Tokyo, Yaesu Street

I read plaques!

I spotted this particular plaque/monument whilst walking from Tokyo station along Yaesu Street to my hotel in Ginza.

Since I like to read plaques to see what they're commemorating I detoured slightly to look at this one. It's written in Japanese and a language that uses the latin alphabet but it wasn't in English, I recognised that it was Dutch. (Lots of 'aa'!) Dutch traders had some of the earliest contact with the Japanese, I was curious enough to research what the plaque commemorates.

The man was a Dutch trader called Jan Joosten and he arrived in Japan on a trading ship in 1600, he was eventually given a house in Edo (as Tokyo was know at the time) where Yaesu St. is currently.

Joosten, along with other sailors, was shipwrecked off the coast of Japan, the survivors were taken to the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu who was in power. He became one of the Shogun's advisors on trade with the west. He was influential in promoting The Netherlands as a trading partner to the detriment of the Portuguese and Spanish.

When Japan cut off all contact with the outside world, only Dutch traders were allowed to remain on the artificial island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbour. The bridge on and off the island was even guarded by Japanese guards.

This is a model of Dejima from the time in the Rijks museum in Amsterdam. (I took this photo 2 years ago as I'm fascinated by this Japanese period of isolation)

It is possible to visit Dejima now and it advertises itself for Japanese tourists as "Little Holland" complete with Dutch souvenirs. But it's not the small fan shaped island of the 16 to 1800s as once Japan opened up in the late 1800s, Dejima no longer was the only place that allowed foreign ships to berth, and with foreign trade expanding so did the island through land reclamation.

Dejima is interesting not just because of its isolation, but for 200 years it was the Japanese portal into western knowledge, particularly science. The 'Dutch learning" randogaku in Japanese had Japanese students and scholars learning western science, including the western system of telling time, it introduced clocks to Japan. Until the arrival of Americans in the late 19th century, Dutch was the language of learning western science, medicine and technology. After Japan opened to the west, young Japanese scholars were sent around the world and the language of learning changed from Dutch to English.

My introduction to 'randogaku' was in the novel by Lian Hearn called 'Blossoms and Shadows'. I can recommend it for anyone who's interested in Japanese history.

There are still words used in Japan that originate from the time of the Dutch. 'rando' comes from the Japanese word for Holland 'Oranda' (which is what The Netherlands is still called in Japanese) Japanese elementary school students have a particular leather backpack that's called a 'randoseru' from what the Dutch packed their books in I think.

Yaesu St looking back to Tokyo Station, Yaesu Central Exit. The bells monument is a separate one to peace and harmony.

A little aside, I tried to take this picture on a fine day, the day after I arrived in Tokyo, but the morning I walked past it, there was an elderly homeless man and his belongings right where I would need to stand to take the picture. I thought it was a bit invasive so I planned to take the photo when I returned later in the day. Late in the afternoon I thought it was all clear, but when I went up to the plaque I saw the homeless man had placed cardboard on the ground behind the utilities box that was there so he was hidden from the road, and he was sleeping so it would have been even more invasive for me to go take a picture, I would have had to practically stand on top of him!

The pictures I did manage to take, were from a week later just as I stopped in Tokyo for a few hours before my flight back. It was raining, the homeless man wasn't there but I saw that there was a large box with must have been his belongings behind the utilities box, it seems this must have been his 'spot' in Tokyo. (The first day I walked past the monument it was raining as well) Japan does have a homeless population which at most times are invisible in large cities, this was just my brief encounter with one elderly and disabled (he was using crutches) man who lived next to a monument commemorating a Dutchman who was given a house near this site 500 years ago.