The Seikei Zusetsu catalog contains 143 illustrated pages with crops, with a total of 193 drawings of individual crop varieties. Each illustration is accompanied with a name in Kanji characters to indicate the commonly used Chinese name of each specific crop variety and its name in Katakana characters that represent its commonly used Japanese name. Some of the illustrations, like the one of Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott (Fig. 3), have been annotated with binomial names. This handwritten text was most likely added by von Siebold or by one of his students. These Latin names are not present in the black-and-white copy published online by the Hathi Trust Library or the color version on the website of the Japanese National Diet Library.
All 143 illustrated pages can be viewed online at the Special Collections repository of the Leiden University Library, with their local and current scientific names: https://digitalcollections.universiteitleiden.nl/japanese_agriculture_19th_century. To zoom in, download or view the associated information, click on the image. The complete list of cultivars and their associated information (local names, transcriptions and translations, current scientific names) is also provided in this paper’s ESM 1(Electronic Supplementary Material), following the order of the website when sorted on title. The remaining pages of the Leiden catalog have not (yet) been digitized or translated into English.
Diversity of Crop Species and Varieties
The parts of the Seikei Zusetsu catalog that describe individual crops (vols. 15 to 30) are divided into two sections. The first lists the “five cereal crops” (五穀部, itsutsu-no-tanatsu-mono section, vols. 15–20) that groups the major cereal crops and pulses together, as beans were staple grains in Japanese historical documents (Yabuno 1987). The second part is devoted to the “vegetables” (蔬菜部, sosai section, vols. 21–30), in which other crops and wild edible plants are described. A total of 109 distinct crop species are depicted, belonging to 29 different plant families, of which the most diverse are the Poaceae with images of 35 different varieties and the Brassicaceae, with 29 illustrated varieties (Fig. 4). Nine plant families are represented with just one crop species each.
Of the 109 crop species, 84 are represented in the catalog by a single variety. Some species, however, are represented by many varieties, such as the daikon radish (Raphanus raphanistrum subsp. sativus (L.) Domin), turnips (Brassica rapa L.), and rice (Oryza sativa L.). The catalog also lists a remarkable number of millet species and varieties, such as foxtail millet (Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv.), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum L.), and Japanese barnyard millet (Echinochloa esculenta (A.Braun) H.Scholz), suggesting that these grains were of similar importance as rice in the Japanese diet around 1800. As little information on the identification of specific varieties is provided in the botanical literature or on the Internet, we have followed the distinction of the varieties of the Seikei Zusetsu catalog itself. Figure 5 shows the number of illustrations per species, which generally corresponds to the amount of varieties. In some cases, however, illustrations represent typical mutations or different parts of useful plants. Examples are the double-headed rice (Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 15, p. 22), a branching mutant of Oryza sativa, and the case of lotus (Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn.), where details on each edible part of the lotus plant are depicted separately.
Some illustrations are meant to show the difference between the crop and later generations of accidentally self-sown crops after the first harvest. Examples are the illustrations of the “grandchild of the rice” and secondary growth rice (Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 16, page 40), which depicts shorter rice plants with spreading or few-seeded panicles. These result from sprouted seeds that fell during the last harvest or from spontaneous crossings between different varieties.
There is also an illustration of a second growth soybean (Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 18, p. 23), a less sturdy, self-sown progeny of the soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.). Some illustrations serve to distinguish the desired crop from imposters, similar-looking wild crop relatives that grow as weeds between crops, such as wild foxtail millet (Setaria viridis (L.) P. Beauv., Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 19, p. 4) and big barley imposter (Triticum monococcum L., Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 17, p. 4). Finally, a drawing of the wheat imposter (Ustilago nuda (C.N. Jensen) Rostr., Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 17, p. 14) shows a common fungal disease that replaces the grain heads with masses of spores that infect the open flowers of healthy plants and grow into the seed.
A striking aspect of the catalog is the diversity of lily species depicted in the catalog. Around 1800 lily bulbs and flowers in Japan were primarily considered to be vegetables. The bulbs were consumed fresh, dried, or boiled and both cultivated, like the early-domesticated tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium Thunb., Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 30, p. 26) or harvested from the wild, such as Lilium longiflorum Thunb. (Shimizu 1987; Simoons 1990). In the Western world, lilies nowadays are known mainly as attractive ornamentals, although Native Americans also consumed many species of lily bulbs in the past (Elias and Dykeman 2009). Volume 30 of the catalog also lists several other vegetables that were probably collected in the wild, such as shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik.), bracken (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn), and common horsetail (Equisetum arvense L.).
