NAGASAKI — 2000 marks the 400th anniversary of ties between Japan and the Netherlands, and various events are slated for the year to fete the shared history.

“We want to make the most of existing establishments related to the Netherlands here,” said Kazuhiko Iwasaki, the Nagasaki Prefectural Government planning division chief in charge of the Nagasaki Holland Year 2000.

The link between the two nations dates to April 19, 1600, when the Dutch trading ship De Liefde — the remaining vessel from a five-ship expedition that departed Rotterdam in June 1598 — reached Japan, on the coast of Usuki, in what is now Oita Prefecture.

Dutch traders were well-
received, and in 1609 two official trading ships arrived at Hirado port, in what is now northwestern Nagasaki Prefecture, where a Dutch trading post was established that lasted until 1641.

Portuguese and Spanish traders and missionaries had already been coming to Japan since the mid-1500s. But the Tokugawa shogunate moved to ban all Christian activities, and all Portuguese were expelled and barred from returning to the country in 1639.

Trade with the Dutch and Chinese continued, however, because the two were willing to forgo missionary activities. In 1641, the Dutch were ordered to move their trading post south to Dejima, a 15.4-sq.-meter, fan-shaped man-made island in Nagasaki harbor. The island became Japan’s only window for foreign trade and exchange until the country’s isolation ended in 1859.

Through that small window, Japanese gained knowledge of Western science and culture that served as strong influences. Information on international political affairs also came in from the Dutch traders.

With their rich historical backgrounds, Nagasaki and Hirado have many historical sites related to Dutch culture. Taking advantage of the historical connections, the theme parks Nagasaki Holland Village in Seihi and Huis Ten Bosch near Sasebo were established in 1983 and 1992, respectively, resurrecting the streets and atmosphere of 17th-century Holland.

Nagasaki, Hirado, the two Dutch theme parks and their adjacent cities will host the events commemorating the anniversary of bilateral relations, Iwasaki said. “Visitors will be able to enjoy some aspect of Dutch culture whenever they visit Nagasaki Prefecture next year,” said Hironori Horie, also of the planning division.

The sites will have various celebrations and events throughout the year, including exhibitions dealing with the historical relations between the two nations, classical music concerts, Van Gogh exhibitions, Dutch food fairs, movie festivals and sports events.

The Netherlands organizing committee for the celebrations is planning a parade from Nagasaki to Tokyo to resurrect the procession of the Dejima-based Dutch commercial delegation, Horie said. During the Edo Period, the shogunate required the delegation to visit what is now Tokyo — initially every year but later once every five years — to meet the shogun.

Promoting understanding of the shared history and friendship is a major goal of Nagasaki Holland Year 2000, but luring tourists amid the recession is another task. “We hope the events will help revitalize the local communities,” Iwasaki said.

Preparations for next year’s events include construction of Dutch trading houses on Dejima, which was incorporated into a reclamation project at the end of the 19th century.

Only part of the canal beside Dejima and rivets driven into the roads to show the Dejima border remain as reminders of the past. In addition, there is a miniature model one-fifteenth the scale of early Dejima at the Dejima Historical Museum.

Hirado, a town of about 26,000, has meanwhile been busy digging up its past, and not only for the sake of the Nagasaki Holland Year. “We didn’t even know about the anniversary until the plan was first mentioned in 1996,” said Hirofumi Hagiwara, assistant chief of Hirado’s cultural affairs bureau.

Hagiwara said Hirado has been studying its history as part of a city-planning project since 1993. “After the trading post was moved to Dejima in 1641, almost everything related to the Dutch was destroyed here,” he said. “But many documents on trade with Hirado have been found at the National Archives in The Hague.”

The early 17th century was the golden era of the Dutch East India Co., which was responsible for Asia, and existing documents vividly describe the nature of the trade with Hirado, Hagiwara said. “The Dutch trading post stood here only for 33 years, but contrary to Dejima, where entry was restricted, anyone could interact with the Dutch tradesmen here,” he said. “So the history of our contacts is really interesting.”

The Hirado Municipal Government hopes to eventually reconstruct a replica of the trading post based on the descriptions found in the documents, but a miniature model is the best option for next year, Hagiwara said. Work is meanwhile afoot to create an open harbor space for events. “Among the sites hosting the events, I think we are the ones who are really digging up the history,” Hagiwara said. “I hope visitors here will sense this.”

Hirado faces a major task, however, in improving access to the town. There are daily trains and buses from Fukuoka and Nagasaki, but their numbers are very limited. “There’s a limit to what a small city can do, but we’re trying to do our best,” Hagiwara said.

Part of the Nagasaki Holland Year 2000 events will start in January, but the official opening will be April 19, when the crown prince of the Netherlands visits Usuki and travels to Nagasaki.

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