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Kaempfer's Japan

Tokugawa Culture Observed

Engelbert Kaempfer

Publication Year: 1999

Engelbert Kaempfer's History of Japan was a best-seller from the moment it was published in London in 1727. Born in Westphalia in 1651, Kaempfer traveled throughout the Near and Far East before settling in Japan as physician to the trading settlement of the Dutch East India Company at Nagasaki. During his two years residence, he made two extensive trips around Japan in 1691 and 1692, collecting, according to the British historian Boxer, "an astonishing amount of valuable and accurate information." He also learned all he could from the few Japanese who came to Deshima for instruction in the European sciences. To these observations, Kaempfer added details he had gathered from a wide reading of travelers' accounts and the reports of previous trading delegations. The result was the first scholarly study of Tokugawa Japan in the West, a work that greatly influenced the European view of Japan throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, serving as a reference for a variety of works ranging from encyclopedias to the libretto of "The Mikado."

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii-xi

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pp. xiii-xiv

Some ten years ago in a little coffee shop near Tokyo University’s Akamon, George Akita urged me to drop all other projects and retranslate Engelbert Kaempfer’s so-called History of Japan, this being, in his opinion, the most important work I would ever do in my life. I undoubtedly would have ignored his advice had I known what lay in store for me: ten years of intense work on Kaempfer’s large collection of manuscripts and related material, ...

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Translator’s Introduction

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pp. 1-21

Merchants and missionaries had traveled to Japan for a century and a half, and scholars in Europe had collated and published their reports. Some of these reports, especially those of the Jesuits, had been learned and detailed.2 Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716), however, was the first scholar to travel to Japan with the purpose of reporting about the country, to study the available ...

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Notes on the Translation

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pp. 22-26

The simplest and safest way to translate a difficult text is to record all research done on obscure, ambiguous, and difficult words and passages in notes. If this method had been followed here, the notes would have occupied more space than the text, and the main purpose of this new translation, namely, to make available to as large a readership as possible an accurate version of Kaempfer’s eye-witness account of Tokugawa Japan, would ...

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pp. 27-30

Germany was still troubled by its most Christian and most un-Christian enemies1 when the Swedish delegation, of which I was a member, received its leave from the Persian court. I decided that the lesser evil would be to embark on even more distant travels and individually and voluntarily endure the resulting inconveniences rather than return to my native country and submit to the generally prevailing bad conditions and involuntary state of war it was in. I therefore said farewell to the delegation (which paid me the honor ...

Book 1

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Chapter 1. Journey from Siam to Japan and the Present State of the Siamese Court, Including a Description of the Royal Residence or Capital of Ayutthaya

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pp. 33-34

After I had looked around at the Siamese court for some time, I had the opportunity to travel to the empire of Japan in a vessel called the Waelstrom, lying (loaded with local merchandise) in the harbor ready to sail, in which country I was offered the position of physician in a Dutch delegation traveling to the Japanese court. At present there is no other way of entering this empire, which has been closed for nearly a century, and to appear ...

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Chapter 2. Departure from the Siamese Capital Ayutthaya Down the River Meinam to the Harbor, and from There across the Sea to Japan

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pp. 35-39

Translator’s note: Kaempfer begins this chapter with his departure from Ayutthaya on July 4, 1690, and a brief description of his journey down the river Meinam to Bangkok, where the Dutch trading post Amsterdam was located. As an indefatigable scholar, Kaempfer not only noted what he saw but added a six-point discussion about the name and flow of the river. ...

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Chapter 3. The Size and Situation of the Islands and Provinces of Japan

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pp. 40-47

This nation is called Japan by the Europeans, and by its inhabitants by various other names and characters. Among those, Nipon is used most commonly in speech and writing. 1 To give it a more melodious sound, they frequently pronounce it Nifon according to their dialect, while the Chinese from Nanking and other southern Chinese pronounce it Sjippon. According to the characters, it means “the bastion of the sun,” because ni ...

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Chapter 4. The Division of the Japanese Empire into Large and Small Domains, and Especially General Information about Their Revenue and Government

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pp. 48-49

We do not want to leave the description of the country until we have discussed separately the division of the Japanese land into seven large regions or roads, and these into sixty-eight large domains or provinces of the empire, and these provinces into 604 smaller areas or districts, as well as the size, location, produce, and annual income of each province. All this information has been taken from a Japanese description called Setsuyōshū .1 ...

