W. Michel / Y. Sugitatsu: Ōtaguro Gentan no Oranda-geka menkyojō to sono haikei nitsuite [The Surgical License of Ôtaguro Gentan and its Background]. Journal of the Japan Society of Medical History, Vol.49, No.3, 2003, pp.455-477.

The Surgical License of Ōtaguro Gentan and Its Background


After the birth of redhead-style surgery (kōmōryū-geka) during the 1650s a growing interest of Japanese physicians and feudal lords in Western drugs, herbs, instruments and treatment methods can be observed. As texts and their terminology were not accessible yet even to Japanese interpreters, the instructions given in the VOC trading post Dejima played a key role in conveying European knowledge to Japan. For about three decades certificates issued by the surgeons of the Dutch East India Company turned out to be useful when pursuing a career as a ‘redhead-style physician’. This social breakthrough goes back to 1657, when Hatano Gentō who was leaving for Edo, asked for a certificate to prove that he had been educated by a Dutch surgeon. Especially during the latter half of the 1660s several such certificates were issued. Then in 1673, the central government appointed Nishi Genpo, a veteran interpreter who had received an extraordinarily detailed and euphemistic surgical certificate in 1668, as Portuguese interpreter and Western-style surgeon at the court in Edo. By this time, doctors in all regions had set up their own ‘redhead-style’ schools, and granted certificates to qualified pupils in their own right.

Although the instructions at Dejima never reached the intensity and the range of an education in European guilds the ‘diploma’ were accepted throughout Japan.

Five of them have survived the ravages of time. With the exception of Nishi’s extensive certificate they consist of a short Dutch text signed by the company surgeon together with a more or less lengthy Japanese explanation composed and signed by half a dozen high-ranking Japanese interpreters. Four of the five beneficiaries whose names are given in these certificates are well known. An investigation in Northern Kyushu and Shikoku brought to light historical records that clarify the hitherto unknown identity of the fifth one, Ôtaguro Gentan.

Gentan was the second son of taguro Shōzaemon, a village headman in the province of Chikugo. With no prospects to succeed his father he went to serve in the residence of Kuze Hiroyuki in Edo. As a remark in the Dejima diary of 1667 shows, this powerful imperial councillor suggested an education in Western surgery at the trading post in Nagasaki. The instructions given by Arnold Dircksz. ended in October 1668 when Dircksz issued a certificate. Especially the Japanese appendix of this certificate resembles the one appended to the certificate given to Seo Shōtaku by Dircksz. in spring of the same year.

After his ‘graduation’ taguro went to Edo again where he was employed by Hachisuga Tsunamichi (1656-1678), the young ruler of Awa. Then or afterwards taguro changed his name to Mizogami, and for generations the sons of the Mizogami-family served as physicians to the Hachisugas until the 19th century. Gentan, the founder of this tradition was treated with great generosity by Tsunamichi and his successor Tsunanori (1661-1730), proving the high esteem he enjoyed. In 1694 he was even granted to use Tsunanori’s personal ship (sekibune) to travel to Nagasaki for further medical studies. But soon Gentan fell ill and after a brief visit to the village of his ancestors he died at the end of that same year.

The newly found sources do not only clarify the background of Ōtaguro Gentan and the issue of his certificate, they also open the door for a new investigation of the history of Western medicine in the domain of Awa which is shown to have started already in the 17th century.


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