It's now more than 7 months ago that I was in Nagasaki to look for remnants of the Dutch history in that city. I finally documented some of the things I have seen during that trip.

This is definitely not an overview of the Dutch history in Japan, but just some pictures and notes on the places I have visited, in some way related to the Dutch presence in Japan.

Rudy Kousbroek's book In de tijdmachine door Japan is a good guide to find these sites, and read about their history. If you're interested in this subject then I strongly suggest you read his book. Unfortunately it's only available in Dutch. For more details on the books I have used please see the Bibliography section.

Japan has been closed for the outside world for a long time. For centuries Holland was the only Western country allowed to trade with Japan, from a small island in the harbor of Nagasaki called Deshima. Detailed journals from the journeys to the Shogun in Edo (Tokyo), and the life on Deshima, are available and give an interesting view of the Japanese society in those days.

Not much of the 'Old Japan' is left nowadays. This makes it even more exiting to 'discover' places which still look the same as described in these historical writings. This web page show a few examples.

Thomas Telkamp

Utrecht, June 2001

Deshima and Nagasaki


Deshima, the Former Dutch East India Company Factory, was an artificial island built by a group of Nagasaki merchants in the year 1636, under order of the bakufu government to limit contact between Japanese and Portuguese residents and to enforce the ban on Christianity. Subsequently, the arrival of Portuguese ships was totally prohibited and the Dutch were compelled to move their factory (trading post) here from Hirado. For 220 years thereafter, the island served as Japan's only window open to the Western world and thus played an important role in the country's modernization.

The island itself disappeared as a result of reclamations of surrounding land from the harbor in the latter half of the 19th century. But a full-fledged restoration project has been underway since 1996 to bring this valuable historic asset back to life, part of which reached completion in April 2000 in connection with the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of relations between Japan and the Netherlands. By the year 2010, authentic replicas of a total of 25 buildings will be restored on their original sites.

A view of Nagasaki and Deshima as it was centuries ago (picture of a model at the Nagasaki Municipal Museum). R.H. Hesselink's book Twee spiegels op Cambang provides a nice overview of the daily life on Deshima, and the relationship with the Japanese authorities.

Deshima is now part of the city of Nagasaki, but its shape can still be seen. The wall towards the canal between Des hima and the city however has been moved a few meters. This picture shows the actual situation today, and the shape of the original island.

Not much is left these days from the Deshima of the Dutch. This landmark seems to be one of the only authentic things left from the past, together with the monument Von Siebold build for Engelbert Kaempfer and Carl Peter Thunberg in 1828.

Nagasaki and neighborhood

This map from the 8th edition of Murray's Handbook (1907) shows the neighborhood of Nagasaki. It's interesting to see that one of the small islands is still named 'Pappenberg'. The Dutch had called this island 'Papenberg', most probably because they saw Portuguese ships lie at anchor at this place (before 1639). 'Papen' is Dutch for Catholics (quite impolite), and 'berg' means mountain.
When the Dutch lived on Deshima, all incoming ships had to come to anchor at this island, to be inspected by the Japanese authorities (looking for weapoms and bibles).

This picture is taken from the top of mount Inasa. The small island in the middle is Takabokoshima, aka the 'Papenberg'.
The bigger island of Kagenoshima is now part of the mainland, and contains some very big Mitsubishi industries ("One Million Dock Yard").

Murray's Handbook writes about the Papenberg: On the N. side of the channel are Kami-no-shima and Takaboko (Pappenberg). Recent historical criticism by Dr. L. Riess would seem to render no longer tenable the tradition that from the cliffs of this latter island, less than three centuries ago, thousands of Japanese Christians were precipitated because they refused to trample on the cross.

My friends on the boat trip around the harbor of Nagasaki!

