Manuscript copy on paper of the banned Oranda banashi [Tales of Holland]. Rishun GOTO, or Mitsuo.
Manuscript copy on paper of the banned Oranda banashi [Tales of Holland].
Manuscript copy on paper of the banned Oranda banashi [Tales of Holland].

Manuscript Copy of a Banned “Pioneer Work”

Manuscript copy on paper of the banned Oranda banashi [Tales of Holland].

Two full-page ink drawings & three pages depicting the Roman alphabet. 14; 17 folding leaves. Two parts in one vol. 8vo (220 x 148 mm.), cont. blue wrappers (a bit worn), manuscript title-label on upper wrapper, new stitching. [Japan: from lower paste-down, in trans.]: “copied in 1803.”

A most interesting manuscript copy of the suppressed Oranda banashi (1765) by botanist and early rangaku scholar Rishun Goto (1696-1771). It is the first printed book to clearly convey the Roman alphabet and its orthography to Japan. Of the original printing, we can find only a single copy — from Charles Ralph Boxer’s collection — at Indiana University among North American collections.

“With the growth of Dutch studies…Western writing became a matter of great interest to Japanese intellectuals. The pioneer work was the Tales of Holland (1765) by Goto Rishun, in which the alphabet was given in normal print, script and in Gothic letters, together with a brief description.”–Donald Keene, The Japanese Discovery of Europe (1952), p. 90.

This work, based on Goto’s interviews with Dutch traders in Nagasaki, was forbidden because it reproduced the Roman alphabet and contained numerous details on Western geography, customs, languages, scientific and medical knowledge, etc., subjects forbidden to discuss or put in print in Japan. Goto devotes a number of passages to Dutch glass-making and lens-crafting. The especially extensive section on Dutch medical and pharmacological treatments provides instructions on the preparation and application of surgical unguents and ointments, herbal medicines, wine, antidotes for poisons, mermaid bones (the flesh and bones of “mermaids” — ningyo — described here, were reputed by the Dutch to make marvelous medicines), cow’s milk, minerals, saffron, etc., etc. The Japanese government strictly controlled dissemination of this type of foreign information during its centuries-long policy of isolationism.

Also described is mumia or miira, which the Dutch also imported to Japan as a balm. Allegedly made from mummies, mumia was supposed to have great healing powers. Here, Goto details the process of mummification in ancient Egypt and the uses of balms derived from mummies in pharmacology. He compares mumia with other Chinese and Japanese medicines.

While the printed work has three illustrations, the present manuscript has two, depicting a Dutch man and a woman. Although the double-page illustration of the erekiteru, a Dutch electromagnetic device, is not present, it is thoroughly described in our manuscript. Oranda banashi was the first work printed in Japan to discuss electricity.

In very good condition; some inoffensive pale dampstaining to the gutter, which is more evident in the middle of the volume. A second edition of Oranda banashi was published in 1771 (Meiwa 8), and we locate just a single copy, in Japan, according to NIJL. Its rarity suggests that it was banned as well.

Price: $4,500.00

Item ID: 7635