13 January 2004

A Shogun Examines Dutchmen

On 20 April 1692, a party of Dutchmen from Nagasaki had an audience with the shogun. Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), a German doctor in attendance, narrates:
The shogun asked [the translator] to welcome us, have us sit upright, take off our coats, state our name and age, get up and walk, first act and dance, and then sing a song and pay compliments to each other, punish each other, get angry, prevail upon a guest, and hold a conversation. Then he had us act like two people close to each other, such as a father and his son, like two friends parting and arriving, or friends meeting again, a husband parting from his wife, people hugging children and carrying them, and so forth....

We had to play husband and wife, and the women laughed heartily about the kiss. Then we had to show how we saluted people of lesser rank, women, nobles, a king. After that, they said I was to sing another piece by myself, and I did this to their satisfaction by singing two, which all liked so much that they asked whether one had to learn this as an art. Then we had to take off our coats, and one after the other step in front of the blinds and bid farewell in the most exuberant fashion, as we would to a king in Europe, and after that we left. Judging from people's expressions and laughter, they were all very pleased.
SOURCE: Beatrice Bodart-Bailey, ed. and tr., Kaempfer's Japan: Tokugawa Culture Observed (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1999), pp. 408-409.

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