W. Michel: On the Dutch-style Medical License of Hirata Chôdayû and its Background. In: Source Materials and Personalities III. Nakatsu Municipal Museum for History and Folklore, Medical Archive Series No 10, Nakatsu City, March 2011, 1-38pp.  [in Japanese]

ABSTRACT: On the Dutch-style Medical License of Hirata Chôdayû and its Background

After the birth of the so-called ‘redhead-style of external medicine’ (kômôryû geka) during the 1650s, a growing interest among Japanese physicians and feudal lords in Western drugs, herbs, instruments and treatment methods can be observed. As Western texts and terminology had not yet become accessible even to Japanese interpreters, the instructions and demonstrations given in the Dutch trading post at 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 Gentô, 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, but only a few have survived. Based on extensive investigations of Dutch and Japanese source materials, twelve licenses have been identified.

Year Physician Source
1658 Hatano Gentô diary of the Dejima trading post
1665 Handa (Arashiyama) Hoan preserved original license
1665 Asaeda Kibyôe description of the license in Japanese primary sources
1666 Hirata Chôdayû Japanese manuscript copy (1717)
1667 “physician of the lord of Chikugo” diary of the Dejima trading post


Seo Shôtaku preserved original license
1668 Nishi Kichibyôe (Genpo) photograph of the original license from 1914
1668 Ôtaguro Gentan preserved original license
1673 “physician of the lord of Chikugo” diary of the Dejima trading post
1674 “physician of the lord of Chikugo” diary of the Dejima trading post
1675 Etô Kôan Japanese manuscript copy (Edo period, in part only)
1685 Hara Sanshin preserved original license


These licenses, as well as newly found additional materials, provide valuable information about the circumstances under which medical instructions were imparted, as well as their contents.

The most prominent among a number of new discoveries is a complete, handwritten copy of a license granted to Hirata Chôdayû in 1666 by the surgeons Arnold Dirckz. and Cornelis de Laver and confirmed by the vice-chief of the trading post on Dejima, Nicolaes de Roij, and his assistant Louis Rondel. The copy was made in 1717 by Chôdayû’s son Hirata Dôba, a physician of Lord Ogasawara in Nakatsu, and handed over to his former disciple, Karashima Shôan. During that same year, the domain was handed over to Lord Okudaira.

Formal pledges to the Nagasaki Commissioner (Nagasaki bugyô), genealogies and entries in diaries show a close interaction between feudal lords and physicians in order to absorb and spread Western external medicine during these early decades. Obviously, Western medicine entered Japan from the top of the social pyramid.

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. This was the most high-ranking acknowledgement of the new “Dutch-style” medicine. Gradually, the interest in licenses from Dutch trading post surgeons faded away while physicians in all regions of the archipelago started to grant certificates to qualified disciples in their own right.


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