Hiraga Gennai

(1728 - 1779)

Born to a samurai family in the Takamatsu domain, Hiraga Gennai renounced his hereditary rights in his twenties and became a ronin warrior serving no master. “To be free all your life,” he wrote, “is, at the least, better than not.” In 1756 he moved to Edo, where he con­ducted botanical research, worked as an engineer, and published many satirical works. Frustrated by a lack of recognition for his various inventions—he was known as the Japanese Da Vinci—Hiraga killed one of his disciples with a sword. He was jailed and died a month later of tetanus while in prison.

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