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Chapter 5. The Origin of the Inhabitants

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pp. 50

Summarizing, we may say that in the first age of plurality after the Babylonian discord of minds and languages, at a time when the Greeks, Goths, Slaves, and Celts left for Europe, when others scattered and spread in Asia, while still others even entered America, the Japanese set out on their journey. Perhaps wandering for many years and suffering great deprivation, they finally reached this furthest corner of the earth. Here they grew ...

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Chapter 6. The Origin of the Japanese According to Their Own Fanciful Opinion

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pp. 51-54

The Japanese are very indignant when one wants to trace their origin back to the empire and blood of the Chinese, or other foreign people, for they want to have their origin in their own small world. Yet they do not wish to have come into being like mice and earthworms appearing out of the soil—as Diogenes the Cynic accused the haughty people of Athens who did not want to owe their origin to any other place or nation—but in a far ...

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Chapter 7. The Climate of Japan and Its Mineral Resources

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pp. 55-63

This country boasts of a healthy climate. The wind, however, is very strong and always cold and carries a lot of snow in winter, but in the dog days it is unbearably hot. Throughout the year the heavens are generous in their supply of water, especially during the months of June and July, which they therefore call satsuki,1 meaning “water months.” But the rain falls neither so continuously nor at such exact times as to permit comparison ...

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Chapter 8. The Fertility of Plants in This Country

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pp. 64-69

Because of its gentle climate and the inhabitants’ unremitting industry, the country produces many wild and fertile plants. In earlier times bare necessity taught them how to use these without differentiation simply as food to sustain the necessities of life; but later their genius inspired them to use them also for pleasure and decoration. In this chapter I would like to discuss the most useful and most common plants; to those interested in ...

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Chapter 9. The Country’s Abundance of Quadrupeds, Birds, Crawling and Flying Insects

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pp. 70-76

Among the native animals are a number of chimera introduced from China which exist only in the minds and writings of the Japanese, but not in nature. We will discuss and deal with them first. Kirin, people say, is a fast-moving, winged quadruped, with soft, backward-pointing horns attached to the chest. Its body is that of a horse, its feet and claws those ...

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Chapter 10. Fish and Shellfish

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pp. 77-84

With the exception of rice, the water provides as much, or much more, for the sustenance of the Japanese as the land: the sea abounds with seaweed, fish, and shellfish. Among them there is nothing, or very little, that in ancient times poverty did not cause them to turn into food, and in later times, cultural development did not induce them to exploit as a delicacy and luxury item. Fish and shellfish are known in Japan as gyo kai, or, in more ...

Book 2

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Chapter 1. Names of the Gods, Divine Humans, and Emperors Who Are Named in the Japanese Chronicles As the First Rulers of This Empire

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pp. 87

... As the title explains, this chapter deals with Japan’s early rulers listed in Japanese chronicles. Kaempfer relied here in particular on Shin daiki, which makes up chapters 1 and 2 of Nihon shoki. He himself points out that much of this information had already been discussed in chapter 7 of the first book, concerning the origins of the Japanese. Added to this is a discussion of early Chinese emperors who—as Kaempfer explained—had been added in the Japanese chronologies to fill a gap. ...

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Chapter 2. General Information about the Spiritual and True Hereditary Emperors of This Empire and the Periodization of Their Succession

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pp. 88-96

The third and latest period of their Ō dai shin ō , or spiritual hereditary emperors of human birth, begins with the year 600 before the birth of Christ, in the seventeenth year of the Chinese emperor Kei ō (in Chinese, Hui Wang) from the above-mentioned family of Chou. There are 114 Japanese emperors,1 who, until the present year of A.D. 1693, have succeeded in an unbroken line. They consider themselves descendants of the firstborn ...

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Chapter 3. The Spiritual Hereditary Emperors, and Especially and First of All Those Who Have Ruled the Japanese Empire from the Beginning of the Monarchy until the Birth of Christ

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pp. 97

... In this chapter Kaempfer discusses the Japanese emperors from the first emperor, Jimmu, believed to have ruled 660–585 B.C., to the eleventh emperor, Suinin, believed to have ruled 29 B.C. to A.D. 70. Here, as in the next chapter, Kaempfer’s information is based on two seventeenth-century chronologies. The copies he used were acquired after his death by Sir Hans Sloane and are preserved in the British Library. Both works have notes in his hand, documenting his efforts to transcribe Japanese names and work out equivalent ...

