Dejima ("protruding island"), in old Western documents latinized as 'Decima', 'Desjima', 'Dezima', 'Disma', or 'Disima', was a small fan-shaped artificial island built in the bay of Nagasaki in 1634 by local merchants. This island, which was formed by digging a canal through a small peninsula, remained as the single place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world during the Edo period. Dejima was built to constrain foreign traders as part of sakoku, the self-imposed isolationist policy. Originally built to house Portuguese traders, it was used by the Dutch as a trading post from 1641 until 1853. Covering an area of 120 m x 75 m (9000 square meters, or 0.9 hectares), it later was integrated into the city.

In 1922, "Dejima Dutch Trading Post" was designated a Japanese national historic site.


In 1543 the history of direct contacts between Japan and Europe began with the arrival of storm-blown Portuguese merchants on Tanega-shima. Six years later the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier landed in Kagoshima. At first Portuguese traders were based in Hirado, but they moved in search of a better port. In 1570 daimyo Omura Sumitada converted to Catholicism (choosing Bartolomeu as his Christian name) and made a deal with the Portuguese to develop Nagasaki; soon the port was open for trade. In 1580 Sumitada gave the jurisdiction of Nagasaki to the Jesuits, and the Portuguese obtained the de facto monopoly on the silk trade with China through Macau.

The shogun Iemitsu ordered the construction of the artificial island in 1634, to accommodate the Portuguese traders living in Nagasaki and prevent the propagation of their religion. But after an uprising of the predominantly Christian population in the Shimabara-Amakusa region, the Tokugawa government decided to expel all 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. For 33 years they were allowed to trade relatively freely. 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 and these were used in 1640 as a pretext to demolish the buildings and relocate the trading post to Nagasaki.

In 1639 the last Portuguese were expelled from Japan. Dejima had become a failed investment and without the annual trading with Portuguese ships from Macau, the economy of Nagasaki suffered greatly. Thanks to their restrained but versatile policies and to their hostility to Spain and Portugal - which had both a religious and a political basis - the Dutch alone succeeded in being exempted from expulsion, but they were forced by government officials to move from Hirado to Dejima.

From 1641 on, only Chinese and Dutch ships were allowed to come to Japan, and Nagasaki harbor was the only harbor to which their entry was permitted.


On the administrative level, the island of Dejima was part of the city of Nagasaki. The 25 local Japanese families who 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. Numerous merchants supplied goods and catering, and about 150 tsuji ("interpreters") served. 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 bugyo).

Every ship that arrived in Dejima was inspected. Its sails were held by the Japanese until they released the ship to leave. They confiscated religious books and weapons. The Dutch were not allowed to hold any religious services on the island.

Despite the financial burden of maintaining the isolated outpost on Dejima, the trade with Japan was very profitable for the Dutch, 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 East-India Company 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. All the ties with the homeland were severed at Dejima, and for a while, it was the only place in the world where the Dutch flag was flown.

The chief Dutch 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.


Originally, the Dutch mainly traded in silk, cotton, and 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 rice.

To this was added the personal trade of VOC employees on Dejima, which was an important source of income for them and their Japanese counterparts. They sold more than 10,000 foreign books on various scientific subjects to the Japanese from the end of the 18th to the early 19th century. These became the basis of knowledge and a factor in the Rangaku movement, or Dutch studies.

Ship arrivals

In all, 606 Dutch ships arrived at Dejima during its 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 sank during 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. They relied on "neutral" American and Danish ships. (When the Netherlands was made a province by France (1811–1814), and Britain conquered Dutch colonial possessions in Asia, Dejima for four years was the only place in the world where the free Dutch flag flew, as ordered by Hendrik Doeff.) After the liberation of the Netherlands in 1815, regular Dutch trading traffic was reestablished.

Sakoku policy

For two hundred years, Dutch merchants were generally not allowed to cross from Dejima to Nagasaki. The Japanese were likewise banned from entering Dejima, except interpreters, cooks, carpenters, clerks and 'Women of Pleasure' from the Maruyama teahouses. These yujo 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. Once a year the Europeans were allowed to attend the festivities at the Suwa-Shrine under escort. Sometimes physicians such as Engelbert Kaempfer, Carl Peter Thunberg, and Philipp Franz von Siebold were called to high-ranking Japanese patients with the permission of the authorities.[4] Starting in the 18th century, Dejima became known throughout Japan as a center of medicine, military science, and astronomy. Many samurai travelled there for "Dutch studies" (Rangaku).

