On Japan, by Carl Peter Thunberg Spread 0

On Japan, by Carl Peter Thunberg Spread 0 recto

On Japan, by Carl Peter Thunberg, 1775-6

This manuscript is an English translation of a letter to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, by the Swedish naturalist C.P. Thunberg. Thunberg was a pupil of the great Carl Linnaeus and was sent by the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens to South Africa and the Far East to collect plants. The paper is based upon extracts from a journal kept during Thunberg’s sixteen-month stay in Japan.

The translation is incomplete, omitting Thunberg’s first description of customs procedures following his landfall at Nagasaki. The story is taken up at the point where Thunberg gives an account of smuggling by Europeans and the drastic countermeasures taken by Japanese officialdom. The fashions and customs of the place are noted as Thunberg travels from Dejima, the island base of the Dutch East India Company factory in Nagasaki Bay, to Edo and back.

Thunberg collected many plants, some very familiar to today’s gardeners, to which he gave the name ‘japonica’. Upon his return to Europe, he visited England, meeting Sir Joseph Banks and beginning the correspondence which includes this account of his journey. Thunberg was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1787, after compiling the first major European work on Japanese and Chinese plants, 'Flora japonica' (1784). An extended account of his botanical journeys, and his observations of Japanese life and customs, appeared in English as 'Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Performed between the years 1770 and 1779' (London, 1794-1795).

This translation (presumably by the Swedish secretary of Sir Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander) begins hesitantly, with major alterations to the text. By the third or fourth page the translator gains in confidence and the work reads more easily. The original letter and this translation were published in the Royal Society’s 'Philosophical Transactions' but it is clear that more changes must have been made at the proofing stage; see for example page three, where the phrase “all ranks from the Palace to the Cottage” becomes “from the emperor to the peasant”.

NB. '[ ]' contain words crossed out by author

Formerly [this visitation was less] they were less exact in this visitation the cheif of the Factory & the Captain of the Vessell were even quite exempted from it [this] which priveledg [was] they and in its utmost extent each dress’d himself in a [large] greatcoat which had [two] under it two large sacks or pockets for the reception of Contraband goods & they generaly passd backwards & forwards three times a day

[By this abuse the Japan Government were reducd to the necessity of the visiting measures which they now pursue before they found that the more dexterity they employd in discovering the tricks of the europeans the more dextruisly they evaded their enquiries the present regulations however have renderd smugling next to impracticable as the lower class of people]

so much that they have resolv’d to make new regulations, for some time they found that the same dexterity they used in discovering the tricks of the europeans the more dextruisly they contrivd to evade them at last however by repeated [regul] trials they have so compleatly abridg’d their liberties that it is now almost if not absolutely impossible to smuggle any thing

[By] abuses of this nature [the Europeans] irritated the Japan Government to abridge by degrees their liberties [allow’d to the Europeans] till at last they have formd regulations which render [it ] smugling almost if not quite