Dejima: Japan’s Connection to the Outside World

  • There was a point in the past when foreign policies were implemented, asserting that the nation’s interests were best served by keeping the affairs of other countries at a distance. It was called “Isolationism.” From 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa Shogunate enforced a policy known as “kaikin.” This policy prohibited Japan from having contact with most of the foreign countries around the world. The term “closed Japan” which was often used to describe this period of time, is somewhat misleading. Japan was still able to have small-scale trade and some diplomatic relations with Korea, China, the Ryukyu Islands and the Netherlands.

    How was it Formed?

    Dejima was a small, artificial island built by local merchants who dug a canal through a small peninsula. The third shogun of the Tokugawa Dynasty, Iemistu, ordered the canal’s construction. Originally, the main purpose of the island was to accommodate the Portuguese traders who were living in Nagasaki as well as prevent the propagation of their religion. However, after the expulsion of the Portuguese from Japan, it was later used as a trading post by the Dutch. There were 25 Japanese families who owned the area and received an annual rental fee from the Dutch. Dejima was linked to the mainland by a small bridge and guarded on both sides with a gate on the Dutch side.


    For 200 years, the Dutch mainly traded silk, cotton and materia medica from China and India. Later on, important items such as sugar were also traded followed by deer pelts and shark skin. Books on various scientific subjects were sold, which became the common basis of people’s knowledge and was also considered as a factor in the Rangaku (or Dutch Learning) movement.

    Thus, the culture of Japan soon developed with a limited influence from the outside world. It was a peaceful time for the country. The Japanese were able to develop thriving cities and castle towns as well as agricultural and domestic trade.

    Dejima continued to be used as a trading post until the 1858 Treaty of Kanagawa. It was eventually merged with Nagasaki and the trading post is now a national historic site.

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