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The historical relationship between Japan and the Netherlands is a unique and long-standing one. Their cooperative friendship has its origins in the 17th Century, born from trade.
The Japanese began trading with Europeans in the late 16th early 17th century. However from 1636 onwards, the Japanese reversed their open trading policy, deciding instead to seclude itself from the majority of the world. The began by only allowing inbound ships from China, Portugal and the Netherlands to enter designated Japanese ports, but in 1639 the Portuguese traders were also banned, due to their attempts to convert people to Christianity, which was seen as threatening the unity of Japan. The VOC employees were forced to move to a small island in Nagasaki Bay, Deshima, and were placed under strict surveillance in order to segregate them from the local Japanese.
Japan was an important trading post for the VOC; they sold Chinese silks in exchange for gold, silver and copper, which was in turn used to buy textiles in India. Following the move to Deshima, free trading was abandoned and the VOC had to sell its wares at a prefixed price set by the Japanese. From 1768 onwards the VOC began to suffer losses on their Japanese trade, but they continued to remain, as they feared losing their privaledged monopoly position with Japan.
The head of the Dutch trading post at Deshima, the opperhoofd, regularly made a trip to Edo in order to visit the shogun and thank him for the trade, offering him precious gifts. He would be accompanied by the scribe and the doctor from Deshima, as well as 56 Japanese. This court journey was the best opportunity the VOC officers had to learn about the country, their window into this secluded culture. Individuals such as Kaempfer, Thunberg and van Siebold pursued this with relish, and it is thanks to them that the Netherlands has such well preserved records and collections from 18th and 19th century Japan.
Japan has a very special historical relationship with the Netherlands, and there are still many cultural reminders of this friendship remaining in both Japan and the Netherlands. In 2008 and 2009 there were commemorations celebrating the anniversaries of the diplomatic and trading relations between the two countries. In 2013 Japan was also enlisted as a Priority Country for the Netherlands, in relation to the Dutch Mutual Cultural Heritage Policy.
CIE's activities with Japan come under our core theme of Museums and Collections.