Huge cemeteries can be found behind a series of temples (such as Daonji) at the city border. The plot on this picture contains the gravestones of 25 Nakayama family members including the first director of P.F. Von Siebold's Narutaki School. The family served in successive generations as Dutch interpreters. Aside from interpretation work, the Nakayama family was involved in the production of the first Dutch-Japanese dictionary.

On the other side of the bay, at mount Inasa, you can still find a Dutch cemetery. Unfortunately it was locked, and I couldn't find anybody at the nearby temple of Goshinji to open it.
Several graves of people who have been buried here, according to historical books and documents, have disappeared. Interesting stories are known about the graves still existing on the Dutch cemetery, which you can fin in Kousbroek's book.

In 1824 Ph. Fr. Von Siebold purchased a house in the Nagasaki subub of Narutaki to continue his research on Japan and to teach Western medicine to his Japanese students. The place became a beehive of activity and a beacon for the new light of Western science in Japan.
On this location you can still find the garden, and a monument for Von Siebold.


The full set of (digital) pictures I took in Nagasaki can be found at:


The port of Nagasaki was opened to foreign trade in 1570. In the early years of the 17th century, at the heydays of its glory, there were many foreign vessels tied up in the harbor and several hundred seamen on the spree ashore. It was in the midst of such prosperity that the first generation of the existing Kagetsu (which literally means 'Flower and Moon') was established in 1618. After Japan was closed to all foreigners with the exception of the Dutch and the Chinese traders in Nagasaki in 1639 through the national isolation policy, Nagasaki was the only gateway for contacts with the Western world for over 200 years.

The Kagetsu, being in operation for over three and a half centuries, enjoys a high repute as one of the oldest restaurants standing in Japan. It is also famous for its beautiful garden.

In 1642 the numerous brothels around Nagasaki were gathered together in this Maruyama area. One of them was the Hike taya brothel and Kagetsu restaurant, which operated until the mid-19th century.
The Kagetsu is the high building in the middle of this picture (Utagawa Teishu, 1862). Curious detail is the room on the bottom right, with Western people sitting on chairs. Very uncommon for that time, and as we see later today's Kagetsu still has a room like this.

The Kagetsu restaurant is the only part left of the Hiketaya, and the current building probably was build after 1867, when the whole Maruyama area burned down. Still, it's the same restaurant on the same place, and for the Japanese it even seems to be the same building.

The manager (Kato Takayuki) is very friendly, and shows me around the building.

The restaurant is still operational, and serves the most well-known cuisine of Nagasaki: Shippoku. It features a unique cosmopolitan taste that reflects the deep influence of Portugal, China and Holland with whom the region has had a long history of exchanges. A truly eclectic meal!

The Kagetsu contains a 'Dutch room' which is similar to the one on the picture at the beginning of this section. The Dutch inhabitants from Deshima will have used such a room when visiting the Hiketaya, although probably not this one, as it dates from after 1867. But again, same place, and probably the same type of room.

The room contains all kind of Western attributes. Read Kousbroek (chapter 6) for more background (or theories) on th is place.

The Kagetsu has been frequented by many outstanding Japanese figures in the history, such as the famous poet and historian Rai Sanyo (1780-1832) and Sakamoto Ryoma (1835-1867), one of the leading loyalists of the Meiji Restoration. On the photographs you can see, from left to right: Takasugi Shinsaku (one of the very famous loyalists in the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate), Sakamoto Ryoma (he is said to be responsible for the sword-cut on the wooden pillar on the second floor of the building) and Iwasaki Yataro (founder of the Mitsubishi plutocracy).
The woodblock print below the photographs shows the Maruyama area in 1862, by Utagawa Teishu.

The Kagetsu also houses a very nice collection of pictures and other art objects from its history, and about the foreigners visiting the place.
This painting detail shows women from the Hiketaya arriving at the main gate of Deshima.

Also on display, a picture of a famous geisha from the Hikeyata.

The garden of the Kagetsu is very beautiful, and provided inspiration for several writers and poets in the past. One of them was Shibata Hanamori. Inspired by the rain murmuring in the plum-trees, he wrote the poem Harasume (spring-rain).

