Johannis de Rijke: The Dutch sensai

Johannis de Rijke (1842-1913) was the son of a humble dyke worker from Zeeland. Yet by the time he died, he had reached the highest position ever reached by a foreigner in Japan, and was a regular visitor to the Emperor’s Palace. Although his name goes largely unrecognised in the Netherlands, his grave is annually visited by groups of Japanese paying their respects.

De Rijke and two fellow Dutch engineers who arrived in Japan in 1873 were called the “watermen”. They were O-yatoi Gaikokujin, foreigners recruited by the Japanese for the expertise which a rapidly industrialising Japan did not yet have. Johannis de Rijke applied his skills as an hydraulic engineer to build numerous harbours in Japan, sewer systems, tunnel channels, and flood control projects, as well as reshaping and re-channeling a large number of rivers. He was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasures for his achievements, which have left a lasting mark on Japan’s landscape.

Producer: Dheera Sujan  

Broadcast: April 15, 2002