In July 1669 Heinrich (Henry) Oldenburg, secretary of the "Royal Society of London For The Promotion Of Natural Knowledge" put a short text into the "Philosophical Transactions". These observations, he explained, were made by an ingenious person and comunicated in French by Monsieur "I." After Japan's seclusion in 1641 Europe was lacking of actual information on that archipelago, thus only three years later a German translation appeared in Christoph Arnold's "Wahrhaftige Beschreibungen dreyer maechtigen Koenigreiche, Japan, Siam und Corea" (A Truly Description of the three Powerful Kingdoms of Japan, Siam and Corea). This study presents the long forgotten text, describes the background of its making, identifies the unknown Japan traveller and gives a short account of his activities in the East Indies.
Among Oldenburg's correspondence we find some letters exchanged with Henri Justel, a well known French scholar, who in May 1668 draw Oldenburg's interest on an anonymous traveller in the Netherlands. According to Justel that man had lived in Japan for 17 years, during which he witnessed a great fire in Edo that destroyed 60 000 houses and took 195000 human lives. He possessed some Japanese lacquer cabinets and other items of high value and had been even to China. In February 1669 after various attempts Justel finally managed to receive the answers to Oldenburg's questions by help of the renown Melchisedec Thévenot.
The diary of the Dutch factory in Japan names four Europeans who stayed in Edo during the catastrophic fire in 1657. As can be shown two of them participated in VOC missions to China: Zacharias Wagener and Ernst van Hogenhoek. But when Justel mentioned the unknown traveller for the first time, Wagener was still on his return voyage to the Netherlands where he died shortly after. Thus Oldenburg's "ingenious person" must have been Van Hogenhoek.
Van Hogenhoek, born in The Hage, came to Japan in 1654 as an "assistant" at the factory Deshima. While gradually being promoted to under-merchant and upper-merchant and even second in command at Deshima he managed to stay in Japan with only a few interruptions for an exceptionally long period of time. Finally in 1662 he was relieved from his post by order of the Batavian gouverneur general under suspicion of forbidden private trade. Nevertheless, when a Dutch mission under Konstantijn Nobel sailed to the Chinese port of Fuzhou in the follwing year Van Hogenhoek was aboard as "Schout-bij-nacht". And after Nobel's return to Batavia in March 1664 he took over responsibility for the complex negotiations with Chinese authorities, especially the powerful regional ruler Jingnan-wang. As it has been the case in previous attempts by Wagener and others during the fifties and early sixties, the Dutch East Indian Company failed again to establish permanent trade relations with China. In spring 1665 Van Hoegenhoek returned to Batavia and one year later he was on his way to Europe. For unknown reasons he did not settle down after so may years in the Far East. In 1675 we find him aboard a Danish ship on its way to Japan, where he wanted to establish trade relations with Danemark. But in december of that year he he died of a desease at Bantam. Considering the extraordinary value of the Japanese cabinets Van Hogenhoek brought to the Netherlands, there is a great probability that a pair of gold-lacquered cabinets nowadays kept by the Royal Collection , Huis ten Bosch, The Hague (showing among other things Dejima and a Dutch opperhoofd in a palaquin) once were in his possession.
Hogenhoek's observation on Japan are short and precise. In his remarks on health and medicine he points out that the Japanese have “caustics” made of the “powder of Artemisia or Mugwort”. While 16th and 17th century authors took the meridians of Chinese medicine as blood vessels Hogenhoek pointed out that the caustics are applied “upon some nerve”.