The J.K. van den Broek Collection

Nineteenth-Century Dutch-Japanese / Japanese-Dutch Manuscript Dictionaries and Related Documents: The J.K. van den Broek Collection

edited by Dr. Herman J. Moeshart

on microfiche

Dr. Jan Karel van den Broek (1814-1865) was a Dutch physician who spent four years in Japan on the island of Deshima near Nagasaki from 1853-1857. During these four years he instructed many Japanese pupils in the use of western technology and science. In this period and earlier the Japanese rangakusha (students of western sciences) made extensive use of imported Dutch books and magazines as sources. The need for a teacher who could explain the texts and solve problems for the Japanese technicians was great. Van den Broek, who had been one of the foremost members of the learned society Tot Nut en Vergenoegen [For benefit and pleasure] in the town of Arnhem, played the role of a living encyclopedia in Japan.

Van den Broek in Japan
From August 1853 till November 1857 he made himself indispensable to the director of the Dutch trading post at Deshima by his demonstrations for high placed Japanese visitors and even more so by repairing the royal present to the shogun of Japan - an electromagnetic telegraph that arrived damaged there in 1854. Year after year the number of his Japanese pupils and the number of questions posed by the Japanese grew steadily.

Origin of the dictionary project
In December 1854, he started to compile Japanese-Dutch and Dutch-Japanese dictionaries. His motivation for undertaking this project, which would keep him occupied for the rest of his life, was a quarrel with one of the Japanese interpreters. At the request of the Daimyo of Hizen, Nabeshima Naomasa, Van den Broek, gave a talk on the harbour defences of Nagasaki, explained that the fortresses this daimyo had erected were of little value in defending against an attack by a modern western fleet. The interpreter, fearing angering his lord, did not want to translate this into Japanese. When ordered all the same to translate Van den Broek's words, the ruler was not angered but simply asked Van den Broek to explain what was wrong. Van den Broek concluded from this incident that his words were not always rendered correctly into Japanese and started the compilation of his dictionaries. He continued to work on them the rest of his life and at his death in 1865, he left a legacy of many Japanese books brought back from Japan and a great number of large-format manuscript volumes in which he compiled his dictionary and kept his notes and drafts. This work was never to be published. The Japanese-Dutch dictionary was completed before his death, but he did not live to finish the Dutch- Japanese volumes.

Dictionaries rediscovered
After his death his books, notes and the manuscripts of his dictionaries found their way to the municipal library at Arnhem where Herman Moeshart rediscovered them in 2001.

Importance for research
Among the dictionaries made by the Dutch in Japan those of Van den Broek merit a special place. He was the only one who compiled a complete Japanese-Dutch dictionary to which he added a thick volume with "conversations", illustrating the use of Japanese and providing a conversation handbook for the Dutch in Japan. The availability of Van den Broek's work in microform will be of great interest to students of the development of the Japanese language in the nineteenth century and historical philology, among others.

Other works in the collection
In addition to the manuscripts of the dictionaries, the Van den Broek collection also includes: a 13-volume Chinese encyclopedia from 1705; an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Chinese dictionary; an illustrated Japanese guide to flower arranging; a similarly illustrated guide to martial arts; a Japanese book of epigrams; a nineteenth-century Japanese guide to "rangaku"; an 1861 Japanese map of Edo; and a few other assorted volumes.