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A piece of Japan in Leiden

He was the man who introduced Western medicine into Japan. Philipp Franz Von Siebold (1796-1866) also brought Japanese plants and artefacts to Leiden, and so to Europe.

Relations between the Netherlands and Japan

White and blue wisteria, autumn-red maples, and an ancient flowering quince... Traces of the famous doctor and researcher Philipp Franz Von Siebold (1796-1866) can still be seen today in the Hortus botanicus in Leiden. Special events are being organised for the 150th anniversary of the death of this German doctor who did so much to promote the relationship between the Netherlands and Japan. 

Von Siebold originals

Von Siebold lived between 1823 and 1829 at the Dutch trading post in Deshima in Nagasaki, Japan. He worked for the Dutch, but also taught Japanese scientists about Western medicine, and treated local patients. He became intrigued by the unfamiliar plants there and sent bulbs, seeds and plants back to the Netherlands. It is thanks to Von Siebold that plants such as the hortensia and azalea are now well-known throughout Europe. At least ten of his original plants, including the flowering quince and the white and blue wisteria, still blossom in the Hortus. 

Von Siebold's white wisteria

Major influence on botanical culture

'Von Siebold played an invaluable role in botanical culture,' according to Paul Keβler, prefect of the Hortus. 'He brought more than 730 species to Europe.' The Hortus has a new brochure that guides visitors past his original plants and the Von Siebold memorial garden. In the weekend of 9 and 10 April the spotlight will be on the Japanese plant Camellia. Visitors can buy special variants of the plant and gain advice on their own plants. 

Two exhibitions

The Hortus also has an exhibition devoted to the garden's relationship with Japan and Von Siebold (13 May - 18 October 2016). Later this year an exhibition on ‘Hortulanus Witte and and the plants from Japan’ exhibition will be on display in the Old UB, diagonally opposite the Hortus. There will also be workshops on techniques such as linocutting, lectures on Japanese plants and a series of lectures on Japenese gardens organised by the University of the Third Age. 

Von Siebold memorial garden

Move to Leiden

Von Siebold's influence extended far beyond botanical culture. In 1829 he had to leave Japan under suspicion of spying. As well as his collection of plants, he also shipped his collection of animals, art objects and tools to his new home in Leiden. Much of his natural  history collection went to the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. His book collection was taken over by the Leiden University Library. Von Siebold's former home at Rapenburg 19 has been a Japan Museum since 2005. The museum exhibits include some of his fish collection, including a giant sun fish - brightly hued watercolours, coins and clothing.  

View Von Siebold's collection in the University Library

Those who are curious about Von Siebold's collection can visit the University Library. His collection of Japanese books, drawings of fish, shelfish and water birds and antique maps can be viewed on request in the reading rooom of the Special Collections. 

Sayonara ( see you soon)!




Leiden has the only programme in Japanese Language and Culture

One effect of Von Siebold having settled in Leiden is that the University developed a special bond with this pioneer and with Japan. Leiden University is the only Dutch university to offer a programme in Japanese Language and Culture. With Von Siebold's collection and many gifts from other collections, Leiden University has become one of the world's largest centres of knowledge on Asian history and culture. A new Asian Library is being built to house all these collections. The library will be located on the roof of the University Library and is due to open in 2017.   


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