Wolfgang Michel-Zaitsu

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Wolfgang Michel/Michel-Zaitsu (born 1946 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany) is a professor emeritus of Kyushu University in Fukuoka (Japan). He is a specialist in medicine and allied sciences in the history of East-West cultural exchange. In 1984 he was granted tenure as the first foreigner in a Japanese national university.

Research topics[edit]

  • Western medicine and allied sciences in early modern Japan.
  • History of "Dutch Learning" (Rangaku) and "Western Studies" (yôgaku) in early modern Japan
  • Acupuncture and moxibustion in Europe (16–19th century)
  • Eclecticism and indigenous knowledge in early modern Japanese medicine

By combining Japanese and Western manuscript sources, Michel shed new light on Western medicine and allied sciences in early modern Japan and the interdependence of Western studies on Eastern medicine and Japanese studies on Western medicine. His research clarified the mechanism of early medical interactions between Japan and Europe and induced a revision of the concept of ‘Dutch Studies’ (rangaku) in Edo period Japan. The beginning of Western medicine in Japan is shown as a result of structural conditions, political strategies, individual ambitions and occasional events. At the same time, the introduction of Western treatment methods strongly influenced Japanese research in related fields such as botany and pharmaceutical production techniques while stimulating language studies and the import of Western books. In contrast to previous research on these matters, Michel demonstrates that this change was supported by the Tokugawa shogunate and began soon after the ‘closure’ of Japan in mid-17th century.

The names of some of the Europeans who introduced Western medicine to Japan can also be found in publications on the history of traditional Chinese medicine in Europe. Michel demonstrated that considerable parts of their reports are actually reflecting genuine Japanese innovations that were not known in China. According to Michel, early modern traditional Japanese medicine (TJM) is clearly distinguished from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and deserves its own place in Far Eastern medical traditions.

Furthermore, Michel brought to light the biographical background and historical influence of numerous personalities involved in early modern exchange between Japan and the West. Especially his writings on Caspar Schamberger, father of the first Japanese school of Western-style surgery, and Engelbert Kaempfer, author of the famous “History of Japan”, are regarded as pioneering contributions. Michel’s critical edition of Kaempfer’s unpublished manuscripts provided a more solid foundation for studies on the history of Western observations on Edo-period Japan and the perception of Japan during the Age of Illumination. In acknowledgement of his research Michel was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit by the German president Johannes Rau.

Michel is a permanent board member of the Japanese Society for the History of Medicine (Nihon Ishi Gakkai).


  • Science Promotion Award (Japanese Society for the History of Medicine, 1996)
  • Federal Cross of Merit (President of the Federal Republic of Germany, 2004)
  • Yakazu Medical History Award (Japanese Society for the History of Medicine, 2018)

Published work (selection)[edit]

  • Michel, Wolfgang (2018), Bastaardt Woordenboek (Dutch Edition 1688 / Japanese Version 1822). Nakatsu Municipal Museum for History and Folklore, Medical Archive Series No. 17, Nakatsu (introduction in Japanese; ISSN 2432-0773). (Pdf-file)
  • Michel-Zaitsu, Wolfgang (2017), Traditionelle Medizin in Japan – Von der Frühzeit bis zur Gegenwart [History of traditional Japanese medicine (TJM)]. Muenchen: Kiener Verlag. ISBN 978-3-943324-75-4 (Yakazu Medical History Award)
  • Michel, Wolfgang (2010), »Der Ost-Indischen und angrenzenden Königreiche, vornehmste Seltenheiten betreffende kurze Erläuterung« – Neue Funde zum Leben und Werk des Leipziger Chirurgen und Handelsmanns Caspar Schamberger (1623–1706). Fukuoka: Hana-Shoin. ISBN 978-4-903554-71-6 [Extremely rare private 17th century print on the East-Indies, edited together with an extensive analysis]
  • __________. (2009). Kyūshū no rangaku – ekkyō to kōryū ['Dutch Learning' in Kyushu - Border crossing and exchange] . Shibunkaku shuppan. (with Torii Yumiko and Kawashima Mahito) ISBN 978-4-7842-1410-5
  • __________. (2001). Engelbert Kaempfer: Heutiges Japan. Iudicium. ISBN 3-89129-931-1 [Volume 1: Critical edition of Engelbert Kaempfer's manuscript about Japan. Vol 2: Annotations, comments, essays]
  • __________. (1999). Von Leipzig nach Japan – Der Chirurg und Handelsmann Caspar Schamberger (1623–1706) [From Leipzig to Japan - The Surgeon and Merchant Caspar Schamberger (1623–1706)]. Iudicium. ISBN 3-89129-442-5
  • __________. (1993). Erste Abhandlung über die Moxibustion in Europa: das genau untersuchte und auserfundene Podagra, vermittelst selbst sicher-eigenen Genäsung und erlösenden Hülff-Mittels [First Treatise on moxibustion in Europe]. Haug. ISBN 3-7760-1327-3

External links[edit]