‘The Dutch craze’ and strawberries in Tokugawa Japan

Door Christopher Joby

The presence of Dutch merchants and physicians, inter alia, in Tokugawa Japan led to a range of consequences for the Japanese language, which could hardly have been foreseen when the first Dutch ship, De Liefde, ran aground on the coast of Usuki in Bungo Province (now Usuki City, Oita Prefecture) on the eastern coast of Kyushu in April 1600. One consequence of language contact between Dutch and Japanese was a number of changes and additions to Japanese grammar, which will be the subject of future blogs. It also resulted in additions to the Japanese lexicon, sometimes in the form of whole words, such as the Japanese for coffee, but in other cases it resulted in new words which were part Japanese, part non-Japanese. One example of this is words beginning with ‘ran’ (蘭). This in fact derives from the second syllable of the Japanese rendering of the Portuguese word for ‘Holland’ ‘Oranda’, the Portuguese having arrived in Japan some fifty years earlier. Perhaps the best known example of this is rangaku (蘭学), the study of Dutch books, or more generally of Western books imported into Japan by the Dutch. Gaku (学)  means ‘study’ or ‘learning’ in Japanese. Japanese nobles who dedicated themselves to studying the Dutch language and Dutch learning, i.e. rangaku earned the name ranpeki (蘭癖) (lit. ‘those with the Dutch craze’). Sometimes, new words in Japanese were formed using oranda. This was often the case for new varieties of flowers and vegetables that the Dutch introduced. For example, the Japanese for the variety of strawberry oranda-ichigoオランダいちご. As I have written before in this blog, Dutch may not be a world language, but it has certainly influenced many other languages in a variety of, sometimes unexpected, ways.

Further reading: 

Frits Vos, ‘Dutch Influences on the Japanese Language (With an Appendix on Dutch Words in Korean)’, East Asian History 39,
2014, pp. 153-180.
Chris Joby, ‘Dutch in Eighteenth-Century Japan’, Dutch Crossing, DOI: 10.1080/03096564.2017.1383643

Dit stukje verscheen eerder op The History of Dutch.