Kousbroek 'discovered' these fire-engines on his visit to the Kagetsu in 2000. These devices have been build after the 17th century Dutch 'Jan van der Heijden' design. On the side of the fire-engine you can still read the characters for 'Hiketa'.
Have these fire-engines been used during the big Maruyama fire of 1867? How they did get there, maybe a gift from the Dutch?
About a week later I found an similar fire-engine at the Tenjuan temple in Kyoto.

Kato Takayuki, his wife (right) and her sister (left).

Nagasaki Kunchi Festival


Nagasaki Kunchi, the autumn festival of Suwa Shinto Shrine, is renowned as one of the three great festivals of Japan. The word kunchi is said to be derived from the word kyunichi, or "shrine day." Another theory ascribes the origin to ku'nichi or "ninth day," referring to the auspicious ninth day of the ninth month (Oct. 9 on the modern calendar). The highlight of the original festival (began as a dedication to the deities of Suwa Shinto Shrine in 1634) was Noh drama, a feature that it shared with many other festivals around Japan. But after a devastating fire in 1857, Nagasaki Kunchi became a "new" festival in which the participating neighborhoods were free to innovate and to compete with each other in creating opulent and eye-catching performances. The result is the stunning array of presentations we see today, many of which reflect the international color and unique history of Nagasaki.

Dutch East India Co. employees (upper left) enjoy the presentations of the Kunchi Festival (section of a Byobu screen at Fukiro Restaurant)

Reinier Hesselink's paper The Dutch and the Kunchi festival of Nagasaki in the Seventeenth Century describes the relationship of the Dutch with the Kunchi festival. An excerpt:

The Kunchi festival of Nagasaki was first celebrated in 1634. As this date indicates, the festival was originally part of the bakufu policy to forge a Yamato spirit for Nagasaki, which up to 1614 had been Japan's only Christian town. In other words, the Kunchi festival started out as an anti-Christian festival, in which the anti-Christian forces in Nagasaki: the bakufu, Shinto, Buddhism and the brothel wards all joined hands to provide an alternative to the famous Easter processions, which had been performed throughout the city during the Christian period (1570-1614).

From entries in the Daghregister of a fifty-year period between 1641 and 1692, I will trace the development of the relationship of the Dutch with the Kunchi festival as it grew under bakufu tutelage during the seventeenth century. By the time Kaempfer arrived in Japan in 1690, it had become an "established tradition" for the Dutch to attend the festival. On most representations of the festival we see, therefore, a place in the viewing stands reserved for the Dutch.

The full paper is available from the author (


It's amazing to see how similar today's festival is to the pictures and stories from centuries ago. I witnessed the 2000 edition of this festival (October 7-9).

A few days before the start of the festival I already noticed all the preparations being made in the city. At the Suwa shrine, the main location, a big viewing stand was being build, and camera teams were installing their equipment. In the hotel and at the visitors desk at the train station I was told that it was impossible to get tickets for the performances at the Suwa shrine.

Despite that, I decided to go to the Suwa shrine on the first morning of the festival. The performances already had started, and I tried to get closer to the action, along the stairs leading to the shrine. My Dutch length in comparison to the height of the average Japanese was big advantage that day!

Finally reaching the top of the stairs, I could see the presentations very well. The music during the performnces makes it even more increadible. The whole event was broadcasted live by several television stations.

After each presentation the participants leave the area via the stairs, leading down to the city. A great opportunity to see everything from a very close distance.

In the afternoon the various groups can be found throughout the central part of Nagasaki, holding informal performances (called niwasaki mawari).

The train stration proved to be the best place to get a good view on all the performances I had missed at the Suwa Shrine. These presentations were dedicated to the chief of the station, who you can see sitting on the right of the picture. He seemed very excited!