Local Names Referring to Geographical Origin
Several varieties in the Seikei Zusetsu catalog are described with Kanji names that refer to a particular geographic origin (Table 1). Specifically, the radishes and the turnips are linked to a specific Japanese island, volcano, city, or even a town neighborhood. The Bohai eggplant (Solanum melongena L., Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 26, p. 27) may have been introduced to Japan from the surroundings of the Bohai sea (near Beijing, China), while Sichuan sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench, Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 19, p. 17) and maize, then known as Bead Sichuan Sorghum (Zea mays L., Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 19, p. 19) may have entered Japan via the Chinese Sichuan area.
Several of the early nineteenth-century crop names indicate general geographic origins, such as south or west. The directions east and north are rarely used, given Japan’s position in the Far East and the fact that few crops grow north of Hokkaido. The Chinese character 胡 is used in some names, which suggests areas to the north and the west of China. Other names refer to varying degrees of exoticness, from foreign to barbarian. The character 蕃 is often used in Japan as a way of denoting something of foreign, usually Western origin. The name po lang grass for spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) is explained by Beal (2000: 135) as originating from the ancient country of Po-Lu-Lo or Bolor (菠薐) in the Himalayas, possibly indicating Tibet. Its local name suggests that this crop, although originating in central and western Asia, came to China and Japan via the Indian subcontinent during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), and probably taken to Japan with its name distorted on the way. Some of these local names are preserved today in modern cultivars, such as the Sakurajima daikon (Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 21, p. 21; Fig. 6a), although the morphology of this radish variety has changed dramatically since 1800 (Fig. 6b). At present, modern cultivars of the round Sakurajima are marketed as the largest radish in the world (https://www.rareseeds.com/sakurajima-radish).
Local Names in Dutch
Some of the crops listed in the Seikei Zusetsu catalog are also accompanied by a reference within the text of the foreign name (hanmei, 蕃名), which is the Dutch name of the crop written down in Katakana script. A total of 103 plant illustrations contained in the Seikei Zusetsu catalog are given Dutch names (ESM 2), most likely provided by Rangaku scholars who were using Dutch plant books as references. It is not clear on which sources these local Dutch names are based, as the Seikei Zusetsu catalog was produced before 1823, when von Siebold came to Japan. A potential source for these Dutch plant names could have been the Swedish botanist and physician Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828), who stayed in Japan for 16 months. He traveled to Asia as a surgeon with the Dutch East India Company, but his objective was to collect botanical specimens for botanical gardens in the Netherlands (Skuncke 2014). He stayed for 3 years in the Cape (South Africa) to learn Dutch and visited Dutch colonial areas in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. According to (Marcon 2015: 137), “Thunberg’s intellectual exchange with Japanese scholars hardly left any trace in Japan,” but Skuncke (2014) proves that Thunberg shared medical and botanical knowledge with his Japanese counterparts. He exchanged information on Latin and Dutch names and uses of crops for their Japanese names. It is known that Japanese scholars circulated seventeenth-century illustrated Dutch herbals, such as Petrus Nylandt’s Der Nederlandsche Herbarius of Kruydt-boeck (Nylandt 1673) and the 1644 edition of Rembert Dodoens’s Cruijdeboeck (Marcon 2015; Skuncke 2014). Although Thunberg had studied the six volumes of Rumphius (1741–1750) on useful plants of the Moluccas, there is no evidence that a copy of this work was present in Japan (Skuncke 2014). The Swedish botanist published his Flora Japonica (Thunberg 1784), which was cited regularly by the person who wrote the Latin names on the Seikei Zusetsu illustrations, such as those of Lablab purpureus (L.) Sweet (vol. 18, p. 37) and Canavalia gladiata (Jacq.) DC. (vol. 18, p. 47). Von Siebold and his students must have used Thunberg’s Flora Japonica extensively.