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Chapter 4. The Spiritual Hereditary Emperors Who Lived between the Birth of Christ and the Birth of Yoritomo, the First Secular Ruler, and Ruled with Unlimited Authority

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pp. 98

... In this chapter, as in the previous one, Kaempfer relies on Dai Nihon ō daiki and Wakan nenpyō roku. Entries are generally short and focus mostly on the change of period names (nengō ) and extraordinary events, such as comets, floods, and famines. However, when he comes to the last entry in this chapter, that of Emperor Konoe (reigned 1141–1155), Kaempfer discusses at some length the birth and establishment of political power by the first Kamakura shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo (1147–1199), and the consequences for ...

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Chapter 5. The Spiritual Hereditary Emperors Who Lived after the Birth of Yoritomo to the Present Day

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pp. 99

... In addition to Dai Nihon ō daiki and Wakan nenpyō roku, consulted for the previous two chapters, Kaempfer here made use of a third chronological table. This work, Nengōhyō , contains a list of era names, names of emperors, and horoscope information covering the years 1160–1688.1 Again, Kaempfer’s notes in his copy of this work demonstrate his efforts at transcribing Japanese names and dates. When Kaempfer came to the split in the imperial line into the “Southern” and “Northern” dynasties ...

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Chapter 6. The Military Commanders and Secular Rulers from Yoritomo to the Present Ruler Tsunayoshi

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pp. 100

This is a brief chapter consisting of a listing of Japan’s military rulers since the first Kamakura shogun, Yoritomo. Most of them are given no more than a line, stating their relationship to their predecessor and the length of their government. As with the listings of rulers in the previous chapters, there are a number of errors. Since this information is now available in more reliable form, it has been omitted. ...

Book 3

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Chapter 1. Concerning the Religions of This Empire and Especially That of Shinto

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pp. 103-105

As among all other Asian nations and pagans, in this country also freedom of worship has always been permitted, as long as it does not obstruct secular government. Therefore in addition to the local religion, which originated in this country, a number of other religions have vied to establish themselves. In this century there have been four religions, which at different times have had a roughly equal number of followers. These are: ...

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Chapter 2. The Temples, Beliefs, and Worship of the Shinto Sect

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pp. 106-110

The shinshū call the temples of their gods miya, which means as much as “houses of remembrance,” or the fana1 of the Romans. They also use the words yashiro and sha, or jinja, which, however, properly speaking means the whole surroundings of the miya with all its appendages. They call their gods shin and kami, which, properly speaking means as much as a soul or spirit. To show greater reverence, they add the words myōshin, ...

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Chapter 3. Shinto Reibi, That Is to Say, Lucky and Sacred Days and Their Celebration

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pp. 111-116

The celebration of sacred days consists of mairu, that is to say, visiting the miya and temples of the gods and the dead. This can be done on any day but must take place on the so-called lucky, that is, temple, days and holy days, unless this is prevented by the above-mentioned pollution, which the gods detest. Punctilious worshippers add to this pollution further events that carry even a hint of misfortune or those that make people sad. ...

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Chapter 4. The Sangū , or Pilgrimage to Ise

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pp. 117-121

A variety of pilgrimages are conducted by this nation. The first, and most important, is to Ise; the second, a visit to the thirty-three most important Kannon temples of this empire; the third is made to some of the most important shin (kami) or hotoke (butsu) temples throughout the country which have performed miracles and given help to their worshippers. The most famous of these are: Nikkō dera, which means “sunlight temple,” in the ...

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Chapter 5. Yamabushi, or Mountain Priests, and Other Religions

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pp. 122-126

In this religion vows are made to pass quickly and without hindrance into the other world, or to attain a place of particular eminence in the heavenly plains, but also simply to resolve a special matter of concern to one’s satisfaction. The former is done by entering an order of hermits, whose religious are called yamabushi; the latter is achieved by a vow to the gods to perform some act of penance of one’s own choosing and visit certain temples ...

