Rangaku Learning About the West

by Buddy Lindsey

Shiba_Kokan_A_meeting_of_Japan_China_and_the_West_late_18th_century

Rangaku is the term used for “Dutch Learning” and started the Japaneses curiosity about the west from finding an anatomy book. From there it moved to all sorts of subjects some examples are: Political Science, Astronomy, Medicine, Physical Science and Cooking, and many more.

First_Japanese_treatise_on_Western_anatomy

The Dutch were the first westerners to find Japan and they had limited access from 1640 on. Seeing as how the Japanese had never met anyone like the Dutch they were very curios, and so were the Dutch of the Japanese. In general most of what the Japanese learned about the west was from the Dutch traders and priests.

AccountOfForeignCountriesNishikawaJoken1708

What really kicked off Rangaku, or “Dutch learning”, was when some Japanese doctors obtained an anatomy book that had highly detailed drawings of the internals of human bodies. This was very interesting to the Japanese as apparently they had never done an autopsy to learn what the insides of a person looked like. So they decided to do an autopsy on a dead criminal, and learned these books were exact. This spawned helped spawn a great curiosity of the west.

RangakuElectricityManual

From there it lead into almost every subject imaginable. It was also quite easy for the Japanese people to learn since 70 to 80% of Japanese were literate so as soon as books were translated from dutch they were sent off into Japan for people to learn from, that is a little over reaching but close’ish.

ItoKeisuke

Much like everything else things evolve and so has/did Rangaku. Naturally with the curiosity of the Japanese about the west the same is true of the west about the Japanese. Eventually it lead down the road to Commodore Perry’s visit and forcing open Japan to trade.

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One of the best positives of Japan starting to learn about the west was their intensity of it. The leaders setup groups of people to study and learn all about the west. By the time Commodore Perry forced open Japan they already knew about the politics and ways of the rest of the world so they were able to make effective decisions about opening Japan, trade agreements, and general good decisions for the future.

I found this topic quite interesting. While it is not earth shattering information it is just one of those little tidbits of history which makes things fun. So many things I take for granted with US history that I have learned, even the littlest of things, it is fun to start learning the little things of Japanese history. I hope to do more posts like this in the future.

The question now is have you read of this before or know much about it?

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