Saturday, May 18, 2019

Western coin collecting in Tokugawa Japan

Although much of the contact between the Dutch and Japanese between 1609 and 1860 involved trade, several people on each side engaged in cultural and intellectual exchange. On the Dutch side, the head of the trading post in the late eighteenth century, Isaac Titsingh, was a well-educated, cultured man who helped Japanese learn Dutch and told them about cultural and scientific developments in the West. He struck up friendships with several Japanese including the daimyō of Tamba and rangakusha Kutsuki Masatsuna (1750-1802). Titsingh and Masatsuna corresponded with each other after Titsingh left Japan, first for Chinsura in Bengal and then Europe. Rather touchingly Masatsuna would ask Titsingh to correct his written Dutch. Masatsuna, who like all Japanese, could not leave the country, would ask Titsingh to supply him with Dutch books and in return he would send Titsingh rare Japanese and Chinese coins. Masatsuna was an avid collector of Dutch and other European coins and he wrote a book on Western coins, Seiyō senpu (西洋銭譜, 1787), many of which Titsingh had supplied to him. In the wood-block printed book Masatsuna presented images of the coins and used these as a motivation for discussing their countries of origin. One coin is a Dutch East India Company duit. It has ‘DUYT IAVAS 1783’ on one side and a transliteration of this in Arabic script with the Arabic numerals for 1783 on the other side. Some coins have the VOC insignia, but perhaps the most interesting example of a Dutch coin is one dated 1779 on page 30. On one side it has the French motto of the House of Orange, JE MAINTIENDRAI. On the other side is an extensive Dutch inscription, commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the Union of Utrecht (1579). In the accompanying description Masatsuna renders Utrecht in katakana as ヲイトレキトwoitorekito. This is but one of the many ways in which Japanese engaged with the Dutch language during the Tokugawa period.

p. 30 of Kutsuki Masatsuna's Seiyō senpu  The keen-eyed readers of Dutch will note a couple of mistakes but it is no mean achievement to reproduce this in wood cut.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Snowy view of Holland

Although the primary reason for the Dutch going to Japan from around 1600 onwards was to trade, they often brought gifts with them in order to endear themselves to local rulers including the shogun. Among the gifts they presented to Japanese were telescopes, clocks and peep-boxes. Peep-boxes were devices into which the viewer could peer and see different views that were on cards inserted in the box. Of particular interest is the fact that the pictures on the cards often gave the viewer a sense of the depth of a scene. This was a result of the use of single-point perspective, to which the Japanese were introduced in works of art imported by the Dutch (although earlier arrivals such as the Portuguese probably also brought such paintings to Japan). 
In the late eighteenth century, there was a particular craze for all things Dutch including these peep-boxes. The above picture was used in such a device. In the Japanese inscription in the right-hand margin one can read Oranda yukimi no zu in kanji with a katakana gloss. Oranda, in fact derived from the Portuguese word for the country came to stand not just for Holland, but for things foreign in general. The text means ‘Snowy View of Holland’. One can perhaps see a little snow in the picture, but it seems to owe more to somewhere in East or South-East Asia rather than the Low Countries.

Further reading: Yasumasa OKA, ‘Hollandisme in Japanese Craftwork’.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Dutch drainage workers on the Upper Spree

                                                The Hollaenderwindmuehle in Straupitz

As the recently-established project, Vertrokken Nederlands/Emigrant Dutch is demonstrating, people have been emigrating from the Low Countries to elsewhere in Europe and indeed in the world for hundreds of years. There are many reasons for this including difficult economic conditions, religious persecution and the search for 'a better life'. In some cases, it is the skills that migrants from the Low Countries have that allow them to emigrate. In previous posts on this blog, I have discussed the contribution textile workers from the Low Countries made to revitalizing the economies of English towns such as Norwich and Colchester. Another skill that the Dutch in particular have in abundance is drainage engineering.
In England, the Dutch drainage engineer, Sir Cornelis Vermuyden, led teams from the Low Countries and England to drain land in Essex, the Fens and the Lincolnshire/Yorkshire border. The Dutch River in Lincolnshire is one toponym that bears testimony to Vermuyden's work. In Poland, too, many workers moved from the Low Countries to assist with draining land around Gdansk and marshy land along the River Vistula. Settlements with 'holender' or variants thereof in their names are testimony to the Dutch presence there.
Another suggestion is that drainage workers from the Low Countries moved to the Upper Spree region in Brandenburg in Germany in order to assist with draining this marshy area. One physical, although by no means, conclusive, piece of evidence for the Dutch presence is of a 'Holland' wind mill at Straupitz (Tšupc) neat Cottbus. This was built in the early nineteenth century, replacing an earlier mill from the seventeenth century. Further work would need to be done before the presence of Dutch drainage workers could be confirmed, but it is certainly a suggestion that deserves attention. If it were found that Dutch were in this area, the question would arise whether any traces of the language remain. One challenge would be to distinguish between the influence of varieties of German and varieties of Dutch. The other main language spoken in the area is Lower Sorbian, a West Slavic language, still spoken in some villages around Cottbus. It would be interesting to explore whether any traces of Dutch can be found in this language.