In mid October I took a little trip with my parents down to Kyushu for the first time where we spent a day in Fukuoka and two visiting Nagasaki.

My research here in Kyoto revolves around the depiction of foreign birds in Japanese art and part of that has involved looking into the history of international trade with Japan. Nagasaki has been an important link in this research as it was the location of Dejima, a manmade island off the harbour of Nagasaki where Dutch were given exclusive trading rights in the 18th century.
Going to Nagasaki I was interested to see how much of the old trading area still existed and hoped to read more about the history of the Dutch trading presence in Nagasaki.

Some beautiful karakami 唐紙 block printed wall paper in one of the rooms at the Dejima replica museum

What we found in Nagasaki was a beautiful and historically rich city. It has had brushes with Portuguese missionaries, Dutch merchants, Scottish entrepreneurs and Chinese merchants. These periods of its history are still visible in the city; Chinese style temples, Cathedrals, rows of beautiful arched stone bridges, Western style homes and buildings.

Meganebashi 眼鏡橋 The eyeglasses bridge, so called because the reflections cause the bridge to look like glasses

As for Dejima itself, there has been activity in recent years to reclaim the original Fan-shaped land of the small island which has been swallowed into the modern city of Nagasaki. Today you can visit a museum on the original site with reproduction buildings and a lot of very detailed and interesting information about what took place there. Its a little bit touristy of course but great to see.

Dejima Museum, a reconstruction project still in progress on the original site of the trading post of Dejima Island

From my research so far I knew about some of the things the Dutch had contributed to Japanese society already (coffee drinking, red bricks, mechanical clocks, beer, billiards potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, glass making practices, medical knowledge, exotic animals…) but was surprised to learn of Scottish Entrepreneur Thomas Blake Glover’s (in Japan from 1859-1911) contributions. He was a clever business man, sinking money into whatever he saw to be profitable at the time, including shipbuilding, tea-roasting, coal-mining, beer brewing…you name it, if it was a business in Nagasaki, Glover probably had some share in it. He played a big part in establishing what are now Mitsubishi and Kirin Brewing Company and even received an Order of the Rising Sun for his contributions!

Thomas Glover certainly knew how to pick a good spot to build his house.

It’s surprising to see how great were the contributions of non-japanese to the development of Japan. I don’t think many Japanese people know very much about it. Maybe if they did, they wouldn’t still have this tiny niggling anti-foreigner thing in the back of their collective psyche. Look how much people from other countries with other sets of knowledge and expertise can do for you country if you let them!

Anyway, it was great to see new parts of Japan, so very far removed both distance and history-wise from Kyoto. (And to go by bullet train was nice too!) Thanks Kyushu!

View over Nagasaki by night from the top of Mt Inasa. Pretty speccy!