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Isaac Titsingh: Happy Birthday!

Today is the birthday of a famous man from Europe. The man I want to talk about is Isaac Titsingh, and he was born on January 10th, in 1745 in Amsterdam, Holland. That was 273 years ago. My own father was born almost 200 years after Isaac Titsingh in the same country, and not far from his home.

Isaac Titsingh is a very important person in European history because he could make a strong connection between Japan and European countries. Isaac Titsingh came to Japan from 1779 to 1784. This was the age of Tokugawa Ieharu, and Japan was not very open to other countries. At that time, European people stayed in Dejima in Nagasaki. It is true that at this time, many European people made trouble for Japan. They had bad manners. They were not interested in Japanese life or culture. They often did not do business or trading in a good way.

Isaac Titsingh was very different than many other people from Europe. He was interested in learning about Japan. He was interested in learning the language, the culture, the art, the food, the medicine, and the poetry of Japan. But most importantly, he was very interested in making good human relations with anyone that he met. Because he wanted to make friends with people he met, he could have great chances to learn about Japanese culture, and to make good relations for his whole life.

In 1784, Isaac Titsingh left Japan and traveld to China and then through Europe. He always had a very strong sense of value for Japan, and deeply respected Japanese traditions, art, history, medicine, writing style, and society. Of course, he loved his own country too, but Japan was always special in his mind and heart. He taught Europe a lot about Japan, and even introduced things like sake and soy sauce to the Western world.

Isaac Titsingh had three mottoes for his life. The first was that he was not interested in only making money. His job was to represent businesses in Japan, and he worked hard to do a good job. But money will not give us happiness. The second was that he did not want to waste his time in life. Isaac Titsingh knew that our lives are very short, and we should not waste our time on things that are not important or helpful or meaningful. The third was that when he was going to die he wanted to be calm, and to leave his life in a calm way.

The first time I came to Japan was in 1992. That was a long time ago, but I remember it very clearly in my mind. I was a much younger person, but I did not know very much about Japan. I think that even today I do not know so much about Japan. You have such a beautiful country. You have such an interesting society. You have art, literature, sports, music, and philosophy which is special and important.

Isaac Titsingh believed that Japan is a very special country, and I think so too. We are both men from the same part of the world. My parents are from Holland. We have a shared love of your country and a deep hope to learn more about it.

When you are here at Otemae, in your classrooms, studying so hard every day, it is difficult to understand why you must study. Part of it is to have your own future. Your teachers want you to have a beautiful future, and to do everything that you want. The other part is that they want you to remember that you are Japanese, that you are made in Japan, and that you carry the future of Japan.

It is a beautiful and very heavy thing that you must carry. But I hope that you will carry it, and love the weight of your culture, your language, and your future too. Isaac Titsingh and I are both very grateful.