"Dwarf Trees" from Engelbert Kaempfer's The History of Japan

      Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), received his Doctor of Philosophy at Cracow, then studied Physick and Natural History for four years at Konigsberg in Prussia.  At the University of Upsala in Sweden he became Secretary to the Swedish Embassy to Persia (March 1683, O.S.).  Travelling by way of Moscow, Kaempfer began making detailed notes of his observations.  After two years in Persia, he entered into the service of the Dutch East India Company and finally arrived at the East Indies headquarters at Batavia in September 1689.
      While there, the governor-general Johannes Camphuis (1635-1696) provided Kaempfer access to the former's comprehensive and recent descriptions of Japan, including yearly financial reports submitted by the head of the Dutch factory in Nagasaki.  Camphuis had collected books, maps and illustrations during his three postings to Japan.  He let Kaempfer review and take notes from all this material because he saw in the Dutch physician a man "combining extraordinary learning with superior powers of observation."  Camphuis had neither the time, energy nor scholarly training to synthesize all this information about Japan -- but he knew Kaempfer did.  Unlike most other visitors to Japan, Kaempfer had devoted the first three decades of his life to acquiring scholarly learning.  He analyzed the material and, citing the most salient facts, permitted his readers to draw their own conclusions.  He would use the carefully recorded notes from Camphuis' wealth of information as a starting point for his own observations.
      And so, after eight months of making observations at Batavia, Kaempfer left for Japan by way of a month and a half stay in Siam.  (He had been given a gift -- by Camphuis? -- of diaries written by Europeans in Japan, and these were also used for reference.)
      As Physician to the Embassy at Deshima in Nagasaki harbor, he accompanied the Embassy to an audience before the shogun in Edo.  These journeys took place yearly in the Spring after the Dutch East India Company ships had departed Nagasaki harbor, and many presents were given annually to the court.  A typical trip would require about a hundred Japanese on foot or horseback to meet all the Embassy's needs, and the expense for the entire round-trip was borne by the Dutch, per the shogun's request.  Travel from Nagasaki to Edo took almost one month each way, involving both sea and land crossings.  The stay at the capital lasted about three weeks.  During this time, two audiences were held before the court of the secular emperor -- as Kaempfer termed the shogun.  And during Kaempfer's first stay in Edo, both fire and earthquake were experienced.
      From the first day of setting out to Edo until his return to Nagasaki, all the Japanese companions and particularly the commander-in-chief were extremely forward in communicating to Kaempfer what uncommon plants they met with, together with the true names, characters and uses, which they diligently enquired into among the natives.  Kaempfer was able to freely and visibly fill a box he carried with plants, flowers, and branches of trees which he figured and described, whatever occurred to him remarkable.  "The Japanese, a very reasonable and sensible people, and themselves great lovers of plants, look upon Botany, as a study both useful and innocent, which pursuant to the very dictates of reason and law of nature, ought to be encourag'd by every body." (History, Vol. II, pg. 285)
      Kaempfer's use of medical knowledge and supplies, his personal charisma, and the admitted "cordial and plentiful supply of European liquors" in private for the Japanese, gained him access to practically any topic he desired.  His assigned young servant was given by Kaempfer a competent knowledge of the Dutch language and the very discreet servant, in return, managed to supply him with any book he desired.  This provided him with a complete history of Japan.  In all likelihood he was the first foreigner in Japan to study Japanese material extensively -- albeit with Japanese assistance -- and make detailed notes about its contents.  Using, in essence, the methods of a modern scholar, his work shows none of the characteristics of the Baroque age in which he lived.  He left Japan at the end of October 1692, arriving in Amsterdam a year later.
      He took the degree of Doctor of Physik at the University of Leyden in April 1694.  He had intended to write of his travels -- his accomplishments alone put to shame those of most of the other members of the Dutch East India Company at Deshima -- but the Sovereign Prince appointed him as his personal physician.  Kaempfer's practice and other business quickly involved him.  He married in the year 1700, his son and two daughters all died in infancy, and he himself died in 1716.

