Hiraga Gennai

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Hiraga Gennai
平賀 源内
Hiraga Gennai
1845 A Portrait of Kyūkei Hiraga (1728–80) by Momuō Kimura
DiedJanuary 24, 1780 (aged 51–52)
Other namesKyūkei (鳩渓), Fūrai Sanjin (風来山人), Tenjiku rōnin (天竺浪人) and Fukuchi Kigai (福内鬼外)
Educationstudent of Rangaku
Occupationphysician, author, painter and inventor
Portrait of Hiraga Gennai by Nakamaru Seijuro
The Elekiter (replica) exhibited in the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan.
Gennai (Shido) ware sake bottle with design of scholars in garden, earthenware with clear glaze and colored enamels. Edo period, 18th century

Hiraga Gennai (平賀 源内, 1728 – 24 January 1780) was a Japanese polymath of the Edo period. Gennai was a pharmacologist, student of Rangaku, physician, author, painter and inventor well known for his Erekiteru (electrostatic generator), Kandankei (thermometer), and Kakanpu (asbestos cloth). Gennai also composed several works on homosexual life and desire in Japan, such as the Nenashigusa (1763), the Kiku no en (1764), the San no asa (1768), and the Nenashigusa kohen (1768), and also wrote the satirical essay "On Farting". His birth name was Shiraishi Kunitomo, but he later used numerous pen names, including Kyūkei (鳩渓), Fūrai Sanjin (風来山人) (his principal literary pen name), Tenjiku rōnin (天竺浪人) and Fukuchi Kigai (福内鬼外). He is best known by the name of Hiraga Gennai.


Hiraga Gennai was born in 1728 in the village of Shidoura, Sanuki Province (part of the modern city of Sanuki, Kagawa. He was the third son of Shiraishi Mozaemon (Yoshifusa ) an ashigaru hereditary foot soldier in the service of the Takamatsu Domain. The Shiraishi clan traced their roots to Saku District in Shinano Province where they were local warlords with the surname of "Hiraga". However, after they were defeated by the Takeda clan, they fled to Mutsu Province and entered the service of the Date clan, taking the new surname of "Shiraishi" from a location in Mutsu. They accompanied a cadet branch of the Date clan to Uwajima Domain in Shikoku, but eventually moved to Takamatsu where they supplemented their meagre income as a low-ranking samurai with farming. Gennai studied Confucianism and haiku poetry, and crafted kakejuku as a child in Takamatsu. In 1748, his father died, and he became head of the family. He visited Nagasaki around 1752, where he studied oil painting, western medicine and other rangaku topics. Soon after his return from Nagasaki, he turned the role of head of household over to his sister and abandoned his family,

Gennai relocated to Osaka and Kyoto, where he studied medicinal herbs under Toda Kyokuzan before moving to Edo in 1757, where he studied with Tamura Ransui, and wrote a number of books, some on scientific or nature topics, some satirical novels, in the kokkeibon and dangibon genres. In his scientific experiments, Gennai prospected for various minerals, wove asbestos, calculated temperatures, and worked with static electricity. He returned to Nagasaki to study mining and the techniques of refining ores. In 1761, he discovered iron deposits in Izu Province and worked as a broker to establish a mining venture. He also held exhibitions of his various inventions in Edo, and came to be known to Tanuma Okitsugu, a senior official in the Tokugawa shogunate, as well as the doctors Sugita Genpaku and Nakagawa Jun'an. In 1766, he assisted Kawagoe Domain to develop an asbestos mine in what is now part of Chichibu, Saitama. While these, he also studied techniques to improve the efficiency of charcoal furnaces and the construction of river boats. In 1773, he was invited by Satake Yoshiatsu to Kubota Domain to teach mining engineering, and while in Dewa Province , also gave lessons in western oil painting.

Gennai made or instructed a number of Japanese pottery pieces which are named Gennai ware after him. The style is unique with brilliant colours, mostly three, following the Kōchi ware style from Gennai's native island of Shikoku.[1]

Gennai was back in Edo by the summer of 1779, where he undertook repairs to a daimyō mansion. His final days are surrounded in mystery. The most prevalent account is that he was arrested in late 1779 for killing two carpenters on the project in a drunken rage after they had accused him of stealing the plans for the mansion. He subsequently died in prison on January 24 of then following year of tetanus. Sugita Genpaku wanted to hold a funeral service, but this was denied for unknown reasons by the Shogunate, so Sugita held a memorial service with no body and with no tombstone. This has given rise to many theories over the years that Gennai had not actually died in prison, but had been spirited away, possibly by the intervention of Tanuma Okitsugu, and lived out the rest of his life somewhere in obscurity.

