The tiny tourist attraction of Dejima played a surprisingly significant role in the Japanese culture and history. Today, this small “island” stands out for its historic buildings and Dutch festivals.
Back in 1636, when Christianity was banned in Japan, the locals built a man-made island in the port of Nagasaki to segregate Christian Portuguese traders from the Japanese population. The artificial island’s name literally means “Exit Island.” Later, the Dutch installed the first international trading port of Japan in Dejima, where goods would be traded with the West. During Japan’s seclusion period (which started in the early 1600s and ended in 1853), the island was Japan’s only gateway to the outside world.
Dejima used to be an actual island on a small peninsula, but now it is situated near the heart of Nagasaki City. Today, you can discover restored infrastructure which perfectly — and interestingly — blends Japanese style with Dutch influence on the 2.2-square-acre “island.”
Once you pay the small entrance fee, you will enter the realm of Edo period, when Dejima was the only intersection point between Japan and the outside world. Most buildings were constructed in the Japanese style with wooden structures and tatami floors, but occasionally you’ll stumble upon a building or two resembling European architecture, with conspicuous green and blue paint on the facade. Unique structures on Dejima include: a Christian seminary, several residences, warehouses and traditional shops.
As Dejima only has one main street, it shouldn’t take more than two hours to explore. However, when there are concerts or in late April when the annual Oranje Festival lights up the area, you may want to spend more time to discover its little details.
Chief Factor’s Residence
The biggest building on Dejima is the Chief Factor’s Residence. The eye-catching residence has two turquoise staircases on the outside, contrasting the rest of its mute white and brown. Chief Factor, the head of the Dutch factories, lived here and is said to have had over Dutch merchants for meetings and banquets. It was built to reflect the imposing status of the captain from the Netherlands. Inside the building, you will find extravagant European-style rooms with tatami mat flooring. Sometimes, you will even find live performances by local musicians held inside the house. There concerts are free, so just make sure to arrive early to guarantee a seat in the small veranda room!
Another fascinating structure is the Former Stone Warehouse which is now an archaeology center open to the public. This building is situated near the entrance to Dejima. Here you will be able to observe the archaeological finds of Dejima, from jarsand tableware to translated books and even firearms. Many of these artifacts show a mixture of oriental and European designs or convey a lot about the relationship between the Japanese and Dutch residents in Nagasaki at the time.
Nearby the Former Stone Warehouse is the New Stone Warehouse which serves as an information desk for tourists and as a theater, where you can enjoy several documentaries and movies about Dejima’s history. If you find yourself in Nagasaki, don’t forget to explore Dejima and take a step back into the era when Japanese and Dutch cultures found each other.