chapter  3
15 Pages

The Interpreter Interpreted: Kaempfer's Japanese Collaborator Imamura Genemon Eisei


According to the daghregister, or diaries kept by the VOC's servants on Deshima, Genemon was descended from a family of interpreters.3 His grandfather, Imamura Shirobei, had already been in the service of the Dutch when the VOC factory was still situated at Hirado, just off the north-west coast of Kyushu. His father, Imamura Ichizaemon, moved to Nagasaki in 1641, the year the Dutch were forced to settle there and his son Genemon was born in 1671. However, Japanese records do not list the Imamura family amongst the interpreters who followed the Dutch to Nagasaki and the Imamura genealogy lists only Genemon's father as being employed by the Dutch, occupying the post of naitsu ji kogashira from 1681 (Tenna 1) to 1694 (Genroku 7) when he retired. 4 According to Kaempfer the naitsu ji were 'chamber interpreters'. He writes: 'They may only visit our island at the time of the annual sales ... they are allotted two to six to every Dutchman to act as interpreters in his room. The truth is, however, that they are spies, for amongst ten there is hardly one who understands a word of Dutch [teutsch] .. .'5 The Imamura genealogy confirms that the family did move from Hirado in 1641, but apparently they were not considered official interpreters.6