Western Medicine and Pharmaceutics in Seventeenth Century Japan

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Western Medicine and Pharmaceutics in Seventeenth Century Japan

Format:
Article
Kyushu Univ. Production Kyushu Univ. Production
Responsibility:
Michel, Wolfgang(Faculty of Languages and Cultures, Kyushu University : Professor : History of Euro-Japanese Cultural Exchange)
Michel-Zaitsu, Wolfgang
Language:
English
Publication info:
Proceedings of the International Conference on the History of Science in East Asia. 10, pp. 173-184, 2005-07. Jiao-Tong-University Press (Shanghai)
Version:
Publisher
Abstract:
Scholarly discussion of “Dutch Studies” (rangaku) as the foundation of modernization in Japan focuses on the 18th and early 19th centuries, while the previous century has been grossly neglected. Some of the reasons for this may be the complex status of primary sources, many of which are mixed up with later materials. At the same time, the “'policy of seclusion'” pursued by the first Tokugawa-shoguns has encouraged the general notion of a hiatus around 1641 which supposedly affected Japan’s scientific intercoursewith the outside world as well. This paper traces the birth of “Caspar-style surgery” (kasuparu ryu geka) in 1650–51 and the establishment of “Red Hair Medicine” (komoryu igaku) during the second half of the 17th century. The acceptance of this new kind of medicine is shown to be the result of a variety of factors. Procedural changes in Dutch–Japanese relations led to more frequent encounters between Western surgeons and high-ranking government officials. Successful treatments by an experienced German surgeon drew their attention to the usefulness of Western surgery. Thanks to the efforts of a few influential personalities, new surgical treatment methods and prescriptions entered Japanese society via the elite. Research shows that Western Medicine was introduced both through individually-motivated action by certain key people within the ruling elite who sought to maintain their own health, as well as through their more generalised political endeavours to stabilize the still-young Tokugawa regime. The restrictions imposed on exchanges with foreign countries seem to have created an awareness of deficiencies in a variety of fields, such as heavy weaponry, land surveying, surgery, and related disciplines. It was the Japanese themselves who were placing orders for books, objects, and samples, and asking for specialists and demonstrations of special skills, etc. For many decades, their opposite number in these exchanges, the Dutch East India Company (VOC), played a passive, sometimes even reluctant role in responding to these requests. The introduction of new treatment methods stimulated botanical and pharmaceutical studies, because the herbs, drugs, and oils needed for ointments and plasters had to be imported at great risk and at high prices. During the second half of the 17th century, the orders for herbariums similar to those of Dodonaeus, and for living plants and seeds are closely related to the spread of “Red-Hair-Style Surgery”. Even a full-scale distillery was brought to the Dutch factory in Nagasaki and was used for teaching purposes and for producing medical oils for almost two decades. While the first impetus came from high-ranking circles in Edo, the practical introduction of new knowledge throughout the country took place on ground already made fertile by the introduction of many new technologies from China during the previous centuries. An examination of Sino-Japanese relations highlights the limited scope of the Euro-Japanese exchanges discussed here. After the expulsion of the last remaining Iberians from Japan in 1638 the level of Portuguese language skills deteriorated rapidly, while for many decades the study of Dutch did not reach a level that allowed independent study of Western sources. Knowledge was transmitted to the Japanese largely via oral instruction and demonstration using a limited number of terms, and so remained restricted to practical skills. In the absence of a deeper understanding of the theoretical background to Western-style surgery, it was used in a fragmented and selective way in Japan, and was filtered through the concepts of traditional Sino-Japanese medicine. Thus, while most of the elements constituting the fully-fledged “Dutch Studies” of the 18th century were already present at this early stage, the progress made was very slow. Nevertheless, the acceptance of “Red-Hair-Style Surgery” in the upper social echelons is signalled by the requests to Dutch factory surgeons for medical “diplomas” by Japanese disciples, and by the appointment of a translator to the Edo court, who was well educated in Western-style surgery. Read more
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