Rangaku Learning About the West

by Buddy Lindsey


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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December 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 reesan December 15, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Interesting 'tidbit of history'! Are the images of the anatomy book the actual first anatomy book found from the West?


2 percent20 December 15, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I think it is the translated version actually.


3 Jamaipanese December 15, 2009 at 9:45 pm

interesting history lesson. I knew bits and pieces of this but reading it all together makes in even more interesting


4 yonasu December 16, 2009 at 11:19 am

I knew some of this, but we didn't really go into details like this when I studied Japanese history. It was an interesting read though, the little things are always more fun to learn^^


5 Motsamai December 17, 2009 at 3:28 am

Very interesting article, but … the Dutch were not the first Europeans to find Japan. The first Europeans in Japan were the Portuguese, who landed on Tanegashima Island near Kyushu in 1543. They traded with Japan and tried to establish Christianity as a religion several decades before the Dutch arrived in 1600. That first Dutch ship was called Liefde (Dutch for "love"), and it eventually led to a kind of love affair – or at least exclusive trading rights! – for almost 250 years.


6 percent20 December 19, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Thanks, I must have misunderstood the article I read then. I though the Portuguese were the first people, but later I was reading and I thought it said the Dutch were actually first. Thanks for the correction.


7 percent20 December 19, 2009 at 6:16 pm

That is really interesting to find out. Will have to go through those links and read, if I can.


8 Squire Starsquid February 25, 2010 at 5:29 am

Yes we were the first, thank you :P Great new blog btw! Ganbatte!


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