Between the mid 1600s to the mid 1800s, Japan experienced around 200 years of seclusion. Japan only had one way to communicate with the western world, and that was through the small, man-made island of Dejima on the coast of Nagasaki prefecture.
The island was only about 13,000 square meters in area, and was the only place where Portuguese missionaries and Dutch tradesmen could exchange goods and culture with the Japanese. Although much of the original buildings on Dejima no longer exist, many have been re-built to resemble what Dejima was once like.
Currently, Dejima is a popular tourist spot in the city of Nagasaki, with exhibits and restaurants in the island. Slip back into the Edo period by taking a step into Dejima and immerse yourself into the retro atmosphere!
The History of Dejima
Street in Dejima
Dejima is a manmade island made in 1636, used as a stop for Portuguese missionaries and as a Dutch trading post. The island measured about 13,000 square meters, and much of Japan’s foreign trade and import were done here at Dejima during its sakoku (鎖国), or national seclusion period from 1641 to 1859. Although the current Dejima is not the original island, it is made in the similar fan-shaped model.
During its earlier years, Dejima served as a place to keep Portuguese missionaries from entering Japan. For most of its time though, the man-made island served as a trading post for the Dutch East India Trading Company.
Dejima was the only window to Europe, and from here, Japan was able to connect with the western world. Aside from trading goods, the Japanese imported new technology and knowledge through Dejima, such as medicine, chemistry, weaponry and navigation.
In the early 19th century, about 50 buildings stood in Dejima including housing, restaurants, warehouses and more. Decades later, when Japan finally ended its sakoku policies, Dejima’s role as Japan’s only trading post with the western world was over, and the importance of the island declined.
Though island was buried in the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), a plan to restore Dejima began in the 1950s. Today, about 25 of the 49 buildings have been rebuilt.
Omotemon / Omotemon Bridge – 表門/表門橋
Omotemon Bridge after sunset
The Omotemon Bridge opened in November 2017, and serves as the main entrance into Dejima. The simple design of the bridge lights up after sunset to create a more modern night view of Dejima. The bridge leads to Omotemon, or the main gate, into Dejima.
Sakoku Era Buildings (1820s – 1860s)
You will see the sakoku era buildings after entering from the western gate. Some of the buildings are to display documents and artifacts from the 1800s, while others complete replicas of the original building. Here are some of the buildings from the sakoku era:
Kapitan Room – カピタン部屋
The Kapitan Room is the largest building on Dejima. The original building was used as the Dutch East India Company’s chief trader’s room and office. The Japanese used the word “kapitan”, derived from the Portuguese word for chief trader, “capitão”. When unused by the chief trader, the building was used to greet domestic feudal lords and government officials visiting Dejima. Inside you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere and lifestyle of the traders from the past.
Second Warehouse – 二番蔵
The warehouse is currently being used as an exhibition hall
The second warehouse is where dye, one of the main imports, was stored. The current version of the second warehouse is used as an exhibit, displaying texts and artifacts from those days.
Post-sakoku Buildings (1860 and onwards)
Entering from the omotemon (表門), or the main gate, you will see the retro buildings from the post-seclusion era.
Old Seminary – 旧出島神学校
At the eastern end of Dejima is the Old Seminary, which was at the time, Japan’s oldest Protestant school. During the seclusion era, only Netherlanders were allowed to trade because they were spreading a new religion besides Catholicism, Protestants. In 1859, the Protestants started to spread their religion, and by 1875, a church was built in this exact spot. The original building was built in 1878. The building now serves as a shop and a library.
Old Nagasaki Naigai Club – 旧長崎内外クラブ
Old Nagasaki Naigai Clubvv
The Old Nagasaki Naigai Club was built in 1903 as a place of cultural exchange for the Japanese and foreign traders. Now, the building is used as a restaurant and an exhibit.
Mini-Dejima – ミニ出島
To the left of the omotemon is mini-Dejima, a replica of the entire island. The miniature model is one-fifteenth of the island’s real size. The mini-model is based on an 1820 map of Dejima drawn out by the painter, Kawahara Keiga. You can see the original fan-shaped image of the island through Mini-Dejima.
Other Sights on/near Dejima
Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum – 長崎県美術館
Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum
Lying right next to the sea is the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum. This museum was made as a “museum that breathes” because of its location. The museum features local artworks and pieces from Spain. The modern glass architecture of the museum contrasts with the surrounding historical streets. From the rooftop garden, you can get a stunning view of Nagasaki Port and the entire sea.
The main collection consists of about 6,000 Spanish artifacts, gifted by the diplomat, Yakichirou Suma, that will connect you to the local area. There is a live performance by the students of Kassui Women’s University and Nagasaki University in the entrance lobby on every second and fourth Sunday.
Nagasaki Dejima Wharf – 長崎出島ワーフ
Nagasaki Dejima Wharf
Nagasaki Dejima Wharf is a multipurpose facility resting right by the sea. Here, you can stop by for souvenirs, grab a coffee, or have a meal of Nagasaki specialties. Have dinner on the terrace and you’re set for a romantic night. Along with the restaurants are outdoor shops with souvenirs and small goods. Enjoy the clear view of Inasa Mountain and the beautiful view of the area at night!
Nagasaki Tall Ships Festival – 長崎帆船まつり (Apr.)
Sailboat Light up
The Nagasaki Tall Ships Festival is Japan’s only large sailboat festival which takes place during the last few weeks of April every year. During the event days, a ship used for drilling is open to tour. You can also hop on a special festival cruise and sail around the Nagasaki Bay. Stay until the weekend, when there is a special fireworks display for the festival.
Dejima Projection Mapping – 出島プロジェクションマッピング (Dec.)
During these special few days in December, Dejima’s omotemon bridge and gate serve as a canvas for projection mapping. Projection mapping technology allows Dejima’s architecture to come to life, by making the structures pop and look extra three-dimensional. Make sure to purchase tickets in advance for this event.
Dejima Wharf Illumination – 出島ワーフイルミネーション (Dec.)
The entire wharf area of Dejima is lit up during the Christmas season – even the ships! Enjoy a romantic holiday dinner with an extraordinary view of the sparkling sea from the 2-story Dejima Wharf building.
Dejima Wharf Illumination
Dejima: Japan’s only Trading Port with Foreign Countries
Dejima, an island that was the only access to the outside world during Japan’s seclusion era, Nagasaki port, the main traffic area for many ships, the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, the Dejima Wharf, and the home to Japan’s largest ship festival. You can’t find this kind of history and atmosphere anywhere else. How about making a trip to Dejima?