Dejima ("protruding island") was Japan's lone point of contact with the West for more than 200 years during the Edo Period.

Most people with an interest in Japan know that for more than 200 years prior to the arrival of a US fleet in 1854, Japan was a closed country. This policy of national seclusion, known as sakoku ("chained country"), meant that the Japanese were prohibited from contact with outsiders. Nevertheless they were not totally unaware of Western culture and knowlege, because of Dejima.

In modern times the area around Dejima has been filled in, such that it is no longer an island, but at one time it was, as its name suggests, an island which literally protruded out into Nagasaki harbor. Originally meant to isolate Portuguese traders, Dejima was constructed by the Tokugawa bakufu in 1636. As a man-made island, it was symbolically separated from the sacred soil of Japan proper.

The Portuguese had arrived in Japan in 1549, seeking to expand Christianity and trade, and had immediately begun demanding that the daimyo allow their ships entry into Japanese ports for these purposes. Nagasaki in particular became the home of a thriving Christian population, row upon row of western-style houses, and numerous Portuguese trading posts. However, the hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) soon came to loath Christianity, and did his best to suppress it, although trade was allowed to continue. The Tokugawa were heirs to his way of thinking, and in 1612, Tokugawa Ieyasu banned Christianity completely. Two years later, all the churches in Japan were ordered destroyed. Then in 1635, Japanese were banned from travelling overseas and the Portuguese were ordered into isolation. For this purpose, funds were appropriated from the citizens of Nagasaki to construct an island in the harbor. This was Dejima.

Finally, in 1639, the bakufu became so fearful of the influence of Christianity that they completely forbade the Portuguese (and Spanish) from any contact with Japan. This made life difficult for the Nagasaki landlords who had financed Dejima's construction and depended on rent from the buildings on Dejima for their livelihood. Partly for this reason, the Bakufu decided to transfer the Dutch traders from Hirado to Dejima in 1641. A relatively recent arrival on the scene, the ships of the Dutch East India Company had been coming to Japan since 1600. During the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637-1638, the Dutch had sided with the bakufu, which had therefore come to trust them, and thus the Dutch were given the monopoly on western trade with Japan following the expulsion of the Portuguese.

There was a bridge between Dejima and Nagasaki, but severe restrictions were placed on passage across it. However, both the bakufu and the Japanese intellectuals of the time knew that western science and medicine were advancing rapidly, and thus anyone who wanted to acquire the secrets of Western knowlege made their way to Nagasaki. The Meiji-era ideologue and educator Fukuzawa Yukichi (1834-1901) was a famous example of one of these scholars of "Dutch studies." The Western learning that these scholars gained in Nagasaki gradually spread throughout the whole country. For this reason, the Japanese were not especially confused by the influx of Western ideas following the arrival of the Americans in the 1850s - their leaders and the intellectual elite, at least, had been following developments in the West all along through their Dutch contacts at Dejima.

Although the site where Dejima used to be is now far from Nagasaki harbor due to landfilling, and was until recently indistinguishable from the surrounding neighborhoods, the site is currently being restored to its Edo Era appearance in recognition of its historical significance. The restoration is due to be completed in 2010.


Aka... Dejima

Dejima is one of the relatively few sumo wrestlers in Japanese sumo who compete under their own surname, rather than a poetic shikona or ring name. At the moment he and Kakizoe are the only wrestlers in makuuchi (the top division) to compete under their own names.

Dejima Takeharu was born on March 21, 1974 in Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. He attended the university in Tokyo, where he also participated in college sumo. In March, 1996 he left the university and joined Musashigawa beya (a professional sumo training school or "stable").

He rose rapidly through the hierarchy1, and was promoted to juryo in September the same year. One half year later he was promoted to the makuuchi division, again quickly climbing from the bottom to the top. In November 1997 he made the rank of sekiwake2 only to hurt his ankle in the middle of the basho (tournament), forcing him to retire.

He had to sit out two basho, and when he finally returned in the May basho, 1998, he had dropped down the ranks to the bottom of the makuuchi. This didn't seem to bother him, though: scoring an impressing 10-53 in the next two tournaments he soon found himself back in the top group as komusubi. In July, 1999, he was back as sekiwake - and in the same basho he went on to level-peg with the Grand Master of the time, Yokozuna Akebono. Dejima won the resulting play-off, and for this achievement the Nihon Sumo Kyokai elevated him to the rank of ozeki, the second highest rank in sumo.

Dejima is 180 cm tall, and weighs 158kg which is not very heavy for a sumo wrestler. His sumo is fairly uncomplicated; his favourite techniques are oshidashi (pushing opponent out of the ring), and yorikiri (pushing opponent out of the ring while holding on to his mawashi). This type of sumo served him well for a long time until he was injured again in July 2001. He dropped through the ranks to the bottom of makuuchi, but again he managed to fight his way back up. Alas not quite to his former glory, though. After one basho as sekiwake he has been slugging it out in the middle of makuuchi, periodically doing very well, but never reaching the ozeki rank again.

Dejima has won the following special prizes:

  • 1 Emperor's Cup (for winning one basho)
  • 3 Shukun sho (Outstanding Performance Award)
  • 4 Kanto sho (Fighting Spirit Prize)
  • 3 Gino sho (Technique Prize)
  • 6 Kin Boshi (Gold Star, for when a maegashira defeats a yokozuna)

Dejima is a very popular wrestler, and you will often see spectators cheering him on, waving banners with his name on them. Although he is now in his early thirties (a respectable age for a sumotori) and can look back on a very successful sumo career, I personally hope we will get to enjoy his down-to-basics sumo for a few years yet.

Update: Alas, following Nagoya basho, (July) 2009, after withdrawing due to an injury, Dejima decided to retire. His danpatsushiki (retirement ceremony) is on May 29, 2010. I, for one, will miss him.

  1. The divisions are, from the bottom up: maezumo (not included in the banzuke), jonokuchi, jonidan, sandanme, makushita, juryo, and makuuchi. Normally young wrestlers enter sumo in the lowest division, 'maezumo'. College wrestlers, on the other hand, go straight to 'makushita'
  2. The ranks in the top division, makuuchi, are, from the bottom up: maegashira, komusubi, sekiwake, ozeki and yokozuna.
  3. The regular basho runs over 15 days. Each wrestler fights one bout each day.

My sources are www.scgroup.com/sumo and http://www.scienca.de/wiki/Dejima_Takeharu. As usual http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/eng/index.html has provided too.

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