The 5th Japanese History and Japanese Language joint workshop, “’Dutch Studies’ in the Edo Period: A Famous Autopsy” was held on November 9th in iCLA’s Lecture Theatre and online on ZOOM. Led by Japan Studies’ Dr. Jürgen Melzer and Japanese Language Program’s Jun Imaki-sensei, the workshops look into the background of famous events and texts in the history of Japan, and then let students engage in translating original texts from Japanese to English. Past workshops in the joint Japanese History and Japanese Language series featured poems by the Meiji Emperor, female activists of the Taisho Era, and an exploration into Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor.
The theme of the 5th joint workshop was Sugita Genpaku, a Japanese physician and scholar of the Edo Period. Genpaku was famous for adopting Dutch medical teachings and revolutionizing Japan’s study of human anatomy. He is well known for his translation of the Dutch book on anatomy, Ontleedkundige Tafelen (1734) into Japanese, titled Kaitai Shinsho (1774).
Eighteen iCLA students and alumni joined the event, online and in person. At the start of the event, Dr. Jürgen Melzer gave a lecture on Sugita Genpaku and the background of the historical text. Afterward, students engaged in an exercise with Jun Imaki-sensei to translate Genpaku’s impressions on Western anatomical studies from Japanese to English. The workshop concluded with a discussion period.
Comments from participants of the workshop:
“The joint history and Japanese language workshop was truly a glimpse of what a liberal arts education at iCLA offers. The historical background of Sugita Genpaku’s extraordinary memoir of his observation of arguably Japan’s first official autopsy given by Melzer sensei sparked the curiosity of the crowd about the text and it made them aware of the importance of the text. Sugita Genpaku’s findings brought about a paradigm shift in the Japanese intellectual world, not just in the medical world. Sugita Genpaku is a representation of critical thinking, intellectual growth and the ability to accept diverse perspectives and ideas. The translation exercise in a classroom full of people with varying abilities was an exciting learning experience. It was fun to see everyone looking up concepts and words as they try to get into the mind of an old man at the precipice of intellectual revolution with whatever knowledge of Japanese and English they have.”Workshop Participant
“As I have never read any primary sources about Japanese scholars’ views on foreign materials – let alone during the Edo period where many exciting discoveries were made from Dutch Studies – the provided excerpt of Sugita Genpaku’s impressions on Western anatomical studies was especially intriguing. As Professor Melzer said, it was both fascinating to read Genpaku-san’s reaction to this new information as well as to see how he and other scholars treated this new information at first. The images provided to compare the diagrams in the Dutch anatomical book and the traditional Chinese diagrams were also surprising, since both showed a very different representation of the human body. Aside from the content, the Edo period Japanese that Genpaku-san wrote in was hard to read. Not only were the European and Chinese anatomical studies quite different, but the Japanese used in that period was definitely distinct from current Japanese. Overall, I enjoyed the challenge to read Edo period Japanese while also learning about the exciting discoveries made by Genpaku-san about human anatomy. Even though he didn’t know a word of Dutch, he still decided to translate all of the anatomical volumes into Japanese. It really inspires me to continue learning.”Workshop Participant