World Journal of Surgery

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 10–17 | Cite as

Dutch Surgery in Japan

  • Thomas M. van GulikEmail author
  • Yuji Nimura
Surgical History: The Global View


An isolation policy was adopted in feudal Japan from 1639 to 1853 owing to the fear of foreign influence. During those 200 years of isolation, all foreigners were withheld from the country with the exception of the Dutch, who were permitted to establish a trading post on a small island in the Bay of Nagasaki, called Decima. Western culture and science reached the Japanese exclusively through the Dutch on Decima. Health care on Decima was provided by Dutch barber-surgeons, who introduced Western surgical practice in Japan. Official interpreters were the only Japanese allowed on Decima. It was from among these interpreters that the first Japanese surgeons arose who, having mastered the Dutch language, translated several Dutch anatomic and surgical texts. Genpaku Sugita translated a Dutch anatomy textbook into Japanese, which was completed in 1774. This book, entitled Kaitai Shinsho [New Book on Anatomy], was the first Western scientific monograph to be translated entirely into Japanese. Several Dutch surgical schools were founded through which Dutch surgery, known in Japan as “surgery of the red-haired” was propagated. According to the custom of the surgical guilds in Holland, certificates were granted to Japanese apprentices who had completed their training in Dutch surgery. About 60 Dutch surgeons had served on Decima up to 1850, providing the basis for surgery to develop in Japan. Among them, Philipp Franz von Siebold was an exceptional scholar who also had a great impact in making Japanese culture known to the Western world.


Dutch Language Japanese Culture Dutch Word Japanese Physician Japanese Translation 
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Copyright information

© Societe Internationale de Chirurgie 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SurgeryAcademic Medical Center, University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Division of Surgical Oncology Nagoya University Graduate School of MedicineNagoyaJapan

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