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View of Dejima island in Nagasaki Bay (from Siebold's Nippon, 1897)

, was a fan-shaped artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki that was a Dutchmarker trading post during Japanmarker's self-imposed isolation (sakoku) of the Edo period, from 1641 until 1853.


Dutchmen with Courtesans in Nagasaki c.1800.
The artificial island was constructed in 1634 on orders of shogun Iemitsu, originally in order to accommodate Portuguesemarker merchants living in Nagasaki. But after an uprising of the predominantly Christian population in the Shimabara-Amakusamarker region the Tokugawa government decided to expel all Catholic Western nationals except the Dutch employees of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, VOC).

Since 1609 the Dutch had run a trading post on the island of Hirado. At its maximum the Hirado trading post covered a large area.In 1637 and 1639 stone warehouses were constructed within the ambit of this Hirado trading post. Christian era year dates were used on the stonework of the new warehouses.

Without the annual Portuguese ships from Macao the economy of Nagasaki suffered heavily. Government officials, who were looking for means to relocate the Dutch trading post, forced the Dutch to move from Hirado to Dejima.

From 1641 on, only Chinese and Dutch ships were allowed to come to Japan.


On the administrative level the island of Dejima was part of the city of Nagasaki. The 25 local Japanese families that 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. There were a number of merchants for supplies and catering and about 150 tsūji ("interpreters"). 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 bugyō).

Every Dutch ship that arrived in Dejima was inspected, 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.
Dejima and Nagasaki Bay, circa 1820.
Two Dutch ships and numerous Chinese trading junks are depicted.
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 exchange with Japan. 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 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.
Scale model of Dutch trading post on display in Dejima (1995)


Originally, the Dutch mainly traded in silk, cotton, materia medica from China and India, but sugar became more important later. 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 even rice.

To this was added the personal trade of VOC employees on Dejima which was an important source of income. 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.

Ship arrivals

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 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, 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 reestablished.

Sakoku policy

Japanese painting of a Dutch watching an incoming VOC ship at Dejima.

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

Scene of badminton playing in Dejima.
Dutch playing billiards in Dejima.

  • Badminton, a sport that originated in India, was introduced by the Dutch during the 18th century and is mentioned in the "Sayings of the Dutch."
  • 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 (川原慶賀).
  • 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.

Nagasaki Naval Training Center

Following the forcible 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 Center (Jp:長崎海軍伝習所/Nagasaki Kaigun Denshūsho), a naval training institute, was established in 1855 by the government of the Shogun right at the entrance of Dejima, allowing maximum interaction with Dutch naval know-how. The center was also equipped with Japan's first steamship, the Kankō Maru, given by the government of the Netherlandsmarker the same year. The future Admiral Enomoto Takeaki was one of the students of the Training Center.


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.
Edo-era boundaries of Dejima island (outlined in red) within the modern city of Nagasaki.

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 languished.

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.

Chronology of Dejima

Scene in the modern reconstruction of Dejima

  • 1550: Portuguese ships visit Hirado.
  • 1570: Nagasaki Harbor is opened for trade and six town blocks are built.
  • 1571: The first Portuguese ships enter Nagasaki Harbor.
  • 1580: Omura Sumitada cedes jurisdiction over Nagasaki and Mogi to the Society of Jesus.
  • 1588: Toyotomi Hideyoshi exerts direct control over Nagasaki, Mogi, and Urakami from the Jesuits.
  • 1609: The Dutch East India Company opens a factory in Hirado. It closes in 1623.
  • 1612: Japan's feudal government decrees that Christian proselytizing on Bakufu lands is forbidden.
  • 1616: All trade with foreigners except that with China is confined to Hirado and Nagasaki.
  • 1634: The construction of Dejima begins.
  • 1636: Dejima is completed; the Portuguese are interned on Dejima (Fourth National Isolation Edict).
  • 1639: Portuguese ships are prohibited from entering Japan. Consequently, the Portuguese are banished from Dejima.
  • 1641: The Dutch East India Company on Hirado is moved to Nagasaki.
  • 1649: German surgeon Caspar Schamberger comes to Japan.
  • 1662: A shop is opened on Dejima to sell Imari porcelain.
  • 1673: The English ship "Return" enters Nagasaki, but the Shogunate refuses its request for trade.
  • 1678: A bridge connecting Dejima with the shore is replaced with a stone bridge.
  • 1690: The German physician Engelbert Kaempfer comes to Dejima.
  • 1696: Warehouses for secondary cargo reach completion on Dejima.
  • 1698: The Nagasaki Kaisho (trade association) is founded.
  • 1699: The Sea Gate is built at Dejima.
  • 1707: Water pipes are installed on Dejima.
  • 1775: Carl Thunberg starts his term as physician on Dejima.
  • 1779: Surgeon Isaac Titsingh arrives for his first tour of duty as "Opperhoofd."
  • 1798: Many buildings, including the Chief Factor's Residence, are destroyed by the Great Kansei Fire of Dejima.
  • 1804: Russian Ambassador N.P. Rezanov visits Nagasaki to request an exchange of trade between Japan and Imperial Russia.
  • 1808: The Phaeton Incident occurs.

