It is still chilly with a bit of wind coming in from the river when I walk from my hotel in the direction of the harbour on day two of my stay in Nagasaki, day one I spent visiting the A-bomb site (I plan to pick that up together with Hiroshima).
Already as little kids in school Dutch children are taught about Factorij Dejima (Dejima Trading Post) and the fact that the Dutch (actually the VOC was a multinational employing many nationalities) were the only Europeans allowed to have contact with Japan during over two hundred years of Japanese isolation policy. So I have been familiar with that all my life, but it curiously was only on the plane coming over, that it occurred to me that the site might have been destroyed by the atomic blast in 1945.
After just a few minutes walking I have to wait for a traffic light and then go across a bridge. I am almost at the end of the bridge, when it dawns on me, this, to the left of me, this is it, the famous historical spot, Dejima, focus of so much Dutch pride; it looks so, well, ordinary.
I soon learn that the site was not destroyed in 1945. After it was abandoned in 1849, after having been the only window on Europe for over 200 years, it finally disappeared in the early 1900’ when land reclamations and new developments changed the Nagasaki city texture (it would not have been destroyed in any case because it was too far from the blast site). It was declared a National Historic Site in 1922, but only as recently as 1996 excavations and reconstruction have been underway and today quite a bit has been done and if all the plans are finally realized Dejima will be an island again and most of its buildings will be reconstructed to their early 1800’ status, after miniature models made by the then ‘Opperhoofd’ (Chief of Station) Blomhoff and sent to the Netherlands where they are still kept.
A wayward Portuguese ship was the first to land in Kyushu in 1542 and start trade relations, while Portuguese missionaries converted the local Daimyos, feudal lords, to Christianity. After a rebellion in 1637 however, where Christians were accused of infidelity, the foreign influences were considered too much trouble and Japan embarked on an isolation policy, expelling the Portuguese, but allowing the (not proselytizing Protestant) Dutch, who had had a trading post since 1609, to stay, confining them in Dejima from 1641 onwards.
The Dutch were not allowed off the island (except for special occasions as the visit to Edo) and Japanese were not allowed on (except for the officials that registered the goods, translators and courtesans), with only a few ships per year allowed in (first about 7, later only 2 or even 1 a year), life was tedious and an Opperhoofd and his staff would normally return after 1 year to Batavia, the VOC’s headquarters in Asia.
Apart from the very profitable trade (the Dutch had to pay a rent of about $1 million a year, pay for all the Japanese staff involved in monitoring them and still made a profit), the role of Dejima as the only window on Europe is also highlighted in the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture where I end up after reconnoitering the ‘Hollander Slope‘, the area in Nagasaki where Europeans lived after the opening up of Japan. Where I try to figure out if there is a contradiction between the strict regulation of contacts and reduction over time of what was allowed into Japan and the great importance that Dejima achieved as centre for ‘Rangaku‘, ‘Dutch learning‘. (Or is there a similarity with present day Japanese policies?). Tsuji, translators, were allowed on the island to learn Dutch and with Dutch as a conduit, French, German and English and subsequently to translate books into Japanese. Rangaku caused hundreds of Japanese scholars to flock to Nagasaki and study European science and art, while many Tsuji, who translated books about medicine, physics, astronomy, military science became famous scholars in their own right.
The Opperhoofd (considered a Daimyo) was expected to make an annual visit to the court in Edo (Tokyo, 1500 kilometres from Dejima; the round trip took three months) and present gifts to the Shogun (who had specified them in detail beforehand) and amongst them were scientific items as medical books and instruments, binoculars, telescopes, astrolabes and finally even a warship, the Kanko Maru, was given by Dutch King Willem III in 1855.
So it is perhaps not too much of an exaggeration to say that the Dutch at the root of Japan’s rise, also as a military power. The latter did not help them much in 1942 when the Dutch East Indies were overrun in a matter of weeks. If Dutch have ambivalent feeling towards Japan today, it is because the pride over the long relationship has been tainted by the harsh treatment many Dutch received in Japanese internment camps.
I would have to check with my grand kids if Dejima is still talked about in school today, and if it is, if the teacher then also mentions the ‘Nagasaki Holland Village Huis ten Bosch’. I suspect however neither is the case, otherwise they should have told me about the Holland Village, which I now discovered only accidentally when I spotted a train going there.
In the 1980’ real estate boom years, Japanese tycoon Yoshikuni Komichika created the theme park, building on the centuries old link with the Netherlands, some 50 kilometres north of Nagasaki, for €1.4 billion with support of local banks and the Nagasaki Prefecture.
It is an overcast weekday with an occasional light drizzle, a perfectly ‘Dutch’ day to visit Huis ten Bosch. I am the only one getting off the train and walking the bridge to the theme park and on my right the parking lot looks suspiciously empty. Since my aim is to see how well it is done as a recreation of Dutch picturesque sights, I take the ‘simple’ entry ticket, still Y3200 (€25), and not the one including entry to some of the special exhibitions which would have set me back Y5600 (€45).
It still takes me a few hours to cover the park and as a reproduction of Dutch picturesque sights I am impressed, no, very impressed. I have my doubts however, if this park is exciting enough to work as a theme park. Maybe they should add a few more ‘Dutch delights’, like ‘De Wallen’, the red-light district in Amsterdam, or the (in)famous ‘coffee shops’. But seriously, what might be a good idea is to invest some of the money earned on restoring Dejima itself to its former glory and who knows how that may help overcome some of the ambivalence about the relationship with Japan still existing in the Netherlands.