Doctor of the Dutch East India Company (or “V.O.C.”)

  • In 1822, the German doctor and naturalist, Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), began working in the service of the Dutch East India Company (also known as the V.O.C.). In 1823, he was appointed doctor to the trading post of Dejima, a small island in the Nagasaki bay, which was tolerated under strict control, as the only western enclave in Japan throughout the period of Sakoku (“closed” country) from 1639 to 1854.

A European scholar in Japan

  • When Siebold arrived in the 19th century, restrictions were loosening slightly. The German scholar, who pretended to be Dutch, was also the first foreigner allowed to teach western medecine and pharmacology to a small group of students selected by the shogunate authorities. At the same time, he fervently undertook a study of Japanese culture and traditions. In 1826, he followed the director-general of the Dejima trading post on his official trip to the capital city Edo (modern-day Tokyo). This trip enabled him to meet many Japanese scholars and to enrich his extensive collection of plants which, with 12, 000 specimens, was to become the largest collection of Japanese plants in the world. During this trip he stayed at the port of Murotsu.
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  • A Chinese, a Japanese and a European scholar discussing the findings of their scientific research (late 18th century painting by Shiba Kokan)
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  • The European watching the arrival of a Dutch ship into Nagasaki bay through a telescope may well be the German scholar Philipp Franz von Siebold, in the company of his Japanese wife O'Taki and their daughter O'Ine (early 19th century painting by Kawahara Keiga)