VOC outpost

Opperhoofd is a Dutch word (plural Opperhoofden) which literally means 'supreme head[man]'.In its historical usage, the word is a gubernatorial title, comparable to the English Chief factor, for the chief executive officer of a Dutch factory in the sense of trading post, as lead by a Factor, i.e. agent.

::See more at VOC Opperhoofden in Japanmarker

View of VOC compound at Hirado island – west coast of Kyushu (c1669).

At Hirado

  • François Caron: 3.2.1639 - 13.2.1641 [Caron was last Opperhoofd at Hirado.]

At Dejima

  • François Caron: 3.2.1639 - 13.2.1641 [Caron was the first Opperhoofd in Dejima following the forced move from Hirado.]

  • Janus Henricus Donker Curtius: 2.11.1852 - 28.2.1860 [Donker Curtius became the last in a long list of hardy Dutch Opperhoofden who were stationed at Dejima; and fortuitously, Curtius also became the first of many Dutch diplomatic and trade representatives in Japan during the burgeoning pre-Meiji years.]


  1. Edo-Tokyo Museum exhibition catalog. (2000). A Very Unique Collection of Historical Significance: The Kapitan (the Dutch Chief) Collection from the Edo Period – The Dutch Fascination with Japan, p.206.
  2. Edo-Tokyo Museum exhibition catalog, p. 207.
  3. Ken Vos - The article "Dejima als venster en doorgeefluik" in the catalog (Brussels, 5 October 1989 - 16 December 1989) of the exhibition Europalia 1989 : "Oranda : De Nederlanden in Japan (1600-1868)
  4. In the context of Commodore Perry's "opening" of Japan in 1853, American naval expedition planners did have the reasonable forethought to incorporate reference material written by men whose published accounts of Japan were based on first-hand experience. J.W. Spaulding brought with him books by Japanologists Engelbert Kaempfer, Carl Peter Thunberg, and Isaac Titsingh. Screech, T. (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822, p.73.
  5. Edo-Tokyo Museum exhibition catalog, p. 47.


  • Blomhoff, J.C. (2000). The Court Journey to the Shogun of Japan: From a Private Account by Jan Cock Blomhoff. Amsterdam
  • Blussé, L. et al., eds. (1995-2001) The Deshima [sic] Dagregisters: Their Original Tables of Content. Leiden.
  • Blussé, L. et al., eds. (2004). The Deshima Diaries Marginalia 1740-1800. Tokyo.
  • Boxer. C.R. (1950). Jan Compagnie in Japan, 1600-1850: An Essay on the Cultural, Aristic, and Scientific Influence Exercised by the Hollanders in Japan from the Seventeenth to the Nineteenth Centuries. Den Haag.
  • Caron, François. (1671). A True Description of the Mighty Kingdoms of Japan and Siam. London.
  • Doeff, Hendrik. (1633). Herinneringen uit Japan. Amsterdam. [Doeff, H. "Recollections of Japan" (ISBN 1-55395-849-7)]
  • Edo-Tokyo Museummarker exhibition catalog. (2000). A Very Unique Collection of Historical Significance: The Kapitan (the Dutch Chief) Collection from the Edo Period—The Dutch Fascination with Japan. Catalog of "400th Anniversary Exhibition Regarding Relations between Japan and the Netherlands," a joint project of the Edo-Tokyo Museum, the City of Nagasaki, the National Museum of Ethnologymarker, the National Natuurhistorisch Museummarker and the National Herbarium of the Netherlands in Leidenmarker, the Netherlandsmarker. Tokyo.
  • Leguin, F. (2002). Isaac Titsingh (1745-1812): Een passie voor Japan, leven en werk van de grondlegger van de Europese Japanologie. Leiden.
  • Nederland's Patriciaat, Vol. 13 (1923). Den Haag.
  • Screech, Timon. (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822. London: RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0-700-71720-X
  • Siebold, P.F.v. (1897). Nippon. Würzburg e Leipzig. Click link for full text in modern German
  • Titsingh, I. (1820). Mémoires et Anecdotes sur la Dynastie régnante des Djogouns, Souverains du Japon. Paris: Nepveau.
  • Titsingh, I. (1822). Illustrations of Japan; consisting of Private Memoirs and Anecdotes of the reigning dynasty of The Djogouns, or Sovereigns of Japan. London: Ackerman.

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