Reports on Research Surveys by Year

July 30-October 3, 2011

The 1st Survey of the Leiden Siebold Collection in Japan

Conducted by National Museum of Japanese History (Matsui, "Blomhoff and Fisscher Team")

Locations surveyed: Forty locations with collections of handicrafts from the Bunka and Bunsei eras (1804-1830): Kitakyushu City Nagasaki Kaido Koyanose Post Station Memorial Museum, Shimonoseki City Chofu Museum, Takehara City Civic Historical Archives, Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History, Fukuyama City Tomo no Ura Civic Historical Archives, Okayama Prefectural Museum, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History, Himeji City Shosha Arts and Crafts Museum, Old Shimotsui Harbor House Archives, Muratsukai Station Archives,  Muratsu Civic Museum, Kinosaki Straw Craft Museum, Kinosaki Literature Museum, Kyoto Prefectural Library and Archives, Remains of Ebiya Dutch Trading Post, Shoyeido Incense Shop, Minakuchi Civic Historical Archives, Seki Machinami Archives, Hatagotamaya Historical Archives, Hirakata-shuku Kagiya Museum, Yodogawa Museum, Remains of Fujimi Honjin, Osaka Museum of History, Ushimado and Miyajima History and Folklore Museum, Miyajima Traditional Handi-Crafts Center, Kyoto City Historical Archives, Kyoto Kobaien, Kuwana City Museum, Mie Cast Metal Industrial Cooperative, Akasaka-juku Ōhashi-ya Hatago, Goyunomatsu Namiki Museum of History, Toyohashi City Futagawa Honjin Museum, Remains of Shimada-juku Ōikawa Kawagoe, Shimada City Museum, Arai Sekisho Museum, Hatago Kinokuniya.

Survey Objectives: A survey of the origins of the objects in the Seibold collection in order to publish Blomhoff and Fisscher’s draft catalog from the sale of the collection to the Dutch Monarchy, found at National Museum of Ethnology (Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde) in Leiden.

Participants: Matthi Forrer (National Museum of Ethnology (Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde)) and Kuniko Forrer (Japan Museum SieboldHuis)


Survey Summary:
The object of this research is to publish the catalog of works, currently held at the National Museum of Ethnology (Rijksmuseum Volkenkunde) in Leiden, the Netherlands, collected by the residents of the Dutch trading post at Deshima during the Bunka and Bunsei Period (1804-1830) while residing in Nagasaki and during their journey to the court at Edo (edo sanpu) once every four years. Leiden’s National Museum of Ethnology holds a total of nearly 40,000 items collected in Japan during the Bunka and Bunsei period, by (in order of antiquity) commander of Deshima Jan Cock Blomhoff (1779-1853), bookkeeper Johannes van Overmeer Fisscher (1800-1848), and physician Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) which were then brought back to the Netherlands, and are together considered a “time capsule of 19th century (Bunka and Bunsei Period) Japan.” Although this is an extremely interesting collection of Japan-related materials held outside Japan, drawing interest from the media and many as a hundred Japanese researchers per year, it should first be pointed out this collection almost entirely consists of day-to-day possessions and handicrafts from the Edo period.

In Japan, Seibold alone is well-known and has been researched previously. However, when Seibold sold his collection to the Dutch Monarchy, no catalog was made, and there has been no clear understanding of the whole collection. Because of that, researchers have determined have that were in fact many items in the Seibold collection that were in fact part of the collection of his predecessors, Blomhoff and Fisscher. When Siebold wrote Nippon, he borrowed parts of Blomhoff and Fisscher’s collection but didn’t return them, and so Leiden’s National Museum of Ethnology has recognized the high priority of taking into consideration these three collector’s different tastes, objectives, means of collection, in order to organize Blomhoff, Fisscher, and Siebold’s collections and provide a tool for researchers (especially researches on Siebold).
Fortunately, Blomhoff, and Fisscher wrote manuscript drafts of catalogs their collections were sold to the Dutch Monarchy. First and foremost, reprinting, translating, editing, and publishing Blomhoff and Fisscher’s catalog manuscripts are the most basic work that needs to be done, but also analyzing the contents of the catalog is of great interest in order to promote new research on Siebold, as well as a more accurate grasp of Japan-related materials found overseas, and should not be neglected. Although this project’s objective is to publish Blomhoff and Fisscher’s catalogs, it is also necessary to proceed by performing the task of carefully matching the catalog manuscript with extant items in the collection. Additionally, in order to locate the collected items (everyday goods and handicrafts) among handicrafts of the Bunka and Bunsei periods, and to specify how these items were collected, it is necessary to refer to other materials for comparison.
Preliminary research has shown that the materials needed for comparison of the items in these three collections are found not in museums and galleries around Tokyo, but in provincial archives found along the route used for the journey to the Edo court (edo sanpu) (i.e. the Nagasaki Kaidō, Sanyōdō and Tōkaidō) which served as the main opportunity for the Dutch had to collect these items, and for this research, a survey of these locations was carried out. The Leiden collection was divided up according to the same categories as is cataloged (For example, straw handicrafts, bamboo handicrafts, woodwork, masonry, lacquer ware, pottery), and with digital images of the collection, research in the field was carried out, in order to have to do as little information collection necessary about how each item was collected.

Although there were days during the project when we weren’t able to travel at all due to Typhoon Number 12 (Tropical Storm Talas), in the end we were able to obtain more new information than we had anticipated.For example, with regard to some of the masonry in the collection, it is clear from the catalog that some were collected in Akama (Shimonoseki), and in addition to ink-stones (suzuri) there is also a small statue. During our investigation in Shimonoseki, even the archives of the place where this object had been created was unaware of the existence of this small statue. For the local historical archives, the fact that an Akama-made stone statue existed in Leiden alone came as a surprise, and it was extremely interesting to exchange information and share knowledge with them.

Additionally, many straw handicrafts were collected, and these are thought to have been obtained in Kinosaki. Siebold’s students went to Kinosaki to bathe in the hot springs there, and at that time it is thought that they may have introduced Siebold to straw handicrafts (such as small boxes). However, as there are also many straw handicrafts in the Blomhoff and Fisscher collections, and so this theory had been subject to scrutiny. By investigating Kinosaki, which does not lie along the Sanyōdō, we were able to confirm this suspicion. In fact, at the time, Kinosaki had no straw handicrafts, and the straw handicrafts displayed at Kinosaki were copied from the Leiden and Munich collections, but this was all the information we were able to obtain. This leads to the hypothesis that the straw handicrafts in the collection may not have been obtained from Kisnoaki after all. To prove this, an investigation of Ai-no-shuku Ōmori will be necessary, but Ōmori could not be included as a subject of the current investigation. 

Furthermore, in regards to bamboo handicrafts, identical items from those in Leiden collection were on display at Minakuchi. This also came as a surprise to the Minakuchi Civic Historical Archives. Minakuchi’s handicrafts are well known to local historians, but that the same items existed in the Netherlands was remarkable, and to Leiden, knowing that items in their collection were produced in Minakuchi was a big discovery. 

These new findings are, beyond understanding Leiden’s collection, important for understanding changes in Japanese handicraft production, and much research on the subject can be anticipated. To both of these ends, these new findings could not have been made possible without this field research. At the same time, in regards to the publication of the catalogs, this research was an opportunity to compare the records of the Dutch collectors against one another, as well a confirmation of the reliability of their records.

(Text by Kuniko Forrer)