Member: Hirado Dutch Trading Post
Hirado’s trade with the west
The European age of exploration brought prosperity to Hirado, a small Japanese port city, which came to be known in Japan as “the capital of the west”. The Portuguese were the first to arrive in Hirado in 1550, and they were followed by the Spanish, the Dutch and the British. For about 90 years, Hirado served as an important gateway to Western culture in Japan.
The first Dutch ship arrived in Japan in 1600, yet it took another nine years before the first Dutch envoy with an official request for permission to trade arrived in Hirado. When the Shogunate, the Japanese military regime, permitted the Dutch East India Company to trade in Japan in 1609, a trading post was established in Hirado. After humble beginnings, it gradually expanded as trade increased. A stone warehouse constructed in 1639 was built on an enormous scale for the time and it was a symbol of the prosperity achieved through the trading in Hirado.
However, amidst the prohibition of Christianity, the year of construction was shown in western counting which is based on Christianity. This led to a demolition order in 1640, and a year later the entire Dutch Trading Post was ordered to relocate to Dejima in Nagasaki.
VOC trading goods in Hirado
Out of all the imported products, raw silk brought the largest profit at the Hirado Dutch Trading Post. The account books from 1640 show that 22% of the imports were white silk from China and 23% raw silk from Tonkin (Vietnam). Specifically, white silk from China was the product with the highest demand in Japan. Many other types of cloth were also imported.
Other imports were foodstuffs such as sugar and flour, animal products such as deerskin, cow skin and beef horn, mineral products (tin, lead, mercury), dyes, and everyday items (ceramics, lacquer ware, fragrant wood, perfume). These various goods were mainly shipped from Tainan in Taiwan, Tonkin in Vietnam, Ayutthaya in Thailand and Batavia in Indonesia but produced in many places across Asia.
On the other hand, the most important export commodities were gold, silver and copper. These exported precious metals were one of the cornerstones of the VOC’s trade in Asia.
When the Dutch trading post had to relocate to Dejima in Nagasaki, all the buildings were dismantled. The site of the Dutch trading post became a national heritage site in 1921 and now showcases the painstakingly reconstructed 1639 warehouse that opened as a museum in 2011 after many years of excavations and research. It has been rebuilt as close as possible to the original using over 20.000 large sandstone blocks, huge 48 cm square pinewood pillars in the characteristic Dutch Y shape as well as Japanese tiles which were also originally used for the roof. Inside the museum there are exhibitions which give a good overview of the history of the Dutch trading activities in Hirado.
There are also several original remains such as the wells used for water supply and the three-metre-high stone wall that separated the trading post from the town (both built between 1612 and 1636) as well as the embankment (1640) with a light beacon. The original wharf where goods were brought on land also still exists but the year of construction is unknown. Other VOC facilities existed around the Hirado area such as a warehouse in Kawachi village and a rope walk on close-by Yokoshima island. The latter site is still being excavated and studied.
The excavation of the site
Through excavation the exact location and dimension of the stone warehouse which was originally constructed in 1639 were identified
Map of Hirado from 1621
Scroll depicting a Dutch sailing ship