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 served as an important gateway to Western culture in Japan for 90 years. The Portuguese were the first to arrive in Hirado in 1550, and they were followed by the Spanish, the Dutch and the British.
When 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. At the height there were over 10 buildings and several VOC facilities in the surrounding area. The stone warehouse constructed in 1639 was very large in scale and a symbol of the prosperity of Hirado and the VOC trade.
However, amidst the prohibition of Christianity, the year of construction was shown in the Christian manner. This led to a demolition order of the large warehouse in 1640, and a year later the whole Dutch Trading Post in Hirado was ordered by the Japanese military regime to be relocated to Dejima in Nagasaki, bringing an end to international trade in Hirado.
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.
VOC Heritage in Hirado
The site of the Dutch trading post is now a national heritage site showcasing 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 and Japanese tiles for the roof. Inside the museum there are exhibitions about the history of the Dutch trading activities in Hirado.
There are also several original remains such as the wells 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 such as the rope walk on close-by Yokoshima island are still being excavated.