Carl Peter Thunberg

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Carl Peter Thunberg was opperhoofd (chief) of the Dutch East India Company factory at Dejima from 1775 until 1777. A direct student of Carl Linnaeus, he has been described as "the most prominent European physician ever to visit Japan."[1]

Prior to his sojourn in Japan, Thunberg studied not only under Linnaeus at Uppsala University in Sweden, but also at top institutions in Paris and Amsterdam.

In his writings on Japan, Thunberg noted that many Japanese scholars were already familiar with European works on botany and medicine before his arrival, and that knowledge of such matters was not jealously guarded by the government, but was widespread among intellectuals.[2]

While in Edo for several weeks on the annual VOC mission to the shogunate, Thunberg was visited on several occasions at the Nagasaki-ya by shogunal physician Katsuragawa Hoshû and Rangaku scholar Nakagawa Jun'an. Thunberg is said to established a close relationship with the Japanese scholars, who he called his "beloved students."[1] The two were among the team which had completed the Kaitai shinsho (the first major translation & publication in Japan of a European anatomy book) a few years earlier.

Following his return to Europe, Thunberg succeeded to Linnaeus' professorial position at Uppsala. He continued to successfully exchange letters with some Japanese scholars, despite the shogunate's seclusion policies.[2]


  • Timon Screech, Obtaining Images, University of Hawaii Presss (2012), 333.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Screech, 333.
  2. 2.0 2.1 John Whitney Hall, Tanuma Okitsugu: Forerunner of Modern Japan, Harvard University Press (1955), 91.