      Kaempfer's first book, Amoenitatum Exoticarum, was published in Latin in 1712.  It has no apparent reference to dwarf or potted trees, but does give some of the earliest European descriptions of several plants which are known to have been used as such: Nandin (heavenly bamboo), Umé (flowering apricot), Ginkgo, Sátsuki, Maatz (matsu, pine), Finoki (hinoki), and Momidsi (momiji, maple), among others. 
      Now, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was a prominent Irish physician and plant collector who had studied in London, Paris, and Montpellier before settling in London in 1684.  He then spent fifteen months as physician to the Governor of Jamaica in the West Indies during the late 1680's, returning with a collection of eight hundred plant specimens and material for a large two volume book.  His Voyage to Jamaica became a classic of its kind, a copybook which inspired later and younger botanists and travellers.
      When Sloane heard of Kaempfer's death, he negotiated with the latter's nephew and, over a period of two years and three purchases, acquired the latter's manuscripts, drawings, notes, Japanese maps, and forty-nine woodcut books.  These had been smuggled out of Japan, and include the eight volume, nearly five hundred plant and tree herbal, Kinmodsui.  (Some of Kaempfer's other books went to other libraries.)  Sloane gave these papers -- after a more able person was called abroad on different matters -- to John Gaspar Scheuchzer (1702-1729) with the task of translating from High German (aka High Dutch) into English.  He was allowed full access to Sir Hans' library.
      Scheuchzer had been made Sloane's personal librarian, and the collection was said to be the most complete in Europe at the time.  One of the books used in Sloane's library but not specifically brought back by Kaempfer was Tsure dsuré Iosijdano Keno [sic], Kenko's Tsurezuregusa.  The Kaempfer translation was the chief but not only achievement of Scheuchzer's brief life.  He was awarded Doctor of Medicine at Cambridge in 1728; his father (whom Sloane knew) and uncle were known for their works in natural history and botany, respectively.
      Sloane was President of the Royal College of Physicians (1719-1735) and President of the Royal Society (1727-1741).  After his death, England bought his library and natural history collections for £20,000, which then became the nucleus of the British Museum, which opened in 1759.
      Kaempfer's two works rate as botanical landmarks as they contained practically all that Europe was to learn of Japanese botany until the last quarter of the eighteenth century with Thunberg.  He also corrected some mistakes perpetuated from the earliest maps of 1542.
      "Few descriptions of foreign countries have stood the test of time so well as Engelbert Kaempfer's work known in English as The History of Japan.  The work was an immediate success when it was first published in London in 1727 and a reprint became necessary the following year.  During the next ten years The History appeared in a total of ten editions of translations and reprints [French and Dutch translations in 1729, German not until 1777-79], an unusual record for a work of its kind.  Even Voltaire, known for his acid pen, praised the work highly and incorporated some of the material into his own writings.  Later visitors to Japan, such as Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828), Hendrick Doeff (1777-1835) and Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) who stayed in the country under much less restricted conditions and for longer periods, found it impossible to improve on Kaempfer's account.  When the American Commodore Matthew C. Perry set out in the middle of the nineteenth century to 'open up' Japan he carried Kaempfer's book on board, while in England it was used as a reference work by journalists such as Alexander Knox (1818-91) writing for the influential Edinburgh Review.  Today, Kaempfer's account is compulsory reading for anyone studying the Tokugawa period and Japanese historians frequently cite Kaempfer's account, for it contains material not covered in Japanese sources." 1

Engelbert Kaempfer

       The History of Japan (1727, Scheuchzer's English translation):

       "In some small houses, and Inns of less note, where there is not room enough, neither for a garden, nor trees, they have at least an opening or window to let the light fall into the back rooms, before which, for the amusement and diversion of travellers, is put a small tub, full of water, wherein they commonly keep some gold or silver fish, as they call them, being fish with gold or silver-colour'd Tails alive.  For a farther ornament of the same place, there is generally a flower-pot or two standing there.  Sometimes they plant some dwarf-trees there, which will grow easily upon pumice, or other porous stone, without any ground at all, provided the root be put into the water, from whence it will suck up sufficient nourishment.  Ordinary people often plant the same kind of trees before street-doors, for their diversion, as well as for an ornament to their houses...  [To be found in the Garden of a larger Inn, among other things are s]ome few flower-bearing plants planted confusedly tho' not without some certain rules.  Amidst the Plants stands sometimes a Saguer, as they call it [Sago palm, Cycas revoluta] or scarce outlandish tree, sometimes a dwarf-tree or two."  (History, Vol. II, pp. 325-326) 

      "...Kaempfer mentioned a garden in Nagasaki, set up for the acclimatization of imported Chinese plants, which existed only between 1680-88, but he does not seem to have been aware of the medicinal gardens in Edo and Kyoto.
      "In Kaempfer's time, Japanese gardens were divided into ornamental gardens and those in which non-ornamental, useful plants were cultivated.  The latter contained mainly plants valued for pharmaceutical purposes.  These gardens had advanced greatly under the patronage of the third Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu (1604-1651), who in turn encouraged the study of pharmacology..."
       "Besides Kimmōzui [mentioned above], other books dealing with botany were available in Japan at the time of Kaempfer's visit, but works which could have qualified as 'flora' were missing.  There was no system permitting comprehensive classification of plants.  However, on account of the language barrier and his own fairly basic knowledge of botany, Kaempfer might not have been aware of the lack of scientific literature.  Hence, Kimmōzui appeared to him a most welcome aid in his studies of the Japanese flora." 


