Dejima: the 'Deep Space Nine' of Feudal Japan.

The man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay
I recently finally got round to reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet by David Mitchell, a fantastic book which I had recommended to me some time ago. It is set in 18th century Japan - a bit of an occasional hobby-hoarse period of mine, Japans self imposed isolation (Sakoku policy) which lasted over two hundred years seemed to freeze it in time, preserving its rich and ancient culture, society and government while the modern European nations became industrialised and reinvented themselves.  When I discovered that the book was set on this island called Dejima, a place I had never heard of,  I was utterly captivated by it,  I immediately sought out everything I could get my hands on about Dejima, and began to feel a blog post coming on.

Dejima (which literally translated means "exit island") was a small fan-shaped artificial island built in the bay of Nagasaki in 1634. This island, which was formed by digging a canal through a small peninsula, remained as the single place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world during the Edo period (1603 - 1868). Dejima was built to constrain foreign traders as part of sakoku, the self-imposed isolationist policy of Japan under which no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. The policy was enacted by the Tokugawa shogunate under Tokugawa Iemitsu through a number of edicts and policies from 1633–1639 and remained in effect until 1853 with the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry and the opening of Japan. It was still illegal to leave Japan until the Meiji Restoration (1868).
Originally built to house Portuguese traders, it was used by the Chinese and Dutch as a trading post from 1641 until 1853. Covering an area of 120 m x 75 m (9000 square meters, or 0.9 hectares), it later was integrated into the city.


In 1543 Portuguese traders were the first European traders to actually land in Japan, on Tanegashima an island lying to the south of Kyushu, in southern Japan. Six years later the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier landed in Kagoshima. At first Portuguese traders were based in Hirado, but they moved in search of a better port. In 1570 daimyo Omura Sumitada converted to Catholicism (choosing Bartolomeu as his Christian name) and made a deal with the Portuguese to develop the coastal town of Nagasaki; soon the port was open for international trade. In 1580 Sumitada gave the jurisdiction of Nagasaki to the Jesuits, and the Portuguese obtained the de facto monopoly on the silk trade with China through Macau.
The shogun Iemitsu ordered the construction of the artificial island in 1634, to constrain the Portuguese merchants living in Nagasaki. But after an uprising of the predominantly Christian population in the Shimabara-Amakusa region, the Tokugawa government decided to expel all Western nationals except the Dutch employees of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC), and from 1641 on, only Chinese and Dutch ships were allowed to come to Japan and dock at Dejima.


On the administrative level, the island of Dejima was part of the city of Nagasaki. The 25 local Japanese families who owned the real estate received an annual rent from the Dutch. Dejima was a small island, 120 by 75 meters, linked to the mainland by a small bridge, guarded on both sides, and with a gate on the Dutch side. It contained houses for about twenty Dutchmen, warehouses, and accommodation for Japanese officials. The Dutch were watched by a number of Japanese officials, gatekeepers, night watchmen, and a supervisor (otona) with about fifty subordinates. Numerous merchants supplied goods and catering, and about 150 tsuji ("interpreters") served. They all had to be paid by the VOC. Like the city of Nagasaki, Dejima was under direct supervision of Edo by a governor (Nagasaki bugyo).
Every ship that arrived in Dejima was inspected. Its sails were held by the Japanese until they released the ship to leave. They confiscated religious books and weapons and the Dutch were not allowed to hold any religious services on the island.
Despite the financial burden of maintaining the isolated outpost on Dejima, the trade with Japan was very profitable for the VOC, initially yielding profits of 50% or more. Trade declined steadily throughout18th century, hampered by the fact that only two ships per year were allowed to dock at Dejima. After the bankruptcy of the VOC in 1795, the Dutch government took over exchange with Japan. Times were especially hard when the Netherlands (then called the Batavian Republic) was under French Napoleonic rule. All the ties with the homeland were severed at Dejima, and for a while, it was the only place in the world where the Dutch flag was flown.
The chief VOC official in Japan was called the Opperhoofd by the Dutch, or Kapitan (from Portuguese capitão) by the Japanese. This descriptive title did not change when the island's trading fell under Dutch state authority. Throughout these years, the plan was to have one incumbent per year—but sometimes plans needed to be flexible.
Originally, the Dutch mainly traded in silk, cotton, and materia medica from China and India, but sugar became more important by the late 18th century. Also, deer pelts and shark skin were transported to Japan from Taiwan, as well as books, scientific instruments and many other rarities from Europe. In return, the Dutch traders bought Japanese copper, silver, camphor, porcelain, lacquer ware and rice.
To this was added the personal trade of VOC employees on Dejima, which was an important source of income for them. They sold more than 10,000 foreign books on various scientific subjects to the Japanese from the end of the 18th to the early 19th century. These became the basis of knowledge and a factor in the Rangaku movement, or 'Dutch studies', which allowed Japan to keep abreast of Western technology and medicine.

