Dejima (出島) – The Portuguese and the Dutch in Nagasaki

Map of Nagasaki, showing Dejima island at centre.

Map of Nagasaki, showing Dejima island at centre.

Dejima 出島, which literally means “out -” or “exit-island” in Japanese, was an artificial, fan-shaped island reclaimed from Nagasaki bay by order of the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu 徳川 家光 in 1634, to house those errant Portuguese, whom, ostensibly in the city for trade, embarked upon a systematic and very successful campaign of evangelisation.

By 1639 – after this strategy of containment failed to work, the Portuguese were gone, and Catholicism, which the Japanese called Kirishitan キリシタん (after the Portuguese “cristão“) in their native tongue, was banned. The Japanese Christians were persecuted and went into hiding for a good 200 years, only re-emerging in the 1800s, when Japan was once again, open for business.

Nanban votive altar made in lacquer, from the Edo Period. The painting it holds is by a Spanish artist; so it is likely this is from the Portuguese era in Nagasaki (late 1500s, early 1600s).

Nanban votive altar made in lacquer, from the Edo Period. The painting it holds is by a Spanish artist; so it is likely this is from the Portuguese era in Nagasaki (late 1500s, early 1600s).

The V.O.C., or Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, also known as the Dutch East India Company, moved into Dejima from 1641 and remained till 1858. For two hundred years, only Dutch and Chinese ships were allowed to enter Japanese waters, through the port of Nagasaki, and specifically, Dejima.

On Dejima, the Dutch established one of the earliest instances of extra-territoriality. The foreign settlement on the island, albeit minuscule, was in all aspects, self-governing. The Dutch were banned from leaving Dejima and could not cross the narrow straits into Nagasaki proper.  Conversely, the Japanese were also banned from entering the island.

But goods and ideas passed freely.  For two centuries, the Dutch continued the very profitable nanban 南蛮 trade (or “Southern Barbarian Trade”) first established by the Portuguese.  From the sole exit point of Dejima, Nagasaki, Japanese luxury items like porcelain and most notably, lacquer, were commissioned by and exported to European markets.  These rare nanban trade pieces still exist today, scattered in a range of museums and private collections in Japan and Europe.

Conversely, European thoughts and technologies slipped through the cracks into Japan – things like coffee, chocolate, photography and even billiards.

The logo of the Dutch East India Company, on a reproduction trade ceramic plate.

The logo of the Dutch East India Company – the V.O.C., on a reproduction trade ceramic plate.

Nanban lacquer chest, possibly early Dutch era (mid - late 1600s).

Nanban lacquer chest, possibly early Dutch era (mid – late 1600s).

Nanban lacquer chair, possibly early Dutch period (mid to late 1600s).

Nanban lacquer chair, possibly early Dutch period (mid to late 1600s).

Nanban Sewing Table - interestingly the date and origin: "1851 Nagasaki" are inlaid in the inside of the cover.  This is late Dutch era, just before Dejima would be abolished.

Nanban Sewing Table – interestingly the date and origin: “1851 Nagasaki” are inlaid in the inside of the cover. This is late Dutch era, just before Dejima would be abolished.

When Commodore Perry’s black ships came in 1858, the Dutch monopoly in Dejima was abolished, and a new foreign settlement established in nearby Oura (although foreign trading houses were still allowed to operate in Dejima). Over the course of a century and a half, the artificial island would gradually be swallowed up by the development of the city – quite literally, as due to land reclamation, Nagasaki’s coastline extended further and further south.

Dejima was designated a historic site in 1922, but it took until 1996, when reconstruction efforts began in seriousness. Excavations uncovered the perimeter wall of the island, and at the time of writing, some dozen or so buildings had been reconstructed; and the plan is to dredge further around around the island so it is once more surrounded by water, and visitors can view the island’s iconic fan-like shape.

A stroll through the reconstructed Dejima is an absolute must in Nagasaki, primarily because great pains have been taken to reconstruct these buildings and structures to a very high degree of accuracy. While the site is still largely work in progress, the reconstructed buildings and interiors provide a vivid sense of what life must have been for these Dutchmen far away from their homes.

For two hundred years, they would reside here, in this tiny enclave, adopting a mix of European and Japanese lifestyles, objects and decorative taste as they evolved and adapted to their immediate environment. And then, as swiftly as they arrived, it was all over.

The Town Hall like entrance to Dejima.

The Town Hall like former Dejima Protestant Seminary.

A model of Dejima island.

A model of Dejima island.

The exposed original perimeter walls of Dejima.

The exposed original perimeter walls of Dejima.

A reconstructed archway with the V.O.C. logo carved on it.

A reconstructed archway with the V.O.C. logo carved on it.

Original gateways.

Original gateways.

An original Japanese marker, marking the extend of Dejima.

An original Japanese marker, marking the extend of Dejima.

Reconstructed warehouses.

Reconstructed stone warehouses.

Reconstruction in progress.

Reconstruction in progress.

Reconstructed warehouses.

Reconstructed stone warehouses.

A reconstructed streetscape with a Dutch residence at left.

A reconstructed streetscape with the Chief Factor’s Residence at left.

Reconstructed granary.

Reconstructed warehouse.

Reconstructed residence.

The Deputy Chief Factor’s Quarters.

Reconstructed street.

Reconstructed streetscape with the First Ship Captain’s Quarters at right.

Reconstructed interior: living room.

Reconstructed interior: living room.

Reconstructed interior: dining room.

Reconstructed interior: dining room.

The Townhall again.

The former Dejima Protestant Seminary again.

A fuller map of Nagasaki, with Dejima at bottom.

A fuller map of Nagasaki, with Dejima at bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Japan, Landmarks & History, Photography, Sociology & Urban Studies, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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