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« Japan in the Edo Period | Main | Enduring Insanity »
Sunday
Jan302011

Modern Dejima

You're most likely now ensconced in the strange and compelling world David Mitchell has constructed out of the Dutch trading post in the bay off Edo-period Nagasaki.

Yes, THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET can be tough going at first. Mitchell willingly and even willfully tosses you into the story "in medias res" (that is, "in the middle of things," to use an old literary term).

You're first thrust into a shogun's palace, an imperial birthing suite, then lobbed into the hold of a Dutch merchant vessel. You nearly drown in a big cast of characters, each with already-running histories, with back stories you're clearly missing. You can't figure out who's who--or even what's what. Doctor who? Midwife what? Treason when? It all seems terribly important, life and death stuff--but who the hell are these people?

And to boot, you find yourself in a very bizarre place, even for the late eighteenth century: Dejima, the Dutch trading post constructed off-shore in Nagasaki bay so the European merchants and their hired hands would not "contaminate" Japan with Christianity.

Dejima is a real, historical place--although it is no longer an island but has been grafted onto the mainland by silt and landfill.

The Japanese government is spending a lot to revitalize Dejima, to bring it back as a national treasure. For a great website put together by the city of Nagasaki, click here. The site explains the history and the modern reconstruction of Dejima. Take some time to explore. You'll get a feel for what was surely one of the more bizarre places in what was also a bizarre moment of global history.

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