Apart from some authentic Dutch words for crops, such as bloemkool (cauliflower) and uien (onions), some of the Dutch crop names are no longer in use today, but seem to have been copied from historic Dutch herbals. In Dodoens (1644: 582–584), Amaranthus blitum subsp. oleraceus (L.) Costea is indicated as groot majer, a name given to Amaranthus tricolor L. in the Seikei Zusetsu. The lengthy descriptions in Dutch for unfamiliar crops, such as “grote langwerpige recht opstaande Braziliaanse peper,” which can be translated as large, elongated, straight, erect Brazilian pepper for a variety of Capsicum annuum L. are also copied from Dodoens (1644: 1122–1126). Neotropical crops like hot pepper, maize, and potato (known around 1800 as fragrant yam, Seikei Zusetsu catalog vol. 22, p. 32) were introduced to Japan as early as the sixteenth century by Dutch and Portuguese traders (Crosby 2003).
For 17 of these “Dutch names,” the Katakana had corrupted the Dutch words to such an extent that we could not provide a complete translation and were unable to match them to the Dutch-Malayan plant names recorded by Rumphius in the Moluccas around 1700. For several species, the Dutch names were misidentifications, probably because the early Dutch herbals did not list many exotic Asian crops. Sesame (Sesamum indicum L.) carries the Dutch name lijnzaad, which refers to linseed (Linum usitatissimum L.). The Dutch name snijboon, used in the Netherlands for a flat-podded cultivar of Phaseolus vulgaris L. is given to the tropical legume Mucuna pruriens (L.) DC. in the Seikei Zusetsu catalog. The Dutch name waterruiterskruid (translated as water horsemanweed) is reserved in the Netherlands to Stratiotes aloides L. but here given to the Japanese aquatic plant Sagittaria trifolia L.
Decline in Agricultural Production in Japan
The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has collected data on the areas under cultivation of crops grown in significant amounts from 1966 to 2012 (MAFF 2016a, b; ESM 3 and 4 ). Of the 109 crop species described in the Seikei Zusetsu catalog, only 50 species are still cultivated to such an extent that the MAFF has data available on production area, with 24 species being classified as major crops and the remaining 26 as regional crops. Rice, Japan’s main crop, showed a decline from over 2.5 million ha in 1973 to slightly over 1.5 million ha in 2011, while the country’s second crop (wheat) was grown steadily on ca. 200,000 ha for the past four decades (ESM 3—Fig. S1). Most of the other 48 crops showed a steady decline in areas under cultivation in the past 50 years (ESM 3—Figs. S2–S6), with the exception of buckwheat (ESM 3—Fig. S2) and several varieties of Brassica rapa (ESM 3—Fig. S3).
The situation is more serious for the 19 crop species that were grown on less than 200 ha in 2010 (ESM 3—Fig. S6). Their areas have declined as more arable land has been used for the major crops. For example, gourds (Lagenaria siceraria L.) have declined from around 3,000 ha in the years after World War II to just above 200 ha in 2012. Some of these crop species are consumed only in Japan, like kuwai (Sagittaria trifolia L.), an indispensable part of traditional Japanese cooking on New Year’s Eve (and consumed during the first 3 days of January). Certain varieties of shiso (Perilla frutescens (L.) Britton) and myoga (Zingiber mioga (Thunb.) Roscoe) are distinctive to the Japanese kitchen and demands can only be met by local production, given their perishability. Wasabi roots (Eutrema japonicum (Miq.) Koidz.) are known across the world for their role as the pungent accompaniment of sushi. Much of the wasabi that is consumed today, however, is actually horseradish (Armoracia rusticana P.Gaertn., B.Mey. & Scherb), colored green to look like its rarer counterpart (Smil and Kobayashi 2012). The MAFF data, however, do not provide much data on the different varieties cultivated, so our comparison was largely limited to crop species.
The 59 food crops illustrated in the Seikei Zusetsu catalog (but not listed in the 2016 MAFF surveys) have not been grown in significant quantities in Japan in the last 50 years. However, not all of the 59 species can be considered forgotten. Some are no longer grown in Japan because they can be imported cheaper from other countries (such as sesame), while others are common wild plants that were once grown as vegetables, but are now regarded as weeds, like Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik., Chenopodium album L., and Taraxacum japonicum Koidz. Some of these species are still harvested from the wild for food and/or medicine (Chen and Qiu 2012), but they are not registered in the MAFF statistics.