Representatives of Japan, China and the West (probably Holland) are gathered at one table. Above them is a scene in which fire brigades of the "three countries" attempt to extinguish the fire consuming a multi-storied pagoda. Each group approaches the problem in a different way. The Japanese, however, seem unaffected by the chaotic situation. They are presented as hefty sumo wrestlers viewing the action from afar and using the water for personal hygiene. The Dutch are using a modern pump and hose, while the Chinese have mustered a large contingent to help throw water on the fire using traditional small buckets. These three styles of fire fighting seem to be a metaphor for different approaches to a difficult problem.
The Japanese is given the position of prominence at the center of this fascinating trio. The Dutch doctor, a learned man of medicine wearing early 18th-century garb, holds a book on anatomy open to an illustration of a male skeleton. The image of a skeleton resting on a cane is derived from an illustration of a skeleton resting on a spade in the Fabrica of 1543 by Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). Vesalius's revolutionary study of anatomy was transmitted to Japan via Gerard Dicten's 1734 Dutch translation of Johann Adam Kulmus's 1732 Anatomische Tabellen. The Dutch work was translated into Japanese in 1774 as Kaitai shinsho. The Confucian scholar is shown with a scroll of his writings, a ruyi scepter, and what might be medicinal herbs in a Chinese vase. This grouping of three worthies is a variation on popular illustrations of the unity of the three creeds showing the Buddha, Laozi and Confucius together, or, in 18th-century Dutch learning (rangaku) circles in Japan, Buddha, Laozi and Jesus.
For three wood engravings by Shiba Kokan see lot 57.