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Chapter 6. Butsu dō, or Foreign Paganism, and in General about Its Founder

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pp. 127-131

Butsu or hotoke is the pronunciation of the character used to designate a foreign god (which is totally different from kami or shin), and butsu dō means literally “the Way of the Idol,” that is to say, the worship of the idol. The origin of this religion can be traced back to the Indian Brahmins. Like the oriental fig tree, it continually dropped new roots from its widespread branches and propagated itself until it had reached and pervaded the ...

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Chapter 7. , the Teaching or the Ways of the Moralists or Philosophers

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pp. 132-134

Judō literally means the way or method of wise men. Judōsha, or judōshū in the plural, are their philosophers. They do not actually practice a religion but seek perfection and the greatest good in the contentment of the mind resulting from a virtuous and unblemished life and conduct. They believe in only secular punishment and reward, the consequence of virtue and vice. Thus one ought by necessity practice virtue as nature has given ...

Book 4

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Chapter 1. The Situation of the City of Nagasaki

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pp. 137-147

The gokasho, the five most important ports and commercial cities of this empire, are part of the shogunal domains. They consist of Miyako in the province of Yamashiro, Edo in Musashi, Osaka in Settsu, Sakai in Izumi, and Nagasaki in Hizen. Four of them are situated on the large island of Nippon, enjoy fertile soil, domestic maritime commerce, and local manufacture and are blessed with some rich citizens. Moreover, the crowds of aristocratic ...

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Chapter 2. The Government of Nagasaki

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pp. 148-157

All shogunal cities have two governors or magistrates each, addressed by their subjects by the more common name of tono sama, “highest lord” or “prince,” who annually take it in turn to administer the city while the other resides at Edo, the residence of the ruler. This city, however, was given a third magistrate in 1688 as a precautionary measure, considered necessary to permit closer attention to the arrival of foreigners and to ensure the ...

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Chapter 3. The Government of Individual Streets and Their Inhabitants, as well as the Administration of the Surrounding Districts and Farmers by a Shogunal Official

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pp. 158-167

Here follows a description of the particular administration of each street. This has been organized to curb the liberties of the citizens to an extraordinary degree, greatly facilitating the duties of the government’s administrators. The following officials are employed by each street. ...

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Chapter 4. The Temples of the City and the Activities and the Administration of the Clergy

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pp. 168-178

To complete our description of the city, we still have to discuss the temples and their clergy. They belong to different religions and sects and therefore submit to different chief superiors, who are located and hold their religious council in Miyako,1 the city of sanctity and prayer. The clergy, monasteries, and temple wardens of each sect are governed by their own subordinate heads, superiors, and priors of their order. Although there are various

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Chapter 5. The Arrival, Reception, and Extermination of the Portuguese and Spaniards

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pp. 179-186

The Portuguese were the first Europeans courageous enough to venture into the Indian Ocean. In 1497 they sailed with four ships and landed at Calicut to befriend the zamorin, the ruler of these coastal lands. With the annexation of Goa in 1510 they gained their first firm foothold in Asia, and continuing the subjugation of the helpless Indians, they extended their trade through the whole of the East to the furthest and great empire of ...

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Chapter 6. The Situation of the Dutch

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pp. 187-200

At the beginning of the present seventeenth century, very soon after their ships began to travel to Asia and the establishment of their East India Company, the Dutch, enticed by the fertile trade of the Portuguese, began making annual visits to this, the furthest empire of the world. They arrived at the city and island of Hirado and set up their warehouse and living quarters on a spit of land linked to the city by a bridge. Their admission to ...

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Chapter 7. The Dutch Trade in This Country: Firstly, the Guilds Employed for This Purpose

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pp. 201-206

The guild of the tsūji, or interpreters, mentioned in the previous chapter, by whose crooked and false mouth our substantial trade must be pursued and annually be conducted, is made up of an excessive number of people: 150 when complete. I will discuss this fraternity in detail, despite its unworthiness, so that it may, at the same time, serve as an example and shed light on the organization of all other guilds and the exact structure ...

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Chapter 8. The Dutch Trade: Details of the Procedure

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pp. 207-223

The annual procedure of the trade is as follows: As soon as the watch has confirmed the arrival of a Dutch ship, which one expects in September at the end of the season of favorable southwesterlies, three people from the post, together with the usual entourage, are sent to meet the vessel roughly two miles outside the harbor. The party carries sealed instructions from the Dutch resident to the captain on how to behave on arrival according ...

