Opening of six reconstructed buildings at Deshima

Japan Special: New narratives on centuries-old heritage this autumn

In October, also called the ‘Month of Art’ in Japan, a range of events as part of the Holland-Kyushu 2016-2017 programme were hosted by the Dutch Embassy.

The Holland-Kyushu 2016-2017 programme is an initiative by DutchCulture and the Netherlands Embassy in Tokyo. 


On 19 October six reconstructed buildings on the island of Deshima, home to the former Dutch trading post in Japan from the 17th until the 19th century, were officially opened by the mayor of Nagasaki. They are reconstructions of buildings that existed on this site at the beginning of the 19th century and were used as sugar, copper and sugar storehouses. Now that the six buildings have been completed, the streetscape of Deshima looks the same as it did at the beginning of the 19th century.

The reconstruction of these buildings was part of the third phase of the Deshima reconstruction process. This phase will come to an end in November of next year, when the little bridge that connected the artificial island with the mainland of Nagasaki is due to be completed. At present it is only possible to enter Deshima via the sea gate. The completion of the Omotemonbashi Bridge has symbolic significance: for more than 200 years, the goods, knowledge and people brought by the VOC ships were allowed to enter Japan only by means of this narrow bridge. The reconstruction is funded entirely by the city of Nagasaki, but Dutch expertise has been drawn upon extensively for the research and reconstruction process.

Coinciding with the festivities on Deshima, the International Siebold Collection Working Conference was held in Nagasaki from 20 to 22 October, organised by the Siebold Huis from Leiden. Scholars from Japan, the Netherlands and Germany met to discuss the collection of the great Japan-researcher Philipp Franz von Siebold, who lived in the 19th century and brought so many artefacts from Japan during his sojourn at the Deshima trading post as a physician.
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A few days after the festivities on Deshima, on October 22, a ceremony to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Arita porcelain was held in Arita Town in the presence of a member of the Japanese imperial family. The history of Arita porcelain is strongly connected with the Netherlands, In the second half of the 17th century, when China’s porcelain production came to a halt due to internal strife, the Dutch turned to Arita to satisfy the European demand for porcelain. The Dutch instructed the Arita craftsmen to develop coloured porcelain, which they did – and the product took Europe by storm.

And history repeats itself… in this same month of October a range of more than 380 new products created by sixteen designers collaborating with local porcelain producers from the area around Arita went on sale in Tokyo in three major stores of the warehouse chain Seibu Sogo. The embassy teamed up with Saga Prefecture to create a framework in which designers and producers could come together and create new, exciting designs to appeal to a new public.

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Hirado, home to a community of about 40,000 people, is a relatively small group of islands near the west coast of Nagasaki. But it has a rich history, as the first Europeans arrived here to trade in the 16th century. The first trading post was established in 1609, after the finalising of official bonds between Japan and the Netherlands. The ruling Matsura clan allowed the Dutch to settle in the area until 1641, when the trading post was moved to the small, secluded island of Deshima.

The Matsura family developed their own style of tea ceremony, different from the Kyoto style, and also a special assortment of Japanese sweets. A document categorising all 100 different types of sweets, the ‘Encyclopedia of 100 Sweets’ was discovered by Akira Matsura, the current lord of Hirado, in 1998. Over the years, many parties have asked Mr. Matsura if he would lend out this document for their projects, but he has always refused, until the idea was proposed of having Dutch designers redesign these sweets. He agreed, as the Dutch embassy was involved and he has high regard for Japan’s bond with the Netherlands.

This year’s annual tea ceremony on 23 October was an all-Dutch event: The Dutch Tea Ceremony, with utensils and sweets designed by the artists and designers Roosmarijn Pallandt and Studio Ina&Matt.

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‘Van Bosse’ shipwreck

The first part of the search for the ‘Van Bosse’, built in 1854, led to the finding of several objects and many interesting local stories, which could ultimately lead to the discovery of the wreck.

This August, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands joined forces with the Kyushu National Museum and the University of Okinawa to conduct exploratory research on the wreck of the ‘Van Bosse’. The total research will focus on exploring opportunities for mapping the site of the ‘Van Bosse’ and providing local sports divers with access to the wreck

The Dutch ship sank in 1857 off Tarama Island, Okinawa Prefecture. The crew survived and resided on the island for a couple of months. The story of the ‘Van Bosse’ was transmitted from generation to generation and today forms an essential part of local history. The site of the shipwreck is protected locally, but an archaeologically significant assessment of the site had not yet been made. During the first part of the project, scenarios were developed on how the ship must have sunk because it bumped against the reef and sprang a leak. Furthermore, several objects that are presumably from the ship were discovered, but the ship itself remains unfound.

In the coming months, Japanese researchers will continue the search for the ‘Van Bosse’and start an educational programme, while their Dutch counterparts will conduct historical research in Dutch and German archives. The discovery of the wreck, combined with the existing stories, would provide an additional cultural and historical dimension to the diving experience at Tarama Island.

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