Tanaka Hisashige


1799 – 1881


Who was Tanaka Hisashige?

Tanaka Hisashige was a Japanese engineer and inventor who founded in 1875 what became the Toshiba Corporation during the late Edo and Meiji period in Japan. He has been called the "Thomas Edison of Japan" or Karakuri Giemon.

Tanaka was born in Kurume, Chikugo province as the eldest son of a tortoise shell craftsman. A gifted artisan, at the age of 14, he had already invented a loom. At 20 he made karakuri dolls, autonomous dolls powered by hydraulics, capable of relatively complex movements, which were then much in demand by the aristocrats of Kyoto, daimyō in various feudal domains, and by the Shōgun’s court in Edo. At age 21, he was performing around the country at festivals with clockwork dolls he constructed himself.

In 1834, he relocated to Osaka, where he experimented in pneumatics, hydraulics and various forms of lighting based on rapeseed oil. However, he soon moved on to Kyoto, where he studied rangaku, or western learning, and astronomy. In 1851, he built a Myriad year clock which is now designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government. With the development of the Sonnō jōi movement, the atmosphere in Kyoto became increasingly dangerous towards foreign influences and technology, and Tanaka was invited by Sano Tsunetami to the Saga Domain in Kyūshū, where he was welcomed by Nabeshima Naomasa.

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Oct 16, 1799
Also known as
  • Thomas Edison of Japan
  • Karakuri Giemon
  • Japanese
  • Japan
  • Toshiba
Lived in
  • Kurume
  • Osaka
Nov 7, 1881

on July 23, 2013


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