The following are the seven neigborhoods making presentations at the 2000 Nagasaki Kunchi festival:

The neighborhood around Hachiman Shinto Shrine near the confluence of Nakashima and Nishiyama Rivers was renamed Yahata-machi in 1680. The presentation is the iwaibune ("celebration ship") and kenmai ("sword dance") featuring a female dance troupe wielding samurai swords. The packs of arrows on the ship allude to the itinerant priests and ship captains that were the theme of performances in the past.

Nishihama-machi was built on land reclaimed from the sea in 1671 (the area around present-day Stella-za Theater) and flourished later as a landing dock (as the name "West Beach Quarter indicates) and as one of Nagasaki's busiest merchant districts. The presentation is the jabune ("dragon ship"), which includes a Chinese-style dance recounting the true story of the Vietnamese princess Anio who arrived in Nagasaki in 1619 with Cleopatra-like splendor to marry the wealthy Nagasaki trader Araki Sotaro.

Located south of Nagasaki Station, Goto-machi received its name from the fact that a large number of Christians from the Goto Islands took refuge there during a rebellion in the islands in 1576. During the Edo Period it was the site of the yashiki or headquarters of several Kyushu clans.. For the first time this year, Goto-machi will present jaodori ("dragon dance"), adding still another name to the list of neighborhoods that specialize in the Kunchi Festival's most popular and well known presentation.

Currently the site of the Nagasaki District Court and other public institutions in the neighborhood across the street from the prefecture offices, Manzai-machi is comprised of the former Hokaura-machi and other quarters built soon after the opening of Nagasaki port for trade in 1571. The present name, which is an altered form of the "banzai" cheer, was adopted to commemorate the visit of Emperor Meiji to Nagasaki in 1872. The Kunchi presentation is Japanese dance.

As its name ("Malt Shop Quarter") indicates, Kojiya-machi was traditionally a center for the production of koji, the malted grain used in miso and other traditional foods and drinks. It is one of a series of neighborhoods squeezed between Nakashima River and the Nakadori shopping street. The Kunchi presentation is the kawabune ("river boat"), which is of course related to the neighborhood's location along Nakashima River and its traditional use of the river as a transportation artery.

Located on the promontory between Nagasaki City Hall and the Prefecture Office, Kozen-machi was named after the wealthy Hakata merchant Kozen Zennyu who took up residence here in the late 16th century. The presentation is Japanese dance with hints of kabuki influence.

Ginya-machi (literally "Silver Shop Quarter") gets its name, like many other old Nagasaki neighborhoods, from the profession of many of its traditional residents. The presentation is the shachi-daiko, a combination of a powerful drum performance and a float embellished with a shachi, a legendary golden fish often used as a motif on castle roof tiles (not "killer whale" as the word means in modern Japanese). This float is carried after the style of the kokkodesho, like the dragon dance one of the most dynamic and popular performances of the Kunchi Festival.


The full set of (digital) pictures I took during the festival can be found at:


New books

Rudy Kousbroek's book In de tijdmachine door Japan describes his 'court journey of the year 2000'. Kousbroek travels the same route as the Dutch between 1609 and 1858 did from Nagasaki to the court of the Shogun in Edo (Tokyo). From what you can see today, he describes the history based on the various journals and books that still exist. 'Sightseeing in the past', as he calls it himself. Unfortunately only available in Dutch. Very worthwhile reading if you're interested in the subject.

Reinier Hesselink's books Twee spiegels op Cambang and De gevangenen uit Nambu provide an interesting overview of the daily life on Deshima, and the relationship with the Japanese authorities. The latter one also reconstructs the political scene around the Shogun (Tokugawa Iemitsu) in Edo, and the effect on the Japanese-Dutch relation.

Antiquarian books

Philipp Franz von Siebold made tremendous efforts to compile information on Japan and published innumerable works on this subject, including the famous Nippon, Flora Japonica, and Fauna Japonica. These works are based on the materials Von Siebold collected through his own research in Japan and through the cooperation of other scientists, and their scientific importance has not diminished by time.

