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Sugita Genpaku

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  • Born: 1733
  • Died: 1817
  • Japanese: 杉田玄白 (Sugita Genpaku)

Sugita Genpaku was a prominent Rangaku (Dutch Studies) scholar and physician of the Edo Period. He is known for his engagement with Dutch medicine, and his criticism of Chinese medicine and other aspects of Chinese science & philosophy which he believed had been proved invalid and incorrect by Dutch science.

Active in cultural and scholarly circles, Genpaku collaborated or associated with many prominent figures of his time, including Sô Shiseki and Hiraga Gennai, and studied under Yoshio Kôsaku. In 1771, he enjoyed the opportunity to observe the dissection of a human body, that of an executed criminal, after being contacted by Tokuno Banbei, a man in the service of Nagasaki bugyô Magaribuchi Kai-no-kami. As Genpaku writes in his 1815 Rangaku kotohajime ("The Beginnings of Dutch Studies"), he and the rangaku scholar Maeno Ryôtaku, with copies of the Dutch Ontleedkundige Tafelen[1] in hand, observed the dissection, performed by an eta man roughly 90 years of age and quite experienced at dissections; the old man pointed out to them what organs he could, saying that many of them had no names (in Chinese, or Japanese) and that in the past, whenever Japanese physicians observed, they never asked such questions. Genpaku and Ryôtaku quickly were able to tell that what they were seeing in the actual body was not in tune with what the I Ching or other Chinese texts said, and that it was far closer to the illustrations in the Dutch text. He and Ryôtaku also examined a number of skeletons at the execution grounds, and came to the same conclusions.

Genpaku further writes that other Japanese scholars, when they witnessed dissections, also found that reality contradicted the ancient writings, and that this was a continuing source of confusion. Such scholars often came to the conclusion that Chinese and Japanese people must have different anatomies.

Following this experience, Genpaku joined with shogunal physician Katsuragawa Hoshû, Nakagawa Jun'an, and a number of others, to pursue and complete the translation of the Ontleedkundige Tafelen, producing in 1774 the Kaitai shinsho, the first major translation & publication in Japan of a European anatomy book.

Selected Works

  • Kaitai shinsho (1774) - translator, along with a group of other scholars; Genpaku also wrote the Preface
  • Kyôi no gen ("Words of a Mad Doctor," 1775)
  • Nochimigusa (1787)
  • Keiei yawa (1802)
  • Yasô dokugo (1807)
  • Rangaku kotohajime (1815, "Beginnings of Dutch Studies")

References

  • Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, Anti-Foreignism and Western Learning in Early Modern Japan, Harvard University Press (1992), 40-46.
  • David Lu, Japan: A Documentary History, ME Sharpe (1997), 263-266.
  1. A Dutch translation of the German Anatomische Tabellen by Johann Adam Kulm, or Kulmus.
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