1      Bartlett, Harley Harris and Hide Shohara   Japanese Botany During the Period of Wood-block Printing (Los Angeles: Dawson's Book Shop; 1961. Reprinted from ASA GRAY BULLETIN, N.S. 3: 289-561, Spring, 1961)  pp. 6, 28-29; 

Jellicoe, Sir Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe (consult. eds.) and Patrick Goode and Michael Lancaster (exec. eds.) The Oxford Companion to Gardens (Oxford University Press, 1986), pg. 520;

Marshall Cavendish, The Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of Plants and Earth Science (Bellmore, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1988, reference edition published 1990), Vol. 6, pp. 682-683;

Much of the biographical information is from the introductory material to Kaempfer, Engelbert, M.D. The History of Japan (Glasgow: James MacKehose and Sons; second full reprint March 1906.  Three volumes.  Originally published in two folio volumes from the author's five books, April 27, 1727 in London); with subsequent translations into French and Dutch, per Jackson, Anna and Amin Jaffer (ed.)  Encounters, The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500-1800 (London: V&A Publications; 2004), pg. 351.

"Few descriptions..." quote from pp. 1-2 of "Introduction: The Furthest Goal" by B.M. Bodart-Bailey in The Furthest Goal, Engelbert Kaempfer's Encounter with Tokugawa Japan by Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey and Derek Massarella (Sandgate, Folkestone, Kent, England: Japan Library; 1995).  Other material from pp. 18-30, 33-34, 36, 43, 116, 120, 129-30 of this book.

Kaempfer, Amoenitatum Exoticarum (Lemgoviae: Henry William Meyer, 1712.  Fasciculi V.  Reprint Edition April 1976 from a copy in the Senate Library, Tehran by the Imperial Organization for Social Services), pg. 794 has a description in Latin of a "Fási no ki" -- what is this?  Possibly "Ha-shi no ki" (hachi-no-ki, the prevalent native term in Japan for dwarf potted trees)?;   The biography of Kaempfer has been given here at length to present the reader with some not-commonly-known background.  

2     It is interesting to note that both this and the earliest known European references to Japanese dwarf potted trees are of a rock-grown tree, the same basic style as were the earliest Chinese dwarf potted trees.  It is perhaps ironic to note that the first day he set foot on Deshima (September 25, 1690), Kaempfer got sick on some raw garden fruit he sampled and had to return to the ship, disembarking again the following day.

3     Wolfgang Muntschick's "The Plants that Carry His Name: Engelbert Kaempfer's Study of the Japanese Flora" in Bodart-Bailey and Massarella, pg. 78.

     An extensive bibliography of Kaempfer can be found at http://www.flc.kyushu-u.ac.jp/~michel/serv/ek/eklit/index.html.

       Before the opening of Japan to the West, Kaempfer's detailed observations about this culture were reprinted in A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in All Parts of the World: Many of which are Now First Translated Into English.  Digested On a New Plan. by John Pinkerton (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1811), Vol. 7 of at least 16, pg. 782.

       After the opening of Japan to the West, Kaempfer was reprinted or extensively quoted in such works as Japan: An Account, Geographical and Historical, from the Earliest Period at which the Islands Composing this Empire Were Known to Europeans, Down to the Present Time, and the Expedition Fitted Out in the United States, Etc. by Charles Mac Farlane, Esq. (New York: George P. Putnam & Co.; 1852), pg. 242;
       The Universal Library Voyages and Travels, Vol. I  by George Anson (London: Nathaniel Cook; 1853), pg. 237;
       Japan and Her People by Andrew Steinmetz (London and New York: Routledge, Warnes, and Routledge; 1859), pp. 39 and 130;
       The Japanese Empire: Its Physical, Political, and Social Condition and History, with details of the late American and British Expeditions by S. B. Kemish (London: Patridge and Co.; 1860), pg. 107;
       Japan and the Japanese by Richard Hildreth (Boston: Bradley, Dayton & Co.; 1860), pg. 310, and also its 1905 reprint done at Sanshusha, Kanda, Japan (pg. 310;
       [no author and different text than above]  "Japan, and the Japanese," The Reformed Presbyterian Magazine (Edinburgh), November 2, 1863, pg. 408;
       the 1906 reprint of The History of Japan, pg. 326; and
       Hildreth's "Japan as it Was and Is": A Handbook of Old Japan edited by Ernest W. Clement (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.; 1907), Vol. II, pg. 11.

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