Native name:
An imagined bird's-eye view of Dejima's layout and structures (copied from a woodblock print by Toshimaya Bunjiemon of 1780 and published in Isaac Titsingh's Bijzonderheden over Japan (1824/25)
A 2017 model of Dejima in the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden
Dejima and Nagasaki Bay, circa 1820. Two Dutch ships and numerous Chinese trading junks are depicted.
A view of Dejima island in Nagasaki Bay (from Siebold's Nippon, 1897)
Philipp Franz von Siebold (with Taki and his child Ine) watching an incoming Dutch ship at Dejima. Painting by Kawahara Keiga, between 1823 and 1829
A central part of reconstructed Dejima

Dejima (Japanese: 出島, "exit island") or Deshima,[a] in the 17th century also called Tsukishima ( 築島, "built island"), was an artificial island off Nagasaki, Japan that served as a trading post for the Portuguese (1570–1639) and subsequently the Dutch (1641–1854).[1] For 220 years, it was the central conduit for foreign trade and cultural exchange with Japan during the isolationist Edo period (1600–1869), and the only Japanese territory open to Westerners.[2]

Spanning 120 m × 75 m (390 ft × 250 ft) or 9,000 m2 (2.2 acres), Dejima was created in 1636 by digging a canal through a small peninsula and linking it to the mainland with a small bridge. The island was constructed by the Tokugawa shogunate, whose isolationist policies sought to preserve the existing sociopolitical order by forbidding outsiders from entering Japan while prohibiting most Japanese from leaving. Dejima housed Portuguese merchants and separated them from Japanese society while still facilitating lucrative trade with the West.

Following a rebellion by mostly Catholic converts, all Portuguese were expelled in 1639. The Dutch were moved to Dejima in 1641, albeit under stricter control: the open practice of Christianity was banned, and interactions between Dutch and Japanese traders were tightly regulated. Until the mid-19th century, the Dutch were the only Westerners with exclusive access to Japanese goods, and, to a lesser extent, society and culture. Dejima consequently played a key role in the Japanese movement of rangaku (蘭學, "Dutch learning"), an organized scholarly effort to learn the Dutch language in order to understand Western science, medicine, and technology.[3]

After the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, which fully opened Japan to foreign trade and diplomatic relations, Dejima was abolished and later integrated into Nagasaki city through land reclamation. In 1922, the "Dejima Dutch Trading Post" was designated a Japanese national historic site, and there are ongoing efforts in the 21st century to restore Dejima as an island.


In 1543, the history of direct contact between Japan and Europe began with the arrival of storm-blown Portuguese merchants on Tanegashima. 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 daimyō Ōmura 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.[citation needed]

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 shōgun 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. This was one of the many edicts put forth by Iemitsu between 1633 and 1639 moderating contact between Japan and other countries. However, in response to the uprising of the predominantly Christian population in the Shimabara-Amakusa region, the Tokugawa government decided to expel the Portuguese in 1639.[citation needed]

Since 1609, the Dutch East India Company had run a trading post on the island of Hirado. The departure of the Portuguese left the Dutch employees of the "Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie" ("VOC") as the sole Westerners with trade access to Japan. For 33 years they were allowed to trade relatively freely. At its maximum, the Hirado trading post (平戸オランダ商館, Hirado Oranda Shōkan) covered a large area.[4] 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.[5]

With the expulsion of the last Portuguese in 1639, Dejima became a failed commercial post and without the annual trading with Portuguese ships from Macau, the economy of Nagasaki suffered greatly. The Dutch were forced by government officials to move from Hirado to Dejima in Nagasaki.[6] From 1641 on, only Chinese and Dutch ships were allowed to come to Japan, and Nagasaki harbor was the only harbor they were allowed to enter.


On the administrative level, the island of Dejima was part of the city of Nagasaki. The 25 local Japanese families who owned the land received an annual rent from the Dutch. Dejima was a small island, 120 metres (390 ft) by 75 metres (246 ft),[7] 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.[citation needed]

The Dutch were watched by several Japanese officials, gatekeepers, night watchmen, and a supervisor (otona 乙名) with about fifty subordinates. Numerous merchants supplied goods and catering, and about 150 interpreters (tsūji 通詞) served. They all had to be paid by the VOC. As the city of Nagasaki, Dejima was under the direct supervision of Edo through a governor (Nagasaki bugyō).[citation needed][citation needed]

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. Christian churches were banned on the island and the Dutch were not allowed to hold any religious services.[8]

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 the exchange with Japan. Times were especially hard when the Netherlands, then called the Batavian Republic, was under French Napoleonic rule. All 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.[citation needed]

The chief VOC trading post officer 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 VOC went bankrupt and trade with Japan was continued by the Dutch Indies government at Batavia. According to the Sakoku rules of the Tokugawa shogunate, the VOC had to transfer and replace the opperhoofd every year with a new one. And each opperhoofd was expected to travel to Edo to offer tribute to the shogun.[citation needed]


Originally, the Dutch mainly traded in silk, cotton, and materia medica from China and India. Sugar became more important later. Deer pelts and shark skin were transported to Japan from Formosa, 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


Drawing of the VOC ship Landskroon in Dejima, 1766

In all, 606 Dutch ships arrived at Dejima during its two centuries of settlement, from 1641 to 1847.

