Philipp Franz von Siebold and the Opening of Japan

A Re-evaluation

Based on new documents, especially von Siebold’s correspondence (including letters to his wife Taki), written advice and draft treaties which were placed in the public domain in 2002 by the Brandenstein-Zeppelin family, the author argues that such is their significance a full re-evaluation of von Siebold’s advisory role vis a vis the United States, Russia and the Netherlands in particular, both before and after the successful opening of Japan in the 1850s is now justified. This new study challenges the conventional Western scholarly view that the key figures involved in the opening of Japan were confined to the US Navy’s Commodore Matthew Perry, and the diplomats Townsend Harris of the US and Rutherford Alcock of the UK. A close examination of the new sources suggests otherwise and also puts von Siebold’s agenda to ‘save’ Japan from being overtaken by what he referred to as the colonial and commercial ambitions of the West’s great maritime nations in a new light. The author also takes pains to debunk the long-held view that von Siebold was a Russian spy. Even so, it is accepted that von Siebold remains a controversial figure whose role was more often than not ‘tinged with considerable selfish aspirations and a belief in his personal infallibility’.
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Biographical Note

Herbert Plutschow was born in Switzerland and educated in Switzerland, England, Spain, Japan and the USA. He received his PhD in Japanese studies from Columbia University, New York, in 1973. He subsequently taught Japanese cultural history at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), retiring in 2005. He has taught as visiting faculty at the Universität Zürich, International Christian University (ICU), Tokyo, Leningrad State University, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, École des Hautes Études (Sorbonne, Paris), Kyoto University and at Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo. At present, he is Director of the Institute of Comparative Culture, Josei International University, Japan. Most recently, he has published A Reader in Edo Period Travel (2006).

Table of contents

Preface; 1. Von Siebold’s First Journey to Japan; 2. Von Siebold the Scholar; 3. Von Siebold and the Opening of Japan; 4. Von Siebold’s Second Journey to Japan; 5. Back in Europe; 6. The Second-generation Siebolds and the Opening of Japan; 7. Conclusions; Bibliography; Appendix: Example of von Siebold’s handwriting; Index

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College/higher education

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