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Chapter 9. The Treatment and Trade of the Chinese

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pp. 224-228

Since ancient times the Chinese have traded the goods of their provinces, especially raw silk (Greek and Latin speakers therefore gave them the name of Seres1) in oriental islands and kingdoms, mainly east of Sumatra and Malacca, and in their last war with the Tartars2 they settled there in great numbers (to escape the obligatory shaving of the head). They have also always taken their goods to Japan, but only sparingly and in small ...

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Chapter 10. Some Posters, Passes, and Letters That Have Been Mentioned Above

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pp. 229-236

Kaempfer listed the title of this chapter in the index for book 4, but did not compose the text. His notes, however, contain a body of material that roughly corresponds to this title, and the first translator, J. G. Scheuchzer, transcribed and translated what he could read. The editor of the German version, Christian Wilhelm Dohm, translated Scheuchzer’s English text into German.1 The material consists of notes and documents in Japanese, Dutch, German, and Latin and appears to ...

Book 5

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Chapter 1. Preparations for Our Journey to Court and a Description of the Local Way of Traveling

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pp. 239-246

Since the time of the shogun Yoritomo, the founder of the present form of government,1 it has been the custom that not only the stewards of the shogunal domains and cities but all daimyo and shomyō , that is, all greater and lesser territorial lords, appear annually at the shogun’s court. They pay homage by offering their respects and presenting gifts; while the greatest of them—one could call them princes or petty kings—call on the ...

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Chapter 2. A General Description of the Condition and Location of the Route by Water and on Land from Nagasaki to the Residence at Edo

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pp. 247-254

Traditionally Japan has been divided into seven districts, and each is crossed by a trunk road or highway, depending on the location. Because all bordering provinces have built special roads to link up with these highways, like small streams running into a big river, one can travel throughout the country on these roads and reach every locality. The highways carry the name of the area, but more about this elsewhere. ...

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Chapter 3. A General Description of Civil and Religious Buildings and Also of Other Structures That We Saw along Public Routes

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pp. 253-261

On our journey by sea we observed the ships, while traveling on land we saw secular and religious structures close to the road, such as castles, cities, towns, villages, post stations and inns, places of public proclamations and execution grounds, temples, monasteries, roadside gods, and other heathen places of worship. We would like to discuss these in this chapter, and what does not fit in here will be dealt with in the subsequent chapters. ...

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Chapter 4. A Description of Post Stations, Inns, Roadside Food and Tea Stalls

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pp. 262-270

The most important towns and villages along our highway all have a station, operating under the territorial lord, where one can always obtain at a fixed price many horses, porters, runners, and whatever else may be necessary for the journey. Incoming and tired horses and men, or those who have been hired only up to this point, can be replaced here. All necessities are available, and the inns are comfortable at these places of exchange or post ...

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Chapter 5. The Crowds of People Traveling This Highway Daily and Gaining Their Livelihood Therefrom

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pp. 271-279

An incredible number of people daily use the highways of Japan’s provinces, indeed, at certain times of the year they are as crowded as the streets of a populous European city. I have personally witnessed this on the Tōkaidō , described earlier, apparently the most important of the seven highways, having traveled this road four times. The reason for these crowds is partly the large population of the various provinces and partly that the ...

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Chapter 6. Our Journey, That Is to Say, the Journey of the Dutch, to the Shogunal Court and the Treatment We Receive

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pp. 280-287

Just as the shogun gives every prince and vassal in the empire a day on which he has to set out and begin his annual journey to court, so the Dutch, too, are assigned a day for their departure. That is the fifteenth or sixteenth day of the Japanese first month, which corresponds to February in our calendar. When it comes to that time of the year, we begin preparations for our departure. We first load the vessels with the gifts that we present ...

