Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dejima Island: The Window to Japan

Dejima Island
As European incursion to Asia increase during the 16th century, many areas fell to become colonies of the west. Japan, an archipelago in East Asia was under the rule of the Tokugawa Bakufu or shogunate. Under the early Tokugawa Shoguns, Japan had trade relations with many Europeans. From the Spanish, to Portuguese, and the Dutch, Japanese goods were sold and imported goods brought. However, as volume of trade increase, so as the fear of the Shoguns of the consequence of the economic relation. They feared that rising trade meant the rising influence of the foreigners to Japan. As a result, the Tokugawa closed the country and expelled all foreigners from all European nations except for one. The Dutch, via the Dutch East India Company, were allowed to stay but only in a tiny island off of Nagasaki - the island of Dejima.

Japan, 1600 - fear was looming to the Shoguns in Edo. The influx of Europeans to the land of the rising sun allowed foreign ideas to enter the Empire. Among the most threatening of this idea was Christianity. Portuguese and mostly Spanish missionaries landed to Japan to spread the faith. The Shoguns saw this religion as equal to the rise of political influence of the foreigners to their affairs. Edo begun to be suspicious and later hostile to the westerners. Persecution of the Christians began. This led for the Spanish to be driven out of Japan. Only the Dutch and the Portuguese were left in Japan to trade. Both of which were allowed to stay for their more trade purposes than religious. The merchants of the two countries were allowed to stay but must be confined to two island only. The Dutch were first settled to the island of Hirado. The Portuguese were in the man made island of Dejima, off the port of Nagasaki.

Dejima or Deshima Island was a land reclaimed island located near Nagasaki. the Shogunate and 25 wealthy merchants. The whole area covered of Dejima was 650 feet and 550 feet. It appeared a fan shape island with walls on its coastlines. The island was connected to the mainland by a bridge - the Dejima Bashi.

The Portuguese first occupied the island as the government tightens control over foreigners in Japan. However, in 1637 a rebellion erupted in Shimabara. Japanese Christians furious about the persecutions and tired of abuses of their landlords went into a rebellion against the Shogunate. The Bakufu saw the Portuguese as supporters of the rebellion. As the Tokugawa Army quelled the rebellion, the Portuguese were expelled from Japan, transferred to Macau and concentrated only to trade with China. Meanwhile, the Dutch were allowed to stay and then moved to vacant island of Dejima in 1641. The Dutch were allowed to stay when they provided naval support for the Tokugawa in crashing the Shimabara Rebellion. This helping hand to the Japanese Bakufu saved the Dutch interest on trade with Japan.

The Dutch made most of the island. The overall in charged of the island, called the Oppernoofd. His administrative buildings and facilities were squeezed inside the island. Barber shops, warehouses, ports, administrative buildings were found inside the man-made island. Dutch merchants and their family stayed as well inside the island. The occupants were forbidden in leaving the island without permission. Japanese merchants were the only ones allowed to enter the island. But Japanese staff were also allowed to enter the Dutch enclave. Japanese served as secretaries, scribes, translators, treasurers, gate keepers, night guards, cooks, and assistants.

The Dutch were allowed to stay in the island as long as they would obey the conditions laid out by the Tokugawa government. The stay of the Dutch to the island was not free. Annually, they had to pay 55 Kan or about 206 kg. of silver. They also had to file reports, called fusetsugaki, about the activities in the island. A ceremonial visit, called hofreis or sanpu, of must also be conducted. during the start of the occupancy of the Dejima Island, visits were made annually, usually in November. But as time passed by, the visits became occasionally.

Usual life in the island was buzzing with trade. From the period of 1641 up to 1847, about 715 ships arrived to Dejima to unload various goods that were to be trade. Nagasaki merchant guilds bought many tropical goods from the Dutch East India Company. Silk, cotton, and velvet cloth, sugar, pepper and glasses were bought by these items and more from the Dutch. In addition, the Dutch bought from the Japanese various goods like silver and copper and then high valued camphor, porcelains, and laquerware.

Besides goods, knowledge also arrived in Japan through Dejima. although the Dutch were the only once allowed to step to Japan, other nationalities, especially the Germans sneaked into the island. For example, the German Engelbert Kaempfer was a scientist that studied the flora of Japan when he arrived in 1690. Another example was another German, Philipp Franz von Siebold, who brought knowledge of western medicine to Japan when he arrived in 1823.

Dejima island became the only window of foreigners to Japan and the Japanese to the world, but in the middle of the 19th century, it began to change. In 1852, new types of ships, which the Japanese called Balck Ships, arrived at Tokyo. This ships where from America under the command of Commodore Mathew Perry. He managed to threatened the shogunate of the power of his warships. The shogun was fearful and anxious of Perry. So as so, in 1854, the Treaty of Kanagawa ended the isolation of Japan from the rest of the world. Thus, the monopoly of the Dutch to the Japan trade and of Dejima as the window of the world to the Land of the Rising Sun ended as well. As the Meiji Restoration came into being and Japan opened its market to the world, Dejima Island became insignificant.

The island of Dejima, a fan-shaped island, is an important part of Japan's history. Although isolated for more than two hundred years, it was through Dejima that trade with the west continued. It was also through this tiny island that western knowledge continued to flow into Japan. Ironically, Dejima Island was a symbol of Japan's isolation. But as this isolation came to an end, so as the monopoly of Dejima must also end. It was a sign that Japan was to face the world as a nation.

See also:
Canton System
Thirteen Factories

Frederic, Louis. Japan Encyclopedia. United States: Harvard University Press, 2002. 

Henshall, K. Historical Dictionary of Japan to 1945. Maryland, Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2014. 

Jansen, M. (ed.). The Cambridge History of Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 

____________. The Making of Modern Japan. United States: Harvard University Press, 2000. 

"History of Dejima." Dejima Comes Back to Life. Accessed May 10, 2014.

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