Kaempfer’s Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed by Engelbert Kaempfer

By Engelbert Kaempfer

Engelbert Kaempfer's paintings used to be a best-seller from the instant it was once released in London in 1727 and continues to be essentially the most beneficial assets for historians of the Tokugawa interval. The narrative describes what no jap was once accredited to checklist (the info of the shogun's citadel, for instance) and what no jap notion invaluable of recording (the trivialities of daily life). besides the fact that, all past translations of the background oar mistaken, being in line with the paintings of an 18th century Swiss translator or that of the German editor a few fifty years later who had little wisdom of Japan and resented Kaempfer's compliment of the heathen state. Beatrice Bodart-Bailey's new translation of this vintage, which displays cautious research of Kaempfer's unique manuscript, reclaims the paintings for the trendy reader, putting it within the context of what's at present recognized approximately Tokugawa Japan and restoring the humour and freshness of Kaempfer's observations and impressions. In Kaempfer's Japan now we have, for the 1st time, and actual and punctiliously readable annotated translation of Kaempfer's vibrant account of pre-modern Japan.

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Example text

Not far from us a lord’s flotilla, consisting of forty vessels or pleasure boats, furnished with the usual pomp, cast anchor. Their shape is like that of the Strusen7 that travel from Moscow to Casan. This little fleet was a pretty sight at night with its many lights, and the following morning, when they left, with half white and half black sails, which were hoisted at the same time. 37 Book 1 24 September. After we had already drifted half the way with a gentle breeze this morning, we were towed further up to two hundred paces in front of the city and our residence by twenty Japanese lighters with oars, which fastened themselves to a rope suspended from the front of the ship.

It appears, therefore, as if nature has purposely separated this country from others to form its own little world and has fortified and provided it with all the necessities of life, so that it can support itself adequately without relying on other countries. Japanese Possessions Overseas Beyond those discussed, there are some far-distant lands that are not part of the Japanese realm but are protected by and take orders from Japan. They are (1) the islands of Ryu¯kyu¯ or Liqueo, subjects of the lord of Satsuma as their erstwhile conqueror, but not of the Japanese ruler; (2) Cho¯sen, or the third part of the peninsula of Korea situated at its extremity, which the shogun rules through the lord of Iki Tsushima;13 and (3) the island of Ezo, which he keeps subservient through the lord of Matsumae, part of the large province of O¯ shu¯.

I need to mention also at this point that, as soon as this country came into sight on our journey, on high order and according to an old custom, all persons aboard had to hand the captain their book of psalms and other religious books, as well as the European coins they carried. He packed these into an old barrel, each with the name attached, which was hidden from the Japanese in the ship until departure. This evening we received from the kitchen of the Dutch refreshments such as chicken, eggs, fish, radishes with leaves, beets, onions, fresh ginger, pumpkin, watermelon, white bread, and a small bottle of sake, or Japanese rice beer.

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