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Chapter 7. Overland Journey from Nagasaki to Kokura, Begun on February 13, 1691, Consisting of 51-1/2 Japanese Miles

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pp. 288-289

On February 10th the resident director, Mr. von B

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Chapter 8. Voyage from Kokura to Osaka, Begun on February 17, 1691, Amounting to 140 or 150 Miles

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pp. 300-310

After we spent one and a half hours at the inn refreshing and repleting ourselves with Japanese food, we again left Kokura under the escort of the two above-mentioned nobles from the local court, who marched at the head of our procession. We arrived at the shore and came to two chabune,1 or small freight vessels, to take us across to Shimonoseki. We discovered that both the large bridge and the wide square in front of our inn were filled

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Chapter 9. Journey of Thirteen Miles from Osaka to Miyako, Begun on February 28th and Completed on the 29th, as well as a Description of Both Cities

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pp. 311-325

Osaka is one of the shogunal capital cities1 and is situated in the province of Settsu, at a latitude of 34.50 degrees North.2 It has neither ramparts nor walls and is happily located in a fertile plain and on a navigable river. In the east the city is girdled by a massive fortress, in the west by two imposing guardhouses, which separate the city from the nearby suburbs. The city extends from east to west—that is, from the above-mentioned ...

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Chapter 10. The Journey from Miyako to Hamamatsu of Sixty-three Japanese Miles, Being Half the Journey to Edo, Begun on March 2nd

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pp. 325-335

On Friday, March 2nd, we left Miyako again, carried in our kago. After nearly an hour we were led to an inn at a place called Awataguchi at the end of the streets of the suburbs. Here we were bade farewell by our innkeeper with sake and sakana (cold snacks), and after an hour’s stay we paid him for this one koban, half that amount for his son, and a bu for his wife. Traveling along a narrow mountain road, we soon reached the long villages ...

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Chapter 11. Continuation of Our Journey from Hamamatsu Sixty Japanese Miles and Thirty-eight Streets to the Shogunal Capital of Edo

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pp. 336-350

On March 8th, Thursday, we set out later than usual owing to the weak condition of the senior interpreter and after two miles reached the rapid Tenryū River. This time the river was divided into two streams, and its banks were quarter of an hour apart. The first stream we crossed on horseback, the second in prauen.1 Then we mounted our horses again and traveled as before through many villages, which are noted on my map, as well ...

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Chapter 12. Description of the City and the Castle of Edo, Some Events That Took Place There, Our Audience and Departure

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pp. 351-368

Edo ranks highest among the shogun’s free merchant cities, is the residence of the shogun, and because of the grand court and presence of all the noble families of the country, is the largest and most important city of Japan. It is situated in a large, boundless plain in the province of Musashi at a northern latitude of 35°32´ (according to my measurements)1 and is connected to a long bay, rich in fish and shellfish, which is bordered

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Chapter 13. Return from Edo

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pp. 369-397

On April 5th early in the morning at eight o’clock we finally left this very large and populous city after traveling for two hours. The city’s last three crossroads and the last river ran toward the sea, roughly four hundred paces away. Noteworthy in this city is the famous bridge Nihonbashi, which means Japanese bridge, forty-two mats long. In the countryside the farmers were hoeing the rice fields up to their knees in mud and water. ...

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Chapter 14. The Second Journey to the Shogun’s Court

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pp. 398-416

On March 2nd, 1692, we left the island of Deshima early in the morning at eight o’clock. We were accompanied by the yoriki Sasamori Hanzō, the dōshin Shimada Sukeemon, as well as two city messengers of Nagasaki, the most senior interpreter Shōdayū, and the junior interpreter. We rode up to the eastern edge of the city to Sakurababa, where we drank to our departure with our interpreters and friends in the Tenjin temple,1 which is ...

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Chapter 15. Second Return Journey from Edo to Nagasaki

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pp. 417-438

At an hour’s distance from there, immediately after the execution ground, lies a fishing village known as Suzu no mori, where shells are harvested and the shore is full of them. At the very beginning of this village on the right is a Hachiman temple, and in the middle of the temple the stone Suzu no ishi, a smooth black boulder, is kept on a little bamboo stand, just over knee high. Under the ceiling an ax or sword and various horses1 were ...

Appendix 1. List of Persons

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pp. 439-444

Appendix 2. Money and Measurements

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pp. 445-448

Notes Translator’s Introduction

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pp. 449-508

Glossary of Japanese Terms

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pp. 509-524


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pp. 525-532


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pp. 533-545

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863227
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824819644

Publication Year: 1999