Old Dejima Island in Nagasaki Bay

Discovering Dejima Island (Part 1 of 2)

During the 17th through the 19th century, Japan adopted a policy that isolated the whole country from the outside world. This long period of national isolation was called sakoku.  During sakoku no Japanese could leave the country on penalty of death, and very few foreign nationals were permitted to enter and trade with Japan. Sakoku literally meant “chained country.”

Bird's eye view of Dejima, Japan

The rationale of the shogunate behind the implementation of sakoku in Japan was to remove any religious and colonial influence, primarily from Portugal and Spain, considered a threat to the shogunate.

Bird’s eye view of Dejima, Japan.

Japan strictly traded with only five entities from four gateways, one of them was with the Dutch East India Company who was permitted to trade in Nagasaki along with private Chinese traders.

Dejima Island in the bay of Nagasaki is a small, fan-shaped, artificial island that covers an area of 390 feet by 250 feet. The island was built in 1634 to initially house Portuguese. The Japanese went to the extreme of digging a canal through a small peninsula to separate the citizens from the foreign traders. The Dutch were moved to Dejima in 1641 and during most of the Edo period and the island became the only place of direct trade and exchange between Japan and the outside world.

Dejima Island in Nagasaki Bay.

The quelling of Christianity

1543 was the year that Japan had direct contact with Europeans with the arrival of some Portuguese who washed onto Japanese shores in Tanegashima when they got caught up in a storm. Six years later, the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in Kagoshima.

Old house in Dejima island

Old house in Dejima island.

The Portuguese traders were originally based in Hirado, but they decided to look for a better port. In 1570, daimyō Ōmura Sumitada (1533 – June 23, 1587), who is known throughout history to be the first daimyo to convert to Christianity following the arrival of Jesuit missionaries in the mid-16th century. After converting to Christianity, he became known as “Dom Bartolomeu”. He is also known to have opened the port of Nagasaki to foreign trade. In 1580, Sumitada gave the jurisdiction of Nagasaki to the Jesuits and the Portuguese possessed the de facto monopoly on the silk trade with China through Macau.