Ship arrivals

In all, 606 Dutch ships arrived at Dejima during its two centuries of settlement, from 1641 to 1847.
•    The first period, from 1641 to 1671, was rather free, and saw an average of 7 Dutch ships every year (12 sank during this period).
•    From 1671 to 1715, about 5 Dutch ships were allowed to visit Dejima every year.
•    From 1715, only 2 ships were permitted every year, which was reduced to 1 ship in 1790, and again increased to 2 ships in 1799.
•    During the Napoleonic wars, in which the Netherlands was occupied by (and a satellite of) France, Dutch ships could not safely reach Japan in the face of British opposition. They relied on "neutral" American and Danish ships. (When the Netherlands was made a province by France (1811–1814), and Britain conquered Dutch colonial possessions in Asia, Dejima for four years was the only place in the world where the free Dutch flag flew, as ordered by Hendrik Doeff.)
•    After the liberation of the Netherlands in 1815, regular Dutch trading traffic was re-established.
Effect of the Sakoku policy
For two hundred years, Dutch merchants were generally not allowed to cross from Dejima to Nagasaki. The Japanese were likewise banned from entering Dejima, except for prostitutes from Nagasaki teahouses. These yujo were handpicked from 1642 by the Japanese, often against their will. From the 18th century, there were some exceptions to this rule, especially following Tokugawa Yoshimune's doctrine of promoting European practical sciences. A few Oranda-yuki ("those who stay with the Dutch") were allowed to stay for longer periods, but they had to report regularly to the Japanese guard post. European scholars such as Engelbert Kaempfer, Carl Peter Thunberg, Isaac Titsingh and Philipp Franz von Siebold were allowed to enter the mainland with the shogunate's permission. Starting in the 18th century, Dejima became known throughout Japan as a centre of medicine, military science, and astronomy. Many samurai travelled there for their "Dutch studies".
In addition, the Opperhoofd was treated like the head of a tributary state, which meant that he had to pay a visit of homage to the Shogun in Edo. The Dutch delegation travelled to the capitol Edo yearly between 1660 and 1790, and once every four years thereafter. This prerogative was denied to the Chinese traders. The lengthy travel to the imperial court broke the boredom of the Dutch stay, but it was a costly affair. The shogun told them in advance and in detail which (expensive) gifts he expected, such as astrolabes, a pair of glasses, telescopes, globes, medical instruments, medical books, or exotic animals and tropical birds. In return, the Dutch delegation received some gifts from the shogun. On arrival in Edo, the Opperhoofd and his retinue (usually his scribe and the factory doctor) had to wait in the Nagasakiya, their mandatory residence, until they were summoned at the court. After their official audience, they were expected, according to Engelbert Kaempfer, to perform Dutch dances and songs etc. for the amusement of the shogunate. But they also used the opportunity of their stay of about two to three weeks in the capital to exchange knowledge with learned Japanese and, under escort, to visit the town.
New introductions to Japan than came through Dejima:

•    Badminton, a sport that originated in India, was introduced by the Dutch during the 18th century; it is mentioned in the Sayings of the Dutch.
•    Billiards were introduced in Japan on Dejima in 1794; it is noted as "Ball striking table" in the paintings of Kawahara Keika.
•    Beer seems to have been introduced as imports during the period of isolation. The Dutch governor Doeff made his own beer in Nagasaki, following the disruption of trade during the Napoleonic wars. Local production of beer started in Japan in 1880.
•    Clover was introduced in Japan by the Dutch as packing material for fragile cargo. The Japanese called it "White packing herb" (??????), in reference to its white flowers.
•    Coffee was introduced in Japan by the Dutch under the name Moka. Siebold refers to Japanese coffee amateurs in Nagasaki around 1823.
•    Piano. Japan's oldest piano was introduced by Siebold in 1823, and later given to a tradesperson in the name of Kumatani. The piano is today on display in the Kumatani Museum.
•    Paint, used for ships, was introduced by the Dutch. The original Dutch name (pek) was also adopted in Japanese (Penki/???).
•    Cabbage and tomatoes were introduced in the 17th century by the Dutch.
•    Chocolate was introduced between 1789 and 1801; it is mentioned as a drink in the pleasure houses of Maruyama.
Badminton on Dejima

Billiards on Dejima

The Naval Training Centre

Naval Training Centre
Following the forced opening of Japan by US Navy Commodore Perry in 1854, the Bakufu suddenly increased its interactions with Dejima in an effort to build up knowledge of Western shipping methods. The Nagasaki Naval Training Centre, a naval training institute, was established in 1855 by the government of the Shogun at the entrance of Dejima, to enable maximum interaction with Dutch naval know-how. The centre was equipped with Japan's first steamship, the Kanko Maru, given by the government of the Netherlands the same year. The future Admiral Enomoto Takeaki was one of the students of the Training Centre.


Edo period island Boundaries in modern Nagasaki
The Dutch East India Company's trading post at Dejima was closed in 1857, after Dutch merchants were allowed to trade in Nagasaki City proper. Since then, the island has been consistently expanded by reclaimed land and completely merged into Nagasaki itself. Extensive redesigning of Nagasaki Harbour in 1904 has obscured its original location,
The island was designated a national historical site in 1922, but further steps were slow to follow and Dejima today is still a work in progress. Restoration work was started in 1953, but the project languished and all that was achieved was the original footprint of Dejima Island being marked by rivets in the ground; but as restoration progresses, the ambit of the island will be easier to see at a glance. In 1996, restoration of Dejima re-commenced with plans for restoring the 10 remaining original buildings (including Japan's first Protestant Seminary, built in the 19th century, renovated in 1998 and has already become the Nagasaki Dejima Museum of History) and reconstructing an additional 25 buildings in their early 19th-century state. To better display Dejima's fan-shaped form, the project anticipated rebuilding only parts of the surrounding embankment wall that had once enclosed the island. Buildings that remained from the Meiji Period were to be used.

In 2000, five buildings including the Deputy Factor's Quarters were completed and opened to the public. In the spring of 2006, the finishing touches were put on the Chief Factor's Residence, the Japanese Officials' Office, the Head Clerk's Quarters, the No. 3 Warehouse, and the Sea Gate.
The long-term planning intends that Dejima will be surrounded by water on all four sides; its characteristic fan-shaped form and all of its embankment walls will be fully restored. This long-term plan will include large-scale urban redevelopment in the area. To make Dejima an island again will require rerouting the Nakashima River and moving a part of Route 499 -but hey it's got to be worth it.