Dejima Island's Legacy

Foreigner ghetto turned into gateway to the world

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

Dejima, once a small man-made island off the shores of Nagasaki, is now enclosed within modern Nagasaki City's hustle and bustle. Dejima was Japan's window to the world during the Edo Period. Its foreign legacy and the spirit of the pioneers lives on.

The island was set up in 1636 under the orders of the then shogun as an enclosed area that was used to isolate foreigners and to keep them away from the natives in order to prevent missionary activities and the spread of Christianity. This policy did not quite succeed. The many churches in Nagasaki are a testimonial that Christianity lives on here. For example, Ohura Church.

Portuguese missionaries were first interned on this island and then banned from Japanese shores altogether. The legacy of the Portuguese pioneers in Japan is Castella cake. You find Bunmeido Castella Shop near Dejima.

Later Dutch traders began to occupy Dejima and a Dutch factory, originally located elsewhere in Kyushu, was relocated to this island in 1641. Henceforth this tiny island became a center of commerce, an international trading station, with many warehouses and living quarters of Dutch tradesmen and workers. The houses on the Hollander Slope is a testimonial of how the Dutch expats lived here.

200 years after the heydays of Dejima other foreign nationals preferred to settle higher up on the hills. The former residence of Scottish merchant Thomas Blake Glover remains in what is now Glover Garden.

The foreigners brought with them the latest products and technology in the West, and their physicians introduced Western medical knowledge thereby contributing to the modernization of Japan.

Phillip Franz von Siebold, a German physician, served the Dutch on Dejima. A museum dedicated to his achievements, the Siebold Memorial Museum, is located in Nagasaki.

The heritage of Dejima was declared a National Designated Historical Site as early as 1922. However, it took another 80 years to preserve this heritage site and to reconstruct some of the historical buildings and open them to the public. Various exhibitions and displays in the reconstructed colonial-style buildings show the life and work environment of the Dutch merchants who once lived here.

Dejima is still close to the hearts of the Dutch. The Netherlands Chamber of Commerce in Japan (NCCJ) named a business award for outstanding success in doing business in Japan the Deshima Business Awards. Japanese companies doing outstanding business in the Netherlands can apply for the Deshima Netherlands Awards. One of the 2019 Awards went to Yakult.

While the island of Dejima in Nagasaki is now a heritage side, the business spirit of the Dutch and other foreign pioneers lives on!

Dejima is usually open 08:00-21:00 year round and entrance costs 520 yen (adult fee). At the moment (August 2020) it is open to citizen of Nagasaki only, free of charge.

Getting there

Once you are in Nagasaki, you can travel around by tram. Take tram number 1 from Nagasaki Station to the Dejima tram stop. It will take 5 minutes only from the station. There is a small fare for using the tram of 130 yen.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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Elizabeth S a month ago
Fascinating history! It’s a witness to how Japan opened up to the world.