IIAS Newsletter 10, Autumn 1996, East Asia 07

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East Asia



Cornelis Ouwehand


Not only books and libraries, also scholars go up in flames. His flame was light and warm and shall long be with us.

Cornelis Ouwehand was born in Leiden on 10 November 1920. He passed away in Heiloo (a village near the town of Alkmaar) on 5 September 1996. He was a scholar and a man of letters and a friend of the arts. His work, as fine in literature as in
anthropology and folklore studies, remains.

Ouwehand studied at the University of Leiden, where he completed the training course for the Indonesian Civil Service, besides which he studied Japanese, Chinese, and Cultural Anthropology. He began his studies in Leiden in 1938. He was in the Indonesian Civil Service from 1945 to 1950, then came back to Holland. From 1951 to 1959 he was Assistant Curator, and from 1959 to 1968 Curator of the Japanese Department in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. He organized the first exhibition of mingei in the Netherlands in 1958 and a major exhibition of Japanese woodblock prints in 1964.

That same year Ouwehand earned the degree of Doctor of Letters in Leiden with a thesis entitled: Namazu-e and their themes. An interpretative approach to some aspects of Japanese folk religion (Leiden: E.J. Brill). The book was translated in Japan in the 1970s by Komatsu Kazuhiko, Nakazawa Shinichi, Iijima Yoshiharu, and Furuie Shinpei. The translations were the subject of a series of discussions under the leadership of Takeda Chôshû in the Folklore Society in Dôshisha University in Kyoto. Part One first appeared in Denshô to Rekishi, the organ of the Society. The translation was published in 1979, in a well-illustrated edition, as Namazu-e. Minzokuteki Sôzôryoku No Sekai by Serika Shobô in Tôkyô. It also includes Ouwehand's first major study, 'Some Notes on the God Susa-no-o' from 1958-1959. The article and dissertation carry on the tradition of studies on the trickster figure espoused by Leiden anthropologists. At the same time, the study was a reaction to previous works which he considered to be one-sided in their interpretation of the god.

Ouwehand left Holland in 1968 to take up the Japanese chair in the newly created Ostasiatisches Seminar in the University of Zürich, a position which he held until his retirement in 1986. In fact, he stayed two years longer until the post was filled anew. He is considered the founder of Japanese Studies in Switzerland. Two months before his death a volume of his opera minora was published by the Schweizerische Asien Gesellschaft entitled, Über westöstliche Wege der Japonologie und andere Reden und Aufsätze. Eine Auswahl.

Hateruma: socio-religious aspects of a South-Ryukyuan island culture was published in 1985 in Leiden but actually appeared in 1986. It is a rich account of the ritual life in Hateruma, an island in the Yaeyama group. It is based on two lengthy periods of fieldwork, the first from April to December in 1965, and the second from October 1975 to February in 1976, and a number of shorter stays.

Ouwehand also devoted himself to literary work, translating six novels by Kawabata Yasunari, and one by Mishima Yukio (The Golden Pavilion), for which he received the prestigious Martinus Nijhoff Award in the Netherlands in 1985.

In 1992 Ouwehand returned to the Netherlands. He took up residence in the village of Heiloo just behind the dunes and close to the North Sea, where, with his eyesight beginning to fail him, he liked to go and listen to the sound of the waves.

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