This page was created by Maren Ehlers. 

Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Glass Plates and the Transfer from Nagasaki to Fukui

Both before and after the vaccine's successful importation to Japan, physicians pondered the best way of transporting it over long distances. Kasahara Ryōsaku, town doctor in Fukui domain, developed a special glass container to facilitate importation of the vaccine from abroad. He probably had been influenced by European precedents; in 1799, Edward Jenner described how the dried-up lymph could be preserved between two glass plates (as an alternative to transport via threads soaked in cowpox lymph), and a Spanish physician proposed similar containers for overseas transports in 1803 (Rusnock 2009, 23-25; Few 2010, 534). In both 1847 and 1848, Kasahara petitioned the shogunate through the lord of his domain for permission to bring the vaccine to Japan. But unlike his colleague Narabayashi Sōken in Saga, who was working with the Dutch trading company, he decided to request an import from China. The distance from the Chinese coast was much shorter than from Batavia, and smallpox vaccinations were already well established in some Chinese coastal cities, where they coexisted with variolation. But Kasahara's plan became moot when in 1849, Narabayashi Sōken received a viable shipment of scabs from the Dutch, shortly before the Chinese delivery was expected to arrive.

Upon learning that the vaccine had arrived in Nagasaki, Kasahara immediately left Fukui to travel to western Japan. But by the time he reached Kyoto, he found that his teacher Hino Teisai in Kyoto had already received a shipment of bottled scabs from Egawa Shirōhachi, an interpreter in Nagasaki who was involved in Kasahara’s plan and had obtained vaccines originating from the Batavia transmission. Using one of these scabs, Hino Teisai had vaccinated several children in Kyoto. Kasahara thus stayed in Kyoto for about two months and helped Teisai set up his vaccination clinic. In the 11th lunar month he finally prepared for the transfer to Fukui.

Only one of eight scabs Hino had received from Egawa had been viable. To improve the chances of success, Kasahara thus decided to use two vehicles at once: his self-designed glass container, and children's bodies as a back-up.

Kasahara Ryōsaku had developed the glass container together with Kiriyama Genchū, a fellow pupil of Hino Teisai's, specifically for the planned importation from China. In a document attached to one of his petitions to the lord of Fukui, he described how to extract the lymph from a ripe pock using a lancet, place the lymph into an molded glass plate, cover it with a matching flat glass plate, label it, and fasten the two plates with a piece of silk thread. He recommended carrying the container inside one's clothing to keep it warm. His proposal recommended that the authorities should have six or seven sets of these containers manufactured in one of Japan's large cities because Kasahara had heard that glass production was not very advanced in the Qing empire (Fukui-ken Ishikai 1968, 171-75). It is unknown whether such containers were eventually sent to China by the governor of Nagasaki, but Kasahara used them to bring the vaccine from Kyoto to Fukui early in the winter of 1849.

Read about Kasahara's sharing of vaccines with physicians in Osaka while in Kyoto. Or continue on this pathway to read more about vehicles and the transfer to Fukui.

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