About OGATA Koan

OGATA Koan’s original given name was TAGAMI Seinosuke (Akira), and when he became an adult at the age 16, he was given his adult name TAGAMI Seinosuke Koreaki. Since he started studying in Osaka, he started to use the name OGATA Sanpei, and finally changed it to OGATA Koan when he began his medical practice and teaching of Western learning. His adult nickname was Kōsai, and his pen names were Tekitekisai and Kain. His pen name “Tekitekisai” is derived from the Chinese text Zhuang-zi, and is believed to mean “to act in accordance with what you believe best.” Although he was constantly prone to illness, Koan made it his mission to fulfill his social responsibilities as a physician and educator. The letters and tanka poems written by Koan indicate his honest and dutiful character.

Koan was born to SAEKI Koreyori (1767-1847), who served the Ashimori domain in Bitchu (now Okayama), as his third son in 1810. In 1825, Koan visited Osaka, accompanying his father. The next year, Koan moved to Osaka where he started to study Western medicine at the school of NAKA Tenyū (1783-1835), a scholar of Western learning. In 1830, Koan moved to Edo and studied under TSUBOI Shindō (1795-1848) and UDAGAWA Shinsai (1769-1834). After studying in Nagasaki for two years (1836-38), Koan opened Tekijuku in Kawara-machi, Osaka in March 1838. In the previous year, the Rebellion of ŌSHIO Heihachiro had occurred in Osaka, and in 1839, the Bansha no goku incident (Imprisonment of Scholars of Western learning) broke out. As exemplified by these incidents, Japan was experiencing turbulent times and in a period of transition.

Presumably because the house in which Tekijuku was first opened was very narrow, at the end of 1845 Tekijuku was moved to a new larger townhouse in Kasho-machi. In the new location in 1849 Koan authored Byogaku-tsuron (Introduction to Pathology), the first ever book on pathology written in Japanese. Also, in 1858 he published the first volume of Fushi keiken-ikun (roughly, Dr. Hufeland’s Medical Experience, which was originally published as Enchiridion Medicum, oder Anleitung zur medizinischen Praxis in 1833 in Germany), which was a translation of a series of volumes on internal medicine written by the German doctor Hufeland. Koan translated it from its Dutch-translated edition.

In those days, people were faced with the great threat posed by the prevalence of smallpox. In 1849, Koan, together with other doctors, built Shuto-sho (lit. vaccination clinic, later renamed Osaka Joto-kan) in Furute-machi (now 5 cho-me, Dosho-machi), Osaka, and started vaccinating people using Edward Jenner's method of vaccination against smallpox. In 1860, the vaccination clinic was relocated to the premises of the current Ogata Koan Memorial Foundation at 1-chome, Amagasaki (now 3 cho-me, Imabashi, Chuo-ku), and underwent expansion work. When a cholera epidemic occurred in 1858, Koan urgently published Korori Chijun (Guide to the Treatment of Cholera) to provide guidelines for the treatment of this epidemic. These activities by Koan can be regarded as pioneering work, leading to today’s preventive medicine and public health practices.

In recognition of the high caliber of his work, the Edo government summoned Koan to Edo in 1862 and appointed him as a government doctor and president of a Western medical institution. InEdo, he died of disease in 1863, at age 54. While Koan was away, his family members and students managed Tekijuku. Education and medical practices at Tekijuku were continued until around 1886 by Koan’s adopted son and other people. However, with the introduction of a new education system initiated by the Meiji government, Tekijuku was dissolved to pave the way for its reestablishment in a different form.

Portrait of OGATA Koan


Painted by GOSEDA Yoshimatsu in 1901
Courtesy of Tekijuku Commemoration Association