In addition, the Opperhoofd was treated like the representative of a tributary state, which meant that he had to pay a visit of homage to the Shogun in Edo. 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. The lengthy travel to the shogunal court broke the boredom of the Dutch stay, but it was a costly affair. Government officials told them in advance and in detail which (expensive) gifts were expected at the court, 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 physician) 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 shogun. This occurred only during the reign of the somewhat eccentric Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. 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, to visit the town.

New introductions to Japan

Badminton, a sport that originated in India, was introduced by the Dutch during the 18th century; it is mentioned in the Sayings of the Dutch.

Billiards were introduced in Japan on Dejima in 1764; it is noted as "Ball striking table" 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 started 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",in reference to its white flowers.

Coffee was introduced in Japan by the Dutch under the name Moka and koffie. The latter name appears in 18th-century Japanese books. Siebold refers to Japanese coffee amateurs in Nagasaki around 1823.

Japan's oldest piano was introduced by Siebold in 1823, and later given to a tradesperson in the name of Kumatani. The piano is today on display in the Kumatani Museum.

Paint (Tar), used for ships, was introduced by the Dutch. The original Dutch name (pek) was also adopted in Japanese (Penki).

Cabbage and tomatoes were introduced in the 17th century by the Dutch.

Chocolate was introduced between 1789 and 1801; it is mentioned as a drink in the pleasure houses of Maruyama.

Nagasaki Naval Training Center

The last of the Dejima-based Opperhoofden handled the 1855 delivery of the Kanko Maru, Japan's first modern steam warship – a gift from the Dutch King Willem III to the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Following the forced 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 ( Nagasaki Kaigun Denshusho), a naval training institute, was established in 1855 by the government of the Shogun at the entrance of Dejima, to enable maximum interaction with Dutch naval know-how. The center was equipped with Japan's first steamship, the Kankō Maru, given by the government of the Netherlands 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 abolished when Japan concluded the Treaty of Kanagawa with the USA in 1858. This ended Dejima's role as Japan's only window on the Western world during the era of national isolation. Since then, the island was expanded by reclaimed land and merged into Nagasaki. Extensive redesigning of Nagasaki Harbor in 1904 obscured its original location.[5] The original footprint of Dejima Island has been marked by rivets; but as restoration progresses, the ambit of the island will be easier to see at a glance.

Dejima today is 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 reconstructing 25 buildings in 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-era 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. Currently some 10 buildings throughout the area have been restored.

The long-term planning intends that Dejima will be surrounded by water on all four sides; its characteristic fan-shaped form and all of its embankment walls will be fully restored. This long-term plan will include large-scale urban redevelopment in the area. To make Dejima an island again will require rerouting the Nakashima River and moving a part of Route 499.

VOC Opperhoofden in Japan were the chief traders of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in old-spelling Dutch, literally "United East Indian Company") in Japan during the period of the Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the Edo-era.

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 led by a factor, i.e. agent. The Japanese called the Dutch chief factors kapitan (from Portuguese capitão).

The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602 by the States-General of the Netherlands to carry out colonial activities in Asia. The VOC enjoyed unique success in Japan, in part because of the ways in which the character and other qualities of its Opperhoofden were perceived to differ from other competitors.

Trading posts or factories

Hirado, 1609–1639

The first VOC trading outpost in Japan was on the island of Hirado off the coast of Kyushu. Permission for establishing this permanent facility was granted in 1609 by the first Tokugawa-shōgun Ieyasu; but the right to make use of this convenient location was revoked in 1639. Dejima, 1639–1860

In 1638, the harsh Sakoku ("closed door" policy) was ordered by the Tokugawa shogunate; and by 1641, the VOC had to transfer all of its mercantile operations to the small man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki harbor. The island had been built for the Portuguese, but they had been forced to abandon it and all contacts with Japan. Only the Dutch were permitted to remain after all other Westerners had been excluded.

The Dutch presence in Japan was closely monitored and controlled. For example, each year the VOC had to transfer the opperhoofd. Each opperhoofd was expected to travel to Edo to offer tribute to the shogun. The VOC traders had to be careful not to import anything religious; and they were not allowed to bring any females, nor to bury their dead ashore. They were largely free to do as they pleased on the island; but they were explicitly ordered to work on Sunday. For nearly 250 years a series of VOC traders lived, worked and seemed to thrive in this confined location.