Johannis de Rijke (ヨハニス・デ・レーケ)

Johannis de Rijke (December 5, 1842 - January 20, 1913) was a Dutchman who systemized erosion and torrent control, and designed afforestation construction projects, and is known in Japan as "the father of erosion and torrent control." His name is sometimes written as ヨハネ(ニ)ス・デ・レイ(ー)ケ in Japanese. Considering his achievements in engineering, including river improvement, and erosion and torrent control, it might have been better to refer to him as the 'Technical Adviser of the Interior' or the 'River Improvement Engineer' rather than 'Employed Foreigner,' as he was often called.

Childhood years

He was born in Holland. He was a son of an embankment workman who also worked as a part-time farmer. After meeting J. Lebret, a hydraulic engineer and an engineering official with the Netherlands Ministry of the Interior, he decided to become a civil engineer. J. Lebret, who had no children, taught Johannis de Rijke civil engineering, including mathematics, dynamics, and hydraulics, as his own child. J. Lebret was impressed with Johannis de Rijke's industriousness, and devoted a lot of attention to him. Johannis de Rijke was his first student.

Employed Engineer at the Ministry of the Interior

In 1873, as a part of a project to introduce overseas learning and technologies in Japan, Johannis de Rijke, George Arnold Escher (G. A. Escher was among the university elite), and others were invited to Japan by the Meiji government. (G. A. Escher was a grade-one engineer and Johannis de Rijke was a grade-four engineer.)
They were involved in improvement work for the Yodo-gawa river and Mikuni Port, Escher in design and de Rijke in construction and supervision. Later, he took over the job of Cornelis Johannes Van Doorn and Escher, and become a civil engineering advisor and technical director at the Department of the Interior. He worked to control concurrent flooding, not stopping at construction work on discharge channels and diversion rivers, but systemizing erosion and torrent control and affrostation, the origin of the problem of flooding at river heads in mountainous areas. He also made plans for seaport construction throughout Japan. He devoted his heart and soul to the split-flow treatment of three downstream sections of the Kiso-gawa River, a project that extended over 10 years. He traveled throughout Japan to provide technical training and advice. His achievements were highly acclaimed and in 1891, he was appointed technical adviser to the Department of the Interior (equivalent in rank to a permanent under-secretary of the Interior). His position was an office for which candidates were selected by the Prime Minister and classified as equivalent to chief of the bureau.

It was customary for individuals involved in projects to be invited a completion ceremony and to have their names inscribed on a monument; however, de Rijke was never invited nor was his name ever inscribed on any of the monuments that marked his work. He was considered an employed foreigner (a behind-the-scenes player) at the Department of the Interior, and his official role was to conduct research and submit reports, and the authority to decide and execute projects remained with the Japanese government. It seems he was very proud of his work as an engineer, but he appears to have accepted his role as a behind-the-scenes player.

Imperial Appointment as Technical Adviser - Retirement from the Department of the Interior

Japanese engineers began to be developed through higher education in hydrology at schools such as Koka Daigakko College (Currently the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Engineering) and in universities in the US and Europe.
De Rijke gradually lost his place to exhibit his skills; however, he fulfilled his responsibilities after the imperial appointment as technical adviser of the Department of the Interior
He lived in Japan for over 30 years before returning to his home country in 1903. During his stay in Japan, he submitted 57 reports, received decorations twice, and upon his departure from Japan he was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Star as a person establishing the foundation for civil engineering in Japan. He was awarded a retirement bonus equivalent to 400 million yen at today's rate, as an expression of appreciation from such high government officials as Koi FURUICHI, the chief of the Engineering Bureau at the Department of Interior.

As Chief Engineer on a river improvement project in China and thereafter

After retiring from the Department of the Interior, he returned to his homeland, where he remained for several years. Soon after he was appointed as a representative of the Dutch government to serve as chief engineer for restoration operations on the Huangpu River in the city of Shanghai. He was hired for his uncommon ability; however, dealing with problems such as the irresponsibility of construction organizations (Venders falsely claimed to be construction consultants but were in reality dredgers), problems with operating expenses due to confusion within the Chinese government, and difficulty dealing with the German and English governments and the mass media, led to the shortening of his life.

In 1911, he resigned his position. On January 17 of the same year, he was awarded the rank and order of merit (Ridder) and he joined the nobility in both name and in reality. The award was given for his achievements on the Huangpu River restoration project as the representative of the Dutch government. Two years later, in 1913, he died in his home, Amsterdam, Holland.

Erosion-control dams and breakwaters that were built under de Rijke's supervision still exist throughout Japan, after more than 100 years. In 1998, de Rijke's grandchild visited Japan and went to visit the Kiso-gawa River, an event which hit the news.