previously blogged about the British traders who went to Japan in the early
1600s – hardy people whose courage you can’t but admire. However, for various reasons their trading
post didn’t last very long in that particular place while other nations flourished,
in particular the Dutch. As I’m
currently working on a story set in Japan in 1648, I’ve been going over the
notes I made when I was lucky enough to visit the site where these foreigners
had their base from 1641 onwards – the island of Dejima in Nagasaki, a truly
wasn’t an island in the traditional sense, as it was man-made and in the shape
of a Japanese fan, constructed especially for the purpose of housing foreign
traders (at first for the Portuguese). Set
in Nagasaki’s harbour, it could only be reached via a small bridge and a gate which
was guarded at all times. There was a
sea gate on one side where goods could be loaded onto small boats and taken out
to the large European ships, but when not in use, this gate was kept closed.
|Me in front of the Dejima model|
from some trade with the Chinese, Japan was closed to the outside world for
about 200 years and by 1641, the Dutch traders were the only Europeans who were
allowed any contact with the Japanese at all.
The Japanese ruler – the Shogun
– had decided to evict all other foreigners and the Portuguese had been the
last to leave in 1639. Mostly, this was
all due to the Shogun’s mistrust of Christianity – any Christians found were
executed in various hideous ways – but the Dutch seem to have steered clear of
anything to do with religion and so they were allowed to stay. This permission came at a price though – they
were only allowed a foothold on Dejima and couldn’t cross over onto the
mainland of Japan except if they were specially invited, and for the journeys
to Edo which the Chief Factor had to make from time to time to pay his respect
to the Shogun.
|Dejima's "Main Street"|
approximately one hundred and thirty by eighty-odd yards, the island must have seemed
very small to the people who were forced to stay there year in and year
out. My heroine yearns to set foot on
the mainland, which was tantalisingly close across only twenty yards of water,
but most of the foreigners did so very rarely.
I found it hard to imagine being cooped up like that without feeling as
though you were in a prison, but perhaps people were more patient back then and
didn’t find it as irksome as we would now?
Japan was finally opened up to the rest of the world in the mid 1800’s, Dejima
was abandoned and in time it merged with the rest of Nagasaki by means of
reclaimed land. It is now a designated
site of historical importance and work has been going on for many years to
restore it, with some of the buildings reconstructed. When I visited, tourists were able to go into
what used to be the Chief Factor’s residence – the most imposing building, and
some of the store houses. To help you
visualise what it had all once looked like, there was a scaled down model of
the whole island.
visit was brief and I would love to go back again one day, but for anyone
thinking of going to Japan, I can thoroughly recommend a stop-over in Nagasaki
to see this fascinating historical site!
Labels: 17th century Japan, 17th century trade, Dejima