Gennai was homosexual and, being fond of the loves of males to the complete exclusion of females, composed several works on the subject, including guidebooks on male prostitutes and works of fiction that concentrated on sex between men over heterosexuality.[2]

Grave of Hiraga Gennai[edit]

Despite the original prohibition on his funeral, Hiraga Gennai had a grave at the temple of Sosen-ji in Asakusabashi (currently Hashiba, Taitō-ku, Tokyo) 35°43′41″N 139°48′21″E / 35.72806°N 139.80583°E / 35.72806; 139.80583. In 1928, following the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, the temple was relocated to Itabashi, but its cemetery remained behind. Behind his grave is the grave of Fukusuke, his long-time manservant, and next to the tombstone is a stone monument with an epitaph by Sugita Genpaku, his life-long friend. The tomb was reconstructed by Count Yorinaga Matsudaira in 1931. It received protection as a National Historic Site in 1943.[3] The site is a 12-minute walk from Minami-Senju Station on the Hibiya Line; however, the grave is not open to the public.[4]

In addition, Hiraga has a second grave at the Hiraga family bodaiji in Sanuki, Kagawa.

Appearances in fiction[edit]

  • Gennai appears as a scholar/inventor and cross-dressing lesbian in manga Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (2005- ) by Fumi Yoshinaga.
  • In the anime OVA: Mask of Zeguy Hiraga Gennai had a prominent role (along with Hijikata Toshizo) in protecting Miki (who is a descendant of the renowned Priestess Shamus) and preventing the legendary mask from falling into the wrong hands.
  • In the anime OVA: T.P. Sakura, Hiraga Gennai appears in addition to his elekiter.
  • In the anime Oh! Edo Rocket episode 10 it is revealed that the retired resident is Gennai. The Fūrai Row-House Block, which he says is his, is also likely a nod to one of his pen names.
  • In the anime Gintama, there is a mechanic known as Hiraga Gengai.
  • The anime Zero no Tsukaima has a character by the name of Hiraga Saito. Since Saito hails from Japan, it is speculated that he is named after Gennai.
  • Gennai makes an appearance in the anime Read or Die, along with the clones of many other historical and legendary figures. In Read Or Die, Gennai uses his elekiter as a very high powered destructive weapon that he uses to destroy the White House and eradicate an entire fleet of combat helicopters.
  • A giant mechanical frog is named after him in Mai-HiME.
  • In the anime Flint the Time Detective, he makes an appearance with the Time Shifter Elecky as he uses it to make giant robots.
  • In the Square game Live-A-Live, there is a mechanic named Gennai who is responsible for the creation of mechanical traps in the Bakumatsu Chapter. Since the setting of the chapter is the Bakumatsu era, his presence is an anachronism, but considering the additional presence of Ishikawa Goemon, Yodo-Dono, and Shiro Tokisada Amakusa, it is clear that this section of the game was intentionally designed as a mash-up of popular Japanese history.
  • In the 36th episode of Kikaida 01 Hiraga Gennai is threatened by time traveling robots from 1974 disguised as ninja. The evil Shadow tends to take him to 1974 and have him help build better robots.
  • In the 30th episode of Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z (ガールズとカレ!, "Girls and Him!"), a character by the name of Hiraga Kennai is responsible for the creation of a primitive form of Chemical Z and the Ōedo Chakichaki Musume. He also uses an elekiter to separate Him's soul (the black light) from his body.
  • In the 13th episode of the first season of the anime Digimon Adventure (エンジェモン覚醒!, "Angemon's Awakening!"), an elderly man named Gennai appears to the Chosen Children/Digidestined and helps them with their journey. He reappears in the second season called Digimon Adventure 02 as a younger man. His Digimon Adventure design appears to be based on old-fashioned Japanese styles, and both it and his name were likely inspired by the historical Gennai.
  • In the light novel Hidan no Aria, Gennai is the famous ancestor of the Amdo Butei Aya Hiraga.
  • In the 6th episode of the anime Sengoku Collection he is embodied in a genius and clumsy girl.
  • In the anime Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran, Gennai makes an appearance in episode 7.
  • In the manga Korokoro Soushi, by Shintaro Kago, as a recurrent character.
  • Takashi Yamaguchi played Hiraga Gennai in Tenkagomen, an NHK drama series (1971–72)
  • In a mobile card turn-based video game Valkyrie Crusade, a female version of Hiraga exists as a card. Elekiter also mentioned with "her".
  • In the Free-to-play MMORPG Onigiri (video game), there is a female version of Hiraga Gennai. She is part of the main quest line story. As a special partner character, players can also control her using the 'Vanguard Swap' feature.
  • In the web series Critical Role, in the Call of Cthulhu RPG One-shot, Gennai is a member of a secret society that wishes to cast light in every corner of the world, in order to starve The Village of the Hungry Night. Dr. Ida Codswell uses Gennai's elekiter to momentarily turn on the lights of The Crystal Palace to keep off The Village of the Hungry Night.
  • In the season 3, episode 9 of Star Trek Discovery Terra Firma 1, a starship named USS Hiraga Gennai is mentioned as answering a distress call.


  1. ^ "福岡市美術館". Fukuoka-art-museum.jp. Retrieved 2020-04-28.
  2. ^ Leupp, Gary (1997). Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. University of California Press. p. 75, 86, 102.
  3. ^ "平賀源内墓" [Hiraga Gennai no haka] (in Japanese). Agency for Cultural Affairs.
  4. ^ "Taito wo dekake navi" [Hiraga Gennai no haka] (in Japanese). Taitō City.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Hiraga Gennai at Wikimedia Commons