on as museum in Leiden and a university in Nagasaki. The special relationship with the Dutch also lives on in the Japanese language.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:33 PM on August 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

David Mitchell fan then?
posted by asok at 12:48 PM on August 3, 2006

I get so few references on Metafilter. Who are you talking about asok? I don't see anyone by that name in any of the links.

I see from Wikipedia that David Mitchell is the name of:

* David Mitchell (author) (born 1969), author of Ghostwritten, number9dream, Cloud Atlas, and Black Swan Green
* David Mitchell (actor) (born 23 July 1974), star of UK television show Peep Show and BBC Radio 4's That Mitchell and Webb Sound
* David Mitchell (admiral) (c1642-1710), British admiral of the late seventeenth century.
* David Mitchell (politician), former Conservative Member of Parliament (UK).
* David Mitchell (physician), Scottish-Canadian physician and fur trader at Michilimackinac
* David Mitchell (astronomer), astronomer
* David Mitchell (builder), builder of Scots' Church, Melbourne and father of Dame Nellie Melba
* David Mitchell (musician), New Zealand
* David Mitchell (field hockey), Scotland
* David Mitchell (football), Australia
* David Brydie Mitchell, American politician (Georgia)
* David Mitchell (Irish actor), Fair City star.
* David Mitchell (skater), American ice dancer

Because none of those are jumping out to me as being relevant. Is it the admiral? Is one of the books by the author about this subject? Because this post reminded me of a book that I really like called Shogun. Anyway, I am tired of not getting things. If you could explain the reference then I would appreciate it. Of course, having asked about it and shamefully exposed my ignorance, it will probably turn out to be something written at the top of the page, and I will look stupid, and then I will have to commit seppuku.

This is a good and interesting post by the way.
posted by ND¢ at 1:12 PM on August 3, 2006

Closed! Pah! What a horribly misused term in regards to the Japanese period of isolation. Sorry, pet peeve, as I think your post demonstrates. Excellent post, though I hate to see Russian expansionist pressure in the Sakhalins go unmentioned when talking about Rangaku.

Oh, and of course, post-Rangaku, who was the major influence? USA! USA! USA!
posted by absalom at 1:29 PM on August 3, 2006

May I also suggest the works of Fukuzawa Yukichi, who was a pioneer in the Meiji transition to the ways of Western individualist thought and education.
posted by Ekim Neems at 1:41 PM on August 3, 2006

absalom writes "Pah!"

Excellent points, absalom. I can see your objection to "closed"; I tried to take cultural and linguistic sensitivities into consideration, but then again I tried to counterweight that with the interests of brevity and clarity, as I'm sure you will understand.

Same goes for the Russian thing: same could be said about the Chinese, who also provided translations of European works, and non-Dutch European influences from the Portuguese and others. But again, you can only cram only so many angles into a post.

As for post-isolation influences, I did think about cramming in a line at the end like "and then an American came..."
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:55 PM on August 3, 2006

ND¢ writes "Who are you talking about asok?"

The author, I suppose. Wiki says he's working on a book about precisely this topic, a fact I was unaware of. Thanks, asok.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:58 PM on August 3, 2006

Thank you.
posted by ND¢ at 2:11 PM on August 3, 2006

Excellent post.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:35 PM on August 3, 2006

Everything I know I learned on Metafilter! Despite having spent most of my elementary school years and all of highschool/university in Holland, I had no idea there was any Dutch history in Japan. (Of course, my history teacher wouldn't be at all surprised by this confession - it was not my best class...)
posted by easternblot at 3:20 PM on August 3, 2006

Is this perhaps the explanation why the Japanese and the Dutch share this strange infatuation for odd wooden footgear?
posted by sour cream at 3:20 PM on August 3, 2006

David Mitchell + dutch persona = book I definitely want to read
posted by jouke at 5:50 PM on August 3, 2006

Hah, Mr. News, no worries. It's a most excellent post by any standard. The Russian stuff doesn't exactly fit the theme - mostly what they learned is that the SE Asia was getting fucked and the Russians were starting to crowd in, essentially. I like pointing that out, not because it increased their scienceocity (or is it scienceosity?), but because it reminds that there were strong advocates for opening up as early as the 1700s,

And, as for America, I think you could safely say we deserve our own post. USA! USA!
posted by absalom at 6:15 PM on August 3, 2006

Great post.

Also, in case anyone is interested, while randomly following links about this topic I came upon a fascinating biography about a guy named Otokichi; a Japanese during the Isolation period who was shipwrecked away from Japan and then spent the rest of his life traveling the world. I think it's a pretty amazing story.
posted by switchsonic at 6:37 PM on August 3, 2006

switchsonic writes "a fascinating biography about a guy named Otokichi"

Um, dude, that is a fantastic story, and merits its own FPP easily. Please make one.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:18 PM on August 3, 2006

Regarding "Rangaku" medicine, I remember reading one funny (and telling) story about "Western anatomy": at the beginning, there was strong resistance to it in Japan, since, while a lot more detailed, it didn't coincide with the more respected Chinese treatises on the subject. The Japanese establishment's explanation? Western barbarians were obviously not built along the same lines as the Japanese and Chinese! It was not until Japanese surgeons started cutting up (Japanese) bodies themselves that the realised that those old Chinese treatises were basically bunk...
posted by Skeptic at 12:04 AM on August 4, 2006

Marvelous post! Thank you! Lots to read!
posted by nickyskye at 2:25 AM on August 4, 2006

This is all good and well for my eventual assimilation into dutch culture... once i can come to grips with severing citizenship here in the u.s. [there are pluses, actually...]
posted by phylum sinter at 7:26 AM on August 4, 2006

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