The subtitle of Nippon is Archiv zur Beschreibung von Japan und dessen Neben- und Schutzländern: jezo mit den südlichen Kurilen, Krafto, Koorai und den Liukiu-Inseln, nach japanischen und europäischen Schriften und eigenen Beobachtungen bearbeitet. The first two parts were published in 1833, the 3rd and 4th part in 1835. Several other parts followed in later years. The 1st edition of Nippon is very rare and expensive. I have seen prices ranging from $60.000 to $140.000, de pending on the number of volumes offered. In 1897 Von Siebold sons published a revised edition, which also contains material Von Siebold didn't use for his 1st edition. This includes the parts of his voyage to the court in Edo in the year 1826.

At a bookseller in New Jersey I found a copy of the 2nd edition, for only $45! Unfortunately the book is in a very bad shape, and the pages are extremely brittle. It has been in the possession of the Columbia University Library in New York, and has been on loan for the last time in 1965.

Murray's Handbook for Travellers in Japan (by B.H. Chamberlain and W.B. Mason) is a great source of informati on on Japan as it was in the late 19th, early 20th century. It gives a glimpse of the 'Old Japan', and provides details which you will not find in any contemporary travel books. Especially because so much was lost or destroyed during the war.

Murray's Handbook for Japan was first published in Yokohama in 1881, under joint authorship of Satow and Hawes. Chamberlain (1850-1935) and Mason (1853-1923) rewrote and revised the guide entirely, and from 1893 to 1913 it went through a further seven editions. I have the 7th (1903), 8th (1907), and 9th (1913) edition, which are all very similar.

From the same author (B.H. Chamberlain) is Things Japanese, which is a standard reference for all subjects Japanese, arranged in dictionary order. This work was very popular in Japan with early visiting foreigners. It's a standard and a classic work, and also contains four articles by Lafcadio Hearn. It provides a virtual compendium & encyclopaedia to Japan's art, literature, culture, history, customs, language, traditions, religion, music, poetry, etc. I have a 1st edition from 1890 (left on the picture), and a reprint of the 5th edition from 1905. The latter one contains an interesting 'Publisher's Note'.


  • Rudy Kousbroek, In de tijdmachine door Japan, De Hofreis van het jaar 2000. Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 2000 (ISBN 90 290 6683)
  • R.H. Hesselink, Twee spiegels op Cambang, een portret van de Japanners in de negentiende eeuw. HES, Utrecht 1984 (ISBN 90 6194 483)
  • R.H. Hesselink, De Gevangenen uit Nambu: Een waar geschiedverhaal over de VOC in Japan. Walburg Pers, Zutphen 2000 (ISBN 90 5730 130)
  • Margot van Opstal, Frits Vos, Willem van Gulik, Jan de Vries, Vier eeuwen Nederland-Japan, Kunst-Wetenschap-Taal-Handel, Uitgerversmaatschappij De Tijdstroom BV, Lochem 1983 (ISBN 90 6087 992 9)
  • Ph. Fr. Von Siebold, Nippon. Leo Woerl Verlag, Wurzburg und Leipzig, 1897 (Zweite Auflage, herausgegeben von seinen Sohnen)
  • Basil Hall Chamberlain and W.B. Mason, Japan, Handbook for Travellers. John Murray, London 1903 (7th edition)
  • Basil Hall Chamberlain and W.B. Mason, Japan, Handbook for Travellers. John Murray, London 1907 (8th edition)
  • Basil Hall Chamberlain and W.B. Mason, Japan, Handbook for Travellers. John Murray, London 1913 (9th edition)
  • Basil Hall Chamberlain, Thing Japanese, being notes on various subjects connected with Japan. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London 1890 (1st edition)
  • Basil Hall Chamberlain, Thing Japanese, being notes on various subjects connected with Japan. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London 1927 (reprint of the 1905 5th edition)