The history of the VOC contains many more freedom fighters like Surapati and many acts of violence committed upon native people. Far less frequently covered, however, are interracial relationships. (To be crystal clear, this phrase does not refer to women who were enslaved or coerced, something that was also sadly common in the VOC.) The relative scarcity of European women prompted the colonial social structure to accept both interracial relationships and the children of these relationships. For example, Cornelia van Nijenrode, whose family was painted with Surapati, had a Dutch father and a Japanese mother. She married the Director General of Batavia and went on to become a wealthy merchant in her own right. Two centuries later, a woman from a similar relationship changed Japanese medicine.
When Kusumoto Ine was born, Japan was in a long isolationist period in which all foreigners were limited to a couple areas and Japanese people were forbidden from leaving the country. The only European enclave was on the island of Dejima, where the VOC was allowed to set up a trading post. The only women allowed to visit were courtesans, which is how VOC physician Franz von Siebold met Kusumoto Taki. They lived together on Dejima for six years, until her father was banned from Japan for obtaining maps as part of his study of Japanese plant life.
O-Ine, as she was known, grew up an illegitimate child with obvious mixed heritage in a society that did not approve of either. O-Ine’s zeal for study was another barrier to marriage for a woman in her position, but she didn’t care. She was determined to become a doctor. She reached out to the Japanese students of her father to study with them. She spent several years being trained by Ishii Sōken, who abused this trust by raping O-Ine.
O-Ine fled to her mother’s house in Nagasaki, where she gave birth to a daughter in 1851. She named her Tada, which means “free”. She was determined not to give up. She studied under another of her father’s students and began to specialize in obstetrics. In 1859, she was briefly reunited with her father when the change of regime meant he was allowed back into Japan. Then, he disobeyed the Dutch, who made him leave. (Did O-Ine inherit her father’s stubbornness or her mother’s smarts? Or both?)
O-Ine went on to assist in operations in a Dutch hospital in Nagasaki, becoming the first Japanese woman to see a dissection. Meanwhile, her reputation as a midwife continued to grow. She attended the women in the household of Daimyo Munenari, including attending his wife in childbirth. Her renown grew so great that she was brought to the capital city of Tokyo, where she treated the Emperor’s concubines. Throughout her career, she maintained a network of Japanese and Dutch physicians, learning whatever she could from both. She lived through a huge change in her country’s relationship with Europe and overcame incredible social barriers in her quest to help take care of people.
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