The artificial island, constructed in 1634 on orders of shogun Iemitsu,
originally accommodated Portuguese merchants. The sakoku and Shimabara
uprising of 1637, in which Christian Japanese took an active part, was
crushed with the help of the Dutch. The Portuguese and other Catholic
nations were expelled from Japan in 1638 except the Dutch East India
Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC). The shogunate ordered
the Dutch to transfer its trading operations from the island port of
Hirado to Dejima in 1641.
At its maximum the Hirado trading post covered a large area. In 1637
and in 1639, stone warehouses were constructed within the ambit of this
Hirado trading post. Dutch builders incorporated these very dates into
the stonework, but the Tokugawa shogunate disapproved of the use of any
Christian era year dates and so ordered the immediate destruction of the
From then on, only the Chinese and the Dutch could trade with Japan. It
is significant that Dejima was an artificial island, and hence not part
of Japan proper. Thus, the foreigners were kept at arm's length from the
sacred soil of Japan. 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 government
officials. The Dutch were watched by a number of Japanese officials,
gatekeepers, night watchmen, and a supervisor (otona) with about fifty
subordinates. There were a number of merchants for supplies and catering
and about 150 tsūji ("interpreters"). They all had to be paid by the
VOC. Dejima was under direct central supervision of Edo by a governor,
called a bugyō, who was responsible for all contact between the VOC and
all contacts with anyone in the Japanese archipelago.
Every Dutch ship that arrived in Dejima was inspected by the bugyō, and
sails were seized until that ship was set to leave. Religious books and
weapons were sealed and confiscated. No religious services were allowed
on the island.
Despite the financial burden of the isolated outpost on Dejima, the
trade with Japan was very profitable for the VOC, initially yielding
profits of 50% or more. Trade declined in the 18th century, as only two
ships per year were allowed to dock at Dejima. After the bankruptcy of
the VOC in 1795, the Dutch government took over the settlement. Times
were especially hard when the Netherlands (then called the Batavian
Republic) was under French Napoleonic rule and all ties with the
homeland were severed. For a while Dejima remained the only place in the
world where the Dutch flag was flown.
The chief VOC official in Japan was called the Opperhoofd, or Kapitan.
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, but sugar became more
important later. Also, deer pelts and shark skin were transported to
Japan from Asia, as well as woolen cloth and glassware from Europe. In
return, the Dutch traders bought Japanese copper and silver.
To this was added the personal trade of individual Dutch traders in
charge of Dejima, called kanbang trade, which was an important source of
income for the employees and allowed the Japanese to procure books or
scientific instruments. More than 10,000 foreign books on various
scientific subjects were thus sold to the Japanese from the end of the
18th to the early 19th century, thus becoming the central factor of the
Rangaku movement, or Dutch studies.
In all, 606 Dutch ships arrived at Dejima during 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 perished in this period).
• From 1671 to 1715, about 5 Dutch ships were allowed to visit Dejima
• 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, so they instead relied on "neutral"
American and Danish ships. (Interestingly, when the Netherlands was made
a province by France (1811-1814), and Britain conquered Dutch colonial
possessions in Asia, Dejima remained for four years the only place in
the world where the free Dutch flag was still flying, under the
leadership of Hendrik Doeff.)
• After the liberation of the Netherlands in 1815, regular traffic was
For two hundred years, Dutch merchants were generally not allowed to
cross from Dejima to Nagasaki, and Japanese were likewise banned from
entering Dejima, except for prostitutes from Nagasaki teahouses. These
yūjo 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 1700s, Dejima became known
throughout Japan as a center of medicine, military science, and
astronomy, and many samurai travelled there for "Dutch studies" (Rangaku).
In addition, the Opperhoofd was treated like a Japanese daimyo, which
meant that he had to pay a visit of homage to the Shogun in Edo
regularly (the so-called sankin kotai). In contrast to a daimyo, the
Dutch delegation traveled to Edo yearly between 1660 and 1790 and once
every four years thereafter. This prerogative was denied to the Chinese
traders. This lengthy travel to the imperial court broke the boredom of
their stay, but it was a costly affair to the Dutch. The shōgun let them
know 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, visit the town.
New introductions to Japan
• Badminton, a sport that originated in India, was introduced by the
Dutch during the 18th century and is mentioned in the "Sayings of the
• Billiards were introduced in Japan on Dejima in 1794 and are mentioned
as "Ball throwing table" (玉突の場) 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 would start 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" (シロツメクサ), 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 (熊谷). The piano is
today on display in the Kumatani Museum (萩市の熊谷美術館).
• Paint, used for ships, was introduced by the Dutch. The original Dutch
name (Pek) was also adopted in Japanese (Penki/ペンキ).
• Cabbage and tomatoes were introduced in the 17th century by the Dutch.
• Chocolate was introduced between 1789 and 1801 and is mentioned as a
drink in the pleasure houses of Maruyama.
The Dutch East India Company's trading post at Dejima was closed in
1857, once Dutch merchants were allowed to trade in Nagasaki City. Since
then, the island has been surrounded by reclaimed land and merged into
Nagasaki. Extensive redesigning of Nagasaki Harbor in 1904 has obscured
the location. The footprint of Dejima island's original location has
been marked by rivets; but as restoration progresses, the ambit of the
island will be easier to grasp at a glance.
Dejima today has plainly become a work in progress. The island was
designated a national historical site in 1922, but further steps were
slow to follow. Restoration work was started in 1953, but that project
In 1996, restoration of Dejima began with plans for rebuilding 25
buildings to 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 now anticipates that Dejima should again be
surrounded by water on all four sides, which means that Dejima’s
characteristic fan-shaped form and all of its embankment walls will be
fully restored. This long-term plan will involve a large-scale urban
redevelopment in the area. If Dejima is to be an island again, the
project will require rerouting the Nakashima River and moving a part of
Route 499. The project is ambitious, but the eventual completion of this
restoration project will create a unique window through which Nagasaki's
past can be glimpsed.