Trade policy

For two hundred years, foreign merchants were generally not allowed to cross from Dejima to Nagasaki. Japanese civilians were likewise banned from entering Dejima, except interpreters, cooks, carpenters, clerks and yūjo ("women of pleasure") from the Maruyama teahouses. The 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. 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.[b] Starting in the 18th century, Dejima became known throughout Japan as a center of medicine, military science, and astronomy. Many samurai traveled there for "Dutch studies" (Rangaku).[citation needed]

The Opperhoofd was treated like the representative of a tributary state, which meant that he had to pay a visit of homage to the shōgun 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.[citation needed]

In return, the Dutch delegation received some gifts from the shōgun. On arrival in Edo, the Opperhoofd and his retinue, usually his scribe and the factory physician, had to wait in the Nagasakiya (長崎屋), their mandatory residence, until they were summoned at the court. During the reign of the somewhat eccentric shōgun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, they were expected to perform Dutch dances and songs for the amusement of the shōgun after their official audience, according to Engelbert Kaempfer. 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.[citation needed]

Allegations published in the late 17th and early 18th century that Dutch traders were required by the Shogunate to renounce their Christian faith and undergo the test of treading on a fumi-e, an image of Jesus or Mary, are thought by modern scholars to be propaganda arising from the Anglo-Dutch Wars.[10]

New introductions to Japan

A scene of residential and badminton playing in Dejima, ca. late 18th century
Dutch playing billiards in Dejima, ca. 19th century

Nagasaki Naval Training Center

The Nagasaki Training Center, in Nagasaki, next to Dejima (in the background)

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 (長崎海軍伝習所, Nagasaki Kaigun Denshūsho), a naval training institute, was established in 1855 by the government of the shōgun 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.[citation needed]


A photo of Dejima Island, ca. 1870

The Dutch East India Company's trading post at Dejima was abolished when Japan concluded the Treaty of Kanagawa with the United States 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.[11] 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.

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

Dejima today is a work in progress. The island was designated a national historic site in 1922, but further steps were slow to follow. Restoration work was started in 1953, but that project languished.[11] 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 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. Currently, some 10 buildings throughout the area have been restored.

In 2017, six new buildings, as well as the Omotemon Bridge (the old bridge to the mainland), were restored. The bridge was officially opened in attendance of members of the Japanese and Dutch royal families.[12]

Long-term planning intends that Dejima will again 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.


Trading post chiefs (Opperhoofden)

Main article: VOC opperhoofden in Japan

Opperhoofd is a Dutch word (plural opperhoofden) which literally means 'supreme head'. The Japanese used to call the trading post chiefs kapitan which is derived from Portuguese capitão (cf. Latin caput, head). 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.

Notable opperhoofden at Hirado

Notable opperhoofden at Dejima


See also


  1. ^ Also romanised in older documents as Decima, Decuma, Desjima, Dezima, Disma or Disima.
  2. ^ In the context of Commodore Perry's "opening" of Japan in 1853, American naval expedition planners incorporated 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.[9]


  1. ^ "Dejima Nagasaki | JapanVisitor Japan Travel Guide". Retrieved 2018-05-06.
  2. ^ Goss, Rob. "The Wild West Outpost of Japan's Isolationist Era". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2022-06-25.
  3. ^ "rangaku | Japanese history | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-06-25.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Dutch Trading Post Heritage Network, 2021.Hirado.
  6. ^ Edo-Tokyo Museum exhibition catalog, p. 207.
  7. ^ 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)"
  8. ^ Goss, Rob (May 13, 2022). "The Wild West Outpost of Japan's Isolationist Era". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved March 24, 2024.
  9. ^ Screech, T. (2006). Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779–1822, p. 73.
  10. ^ Gardiner, Anne Barbeau (Summer 1991). "Swift on the Dutch East India Merchants: The Context of 1672-73 War Literature". Huntington Library Quarterly. 54 (3): 234–252. doi:10.2307/3817708. JSTOR 3817708. Retrieved 22 November 2022.
  11. ^ a b Edo-Tokyo Museum exhibition catalog, p. 47.
  12. ^ "Opening ceremony Omotemon-bashi Bridge". Archived from the original on 2018-01-25. Retrieved 2018-01-25.


32°44′37″N 129°52′23″E / 32.74352°N 129.87302°E / 32.74352; 129.87302