Hiraga Gennai (平賀 源内?, 1728 – January 24, 1780) was an Edo period Japanese pharmacologist, student of Rangaku, physician, author, painter and inventor who is well known for his Erekiteru (electrostatic generator), Kandankei (thermometer) and Kakanpu (asbestos cloth). He also wrote the satirical essay "On Farting."
Born into a low-ranking samurai family, his father was Shiraishi Mozaemon (Yoshifusa), his mother was from the Yamashita clan, and he had many siblings. His real name was Kunitomo (国倫?), but he also went by the pen names Kyūkei (鳩渓?), Fūrai Sanjin (風来山人?) (his principal literary pen name), Tenjiku rōnin (天竺浪人?) and Fukuchi Kigai (福内鬼外?). He is most well known by the name "Gennai", however.
He first studied medicinal herbs in Osaka, with Toda Kyokuzan, before moving to Edo in 1757. There, he studied with Tamura Ransui, and wrote a number of books, some on scientific or nature topics, some satirical novels, in the kokkeibon and dangibon genres. In his scientific experiments, he prospected for various ores, wove asbestos, calculated temperatures, and worked with static electricity. Gennai also studied Western painting and ceramics techniques, and produced a number of works in that vein.
Interested in ores, he tried unsuccessfully a number of times to have new mines opened. On one occasion, frustrated and enraged at the repeated lack of support from the citizens of the area, he killed one of his disciples in a fit of rage. Arrested and sent to prison, he died there in 1779.
Read more about Hiraga Gennai: Appearances in Fiction
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