Maeno Ryotaku (前野良沢)

Ryotaku MAENO (1723 to November 30, 1803) was a domain doctor and Dutch scholar in the Nakatsu Domain of Buzen Province (present Nakatsu City, Oita Prefecture). He was one of the main translators of "Kaitai Shinsho" (the historic Japanese translation of a Dutch anatomical text). His go (pen name) was Ranka.


He was brought up by Zentaku MIYATA, who was his great-uncle on his mother side. In 1769, he was determined to study Western studies under Konyo AOKI in his later years. In 1770, he went down to Nakatsu by joining the head of the domain on his return home for sankinkotai (a system under which feudal lords in the Edo period were required to spend every other year in residence in Edo) and left for Nagasaki to study.

He translated the Western anatomy book "Ontleedkundige Tafelen," which he obtained in Nagasaki, into Japanese with Genpaku SUGITA, Junan NAKAGAWA, Hoshu KATSURAGAWA in three years and five months to issue the translation as "Kaitai Shinsho" (New Book of Anatomy). However, when Kaitai Shinsho was published, the achievement was not recognized.
(the book featured Genpaku SUGITA and some others as the editors and translators)
The book became famous after Genpaku SUGITA issued "Rangaku Kotohajime" (The Beginning of Dutch Studies) that described how difficult it was to put Ontleedkundige Tafelen into Kaitai Shinsho.

Ryotaku did not put his name in Kaitai Shinsho as a translator and editor because he recognized that the translation quality was quite low (however, the translation quality was exceptionally high considering the language level in Japan of that time). It is said that Ryotaku took this as an unforgivable shame. According to another theory, Genpaku did not want to see Ryotaku who were the most familiar with Dutch punished by bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) that was frowning on Western studies and took his frustration about the translation into consideration. Afterward, because of his sincere posture to Western studies, he was praised as '蘭学の化け物' (literally, wizard of Western studies) by Masashika OKUDAIRA, the lord of the domain, and was so proud of the title that he called himself '蘭化' (ranka).

He was close to Hikokuro TAKAYAMA, who was one of the Three bizarre characters of Kansei. He died in the household of the Kojima family, a doctor working for the shogunate, family which his daughter married into. Among his students were Kokan SHIBA, Gentaku OTSUKI and others.