Contact between Dutch and Ainu in Tokugawa Japan

Door Christopher Joby

There is no evidence of the Dutch having contact with Ainu people during the Tokugawa period. The Dutch were mainly confined to Deshima, an island in the far west of the Japanese archipelago, while the Ainu lived in the north of Honshu and on Hokkaido (then called Ezo). Nevertheless, there is a  Dutch-Ainu-Japanese vocabulary consisting of 43 sheets in the Special Collections of Leiden University Library (Serrurier 95, Kerlen 1809). We do not know who compiled it or when, but there are a few clues. The introduction, written in Dutch, records that it was based on ‘an original publication by a Japanese’ (een Originele ‘uitgave’ van een Japander’). The copy in Leiden University Library has the ex libris ‘Uit de Verzam[eling] van Overmeer Fisscher’. This refers to Johannes van Overmeer Fisscher, who held various positions at Deshima. He left Japan in 1829, so this may give us a terminus ante quem for publication. 

As for the compiler, one possibility is that it was one of the Dutch interpreters sent to Ezo to make contact with Russian sailors, such as Baba Sajūrō (馬場佐十郎 (also Teiyū 貞由1787-1822)), but currently we can say nothing more concrete. For each word, from left to right, there is the Dutch term reading horizontally, then vertically the sound of the Ainu equivalent in Latin script (influenced by Dutch spelling) and katakana, followed by the Japanese equivalent in romaji and kanji. Some of the words, such as the numbers, are what one might expect to find in such a vocabulary. There is also trading terminology such as the unit of measure the gantang (Ganting in the vocabulary), but also Paap, a derogatory Dutch term for Catholics. In fact, there seems little logic to the order of the words which may be a function of the resources available. Nevertheless, it is an interesting and possibly unique example of contact between the Dutch and Ainu languages in Tokugawa Japan.

Afbeelding: Nederlands/Ainu/Japans woordenboek

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