Practical Pursuits: Takano Chōei, Takahashi Keisaku, and Western Medicine in Nineteenth-Century Japan (review)
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Practical Pursuits: Takano Chôei, Takahashi Keisaku, and Western Medicine in Nineteenth-Century Japan. By Ellen Gardner Nakamura. Harvard University Asia Center, 2006. 275 pages. Hardcover $40.00/€36.90.

This excellent book about Rangaku and Western-style medicine in the late Tokugawa period brings new vitality to debates over the importance of Western influences in nineteenth-century Japan. Of the two physicians whose activities are discussed in greatest detail, Takano Chôei is the better known. In this book, however, he is upstaged by Takahashi Keisaku and the latter's medical colleagues, whose lives emerge in fascinating detail. Through an analysis of contemporaneous documents, Ellen Gardner Nakamura provides us with a glimpse of a rural society surprisingly well integrated into the national fabric of the time, an integration achieved, she argues, through the economic, intellectual, and social activities of its local elite.

The life spans of the two physicians—Takano Chôei (1804-1850) and Takahashi Keisaku (1799-1875)—frame the period under discussion in this book. These men and their associates belonged to the last generation to live almost entirely under Tokugawa rule. Takano Chôei's fame, as the author explains, is based on personal tragedy: his arrest by the bakufu during the 1839 purge of Rangaku scholars, his dramatic escape from prison, his years as a fugitive spent constantly on the run, and his eventual suicide to avoid capture in 1850. Nakamura focuses on an earlier, more optimistic period in Chôei's life, when as a young ranpô (Western-method) physician he was actively engaged in scholarly Rangaku circles in Edo. Chôei was a native of northeastern Japan, who as a young man went to Edo to study Western-style medicine with several eminent ranpô physicians. In 1825, he went to Nagasaki to study at Narutaki-juku, the medical school founded by the German doctor Philipp Franz von Siebold. Chôei was one of von Siebold's prize students, and he would become one of Japan's most prolific translators of Dutch medical texts. When von Siebold was arrested and deported for spying in 1829, Chôei returned to Edo, where he opened his own school, Daikandô, the following year. During the 1830s, he was an active member of an intellectual group in Edo known as the Shôshikai, which met to discuss important issues of the day, and which eventually invoked the wrath of the bakufu. The author shifts the focus to the activities of the bright, energetic young Chôei in order to demonstrate the various ways in which Western medical knowledge was already penetrating Japan's towns and villages in the early 1830s.

Also during this same period, several physicians who lived in villages near the town of Nakanojô in Kôzuke province developed a close relationship with Chôei. One of these men, Takahashi Keisaku, a well-to-do physician, farmer, and entrepreneur, had been a student at Chôei's school in Edo. Another physician, Fukuda Sôtei, who was studying Dutch in the 1830s, corresponded with Chôei to check on the accuracy of his translation of a Dutch medical text. Yet another physician, Yanagida Teizô, collaborated with Chôei in the writing of two treatises. The first of these treatises offered advice about how to avoid epidemic diseases; the second advised how to cultivate crops that would alleviate the severity of famine. In 1833, Chôei was invited to come to Kôzuke to give a series of lectures based on his book Seisetsu igen sûyô (Fundamentals of Western Medicine), which he had published the previous year. In fact, [End Page 572] those who invited him had put up the money for this publication, suggesting that the connections between them were not new. The audience for Chôei's lectures was made up of local physicians and pharmacists, and notes that were taken at the time have preserved the content of the lectures. The Kôzuke physicians remained Chôei's patrons, advancing considerable sums of money for his personal and scholarly projects. They may even have sheltered him from the authorities during his years as a fugitive.

Evidence of the connections...