Engelbert Kaempfer

There was a German who had traveled through the world in the 17th century by being stimulated by a kind of "disease "what was called curiosity. His name was Engelbert Kaempfer. He may be one of the worldwide greatest travelers in the latter half of the century. He not only stayed at the parts of the world during the long term but also made volumes of accurate records and descriptions by minute observing languages, religions, natures, political and economic systems and customs of the peoples there and etc.

When Kaempfer was young, he studied history, language, geography, natural history and in addition philosophy at the several universities in Germany.

In 1681 at the age of 30 he moved to Uppsala University, one of the oldest universities in Europe from Konigsberg University (Kaliningrad) where Kanto had taught all his life.

When he was studying at the university, he joined a commercial delegation sent to Persia by the Swedish Government. He was presented to Peter the Great, who was a boy then in Moscow on the way to Persia.

After he finished his assignment in Persia, he could be free to return to Germany. However his native country had been devastated at the aftermath of long-term wars, so he did not think that he could live a peaceful life. He worked for the East Indian Company at a port town along the Strait of Hormuz.

He arrived in Jakarta, Java by sea with doctor's license. He had investigated at the first hand in the tropics by then. Before he came to Japan, he also investigated the animals, plants and customs of Siam(Burma) during a few months' stay there.

In 1690 he reached Japan at the age of 39, nine years after leaving Germany. After he stayed for two years and more he left Nagasaki for Holland via Jakarta in 1694.

Kaempfer continued Area Study for thirteen years. Area Study has a rapid progress after World Warbut he had started it 300 years ago. He respected the civilization and culture of each country not appreciating another civilization from a fixed concept but by comparing one civilization with another. It was a method on the basis of comparative literature and comparative culture. He lived in an age which unrest and turmoil had spread in the spiritual world of Europe.

In" the History of Japan" he wrote about Japanese history, religion, language, financial system, letters and arts and crafts and etc. He made a trip to Edo(Tokyo) twice and in his diary he minutely described things which he had been interested in during his journey.

A party of the Dutch factory in Nagasaki consisted of the chief, a secretary and a doctor was followed by scores of samurais. They went to Kokura by land, where they landed Osaka, sailing across the Inland Sea of Seto by sea and arrived in Edo via Kyoto. He found that not only buildings and engineering works but also toilets were a kind of civilization. People of high rank traveled along the street, where had been swept clearly before. Before the noble reached their destination they made piles of small stones along the street in case it rained. They made a kind o f temporary toilets along the road every 8 kilometers to 12. Road supervisors did not have to sweep the roads, because peasants picked up the droppings of horses and cattle. They gathered the fallen leaves of trees and used them instead of kindling wood.

The party of the Dutch factory stayed at the same official appointed inn as for then daimyo (feudal lord).

Kaempfer found partition walls of Japanese houses were not so thick as the Western. He saw small houses in which they were making articles and retail stores lining up along the streets. Indigo blue shop curtains were hung under the eaves of those shops and the clerks and apprentices wore aprons on which were the name of the shops were dyed. He was greatly impressed with the unique scene. Though Japanese women were not tall, they were more physically well -proportioned than those in other countries in Asia. Local people stared at the Kaempfer's party everywhere while they were traveling, however, residents in Edo did not pay attention to the party.

At Yoshiwara(post town of Shizuoka) Japanese children tried several performances of somersault and tumble in front of the Dutch party, when they threw some money to them for the performance.

Kaempfer's party arrived in Edo, and they were presented to Iyetsuna, the fifth syogunate. After that they were invited to a large hall and were requested to dance, sing and even give fancy performance according to the wish of Iyetsuna, his wife and maid-servants of inner palace. They felt a kind of contempt for such a queer performance.

As Kaempfer had been in Japan for two and more years, he viewed the matter very relatively and did not consider Germany and Europe as the center of the world anymore.

In his essay of "Isolationism" he said, "Each nation has to help each other internationally. Japanese people have history, products and language of their own. Japanese people achieved culture that the Western people envied for them, so they have lived a happy life within their country."

His essay on Japan had much influence on historians and writers in Europe and America. He provided the first systematic account of the early European contact with Japan. His manuscript History of Japan, published in 1727 remained the chief popular source of European knowledge regarding that country for a century and was extensively used by the French Jesuit, Pierre Franceis Xavier de Charlevoix.

Engelbert Kaempfer is one of unforgettable people to Japan.