The Ikoku Sosho, Mr. Siebold, and the terminus “Kon 棍”

20the Ikoku Sosho is a series of translations of monographic records of foreigners about their experiences in Japan during the 16-18 century. The authors were from Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, and Russia. Published in 13 volumes by Shun’nan Publishers from 1927-31, it is considered a valuable historical material to understand politics, economy, and culture of the time.

Ph._F._von_Siebold_(timbre_RFA)Volume 8 (1931) covers the works of German physician and naturalist Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866). In 1823 Siebold reached Japan as a physician to the Dutch trading post at Dejima. He taught and practiced medicine and researched Japanese flora and fauna, geography, history and language. In 1828 unauthorized maps were found in his luggage; Siebold was expelled from the country. In 1859 he returned as a foreign policy advisor to the shogunate, final departure 1862.

Chapter 15 (p. 386-538) of the Ikoku Sosho contains Siebold’s detailed descriptions “On the weapons, their exercises and warfare.” There, in subchapter “Viewing the stone weapons of the original inhabitants of the Japanese Islands” (p. 523) we find:

„Not less common than the arrowheads are the so-called thunderstones. We have these lie before us from all parts of the world. Most of them belong to antiquity and served as tools or weapons, for clubs or hatchets, as war hammers and battle-axes, as which they still here and there occur among living nations. (my translation from German to English)

Here the Japanese translators used the term kon 棍 to translate the German “Keule” (club). Accordingly, during the Taisho era the term kon seems to have been in use in scientific Japanese parlance to denote any sort of club of a very old design common to all cultures. It is the same “kon” as used for the okinawanized cudgel fencing methods mostly of Chinese provenance.


  • Original: Siebold, Philipp Franz von: Nippon : Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japan und dessen Neben- und Schutzländern; jezo mit den südlichen Kurilen, Krafto, Koorai und den Liukiu-Inseln. Leyden-Amsterdam 1832.
  • Japanese translation: Ikoku Sosho. Vol. 8. Shunnansha, Tōkyō 1931. In: „Modern Digital Library“, National Diet Library. 異国叢書。第8。駿南社、1931。「近代デジタルライブラリー」、国立国会図書館。

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