Kaempfers Lessons from Japan – Using Tokugawa Regulation for Educating Europe


  • Max Meulendijks




During the “Age of Discovery”, Europeans came into contact with a variety of different cultures from all over the globe. In Asia, they stumbled upon China and Japan, two welldeveloped countries, which were considered as civilized as those of Europe (Rietbergen, 2002, p. 64). The Dutch were the only European allowed into Japan, where from 1641 onwards, they were confined on the little artificial island of Deshima in the bay of Nagasaki (Rietbergen, 2003, p. 176). Here a company of approximately 20 men lived for a year or longer, under strict supervision of the guards, often without any proficiency in the Japanese language, with professional translators controlling all contacts of these foreigners with Japan (ibid, p. 181). Consequently, these Europeans had a monopoly on the representation of Japan. One of the most notable works on Japan of this era was The History of Japan by Engelbert Kaempfer. Although the work contains ‘Othering’, neither of Thompson’s definitions would be encompassing. In line with the European realisation that these cultures were equally civilized, I argue that Kaempfer’s work notes the differences between Japan and Europe to highlight the faults of Europe. Constrained by both time and space, this chapter mainly discusses Kaempfer’s writing on the regulation of Japan, more specifically, the regulation as it was imposed by the shoguns of the Tokugawa dynasty. That subject is chosen because Japan’s isolation and generally harsh laws, which were the result of Tokugawa rule, were of particular interest to his European readership (Michel, 2000, p. 111). Regulation here refers to the manner in which the Japanese government sought to exert control; it encompasses law-making, regulation of foreigners and the actions of the Japanese people under regulation. Thus, this chapter addresses the way in which Kaempfer used Tokugawa regulation as a lens for describing the Other, and how this Other was used to express Kaempfer’s personal beliefs.


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