Wild Geese: A Cultural Exchange

By Sandra Simpson

Japan’s contact with Europeans dates back to the 16th century, initially Portuguese traders who arrived in 1543, quickly followed by Portuguese Jesuit missionaries and including St Francis Xavier, who arrived in 1549 to establish a mission station.

Named Nanban-jin (Barbarians from the South) by their hosts, the Portuguese supplied  Christianity and firearms, among other things, and while the latter were embraced, the former was viewed with suspicion with edicts regularly issued banning Catholicism, although to little effect initially.

In 1634 the shogun decided to put the Portuguese into a form of confinement, ordering them all on to a specially built fan-shaped island in Nagasaki Harbour, complete with strict rules about entering (for the Japanese) and exiting (for the Portuguese). However, the Nanban-jin were expelled just 5 years later on suspicion of supporting Christian rebels during the Shimabara revolt.

So tiny Dejima island – “82 ordinary steps in width and 236 in length through the middle”, according to Dr Engelbert Kaempfer, who spent two years there with the Dutch East India Company (VOC) – became vacant. The shogun saw an opportunity to keep tabs on the other group of foreigners who in 1609 had been permitted to establish a trading post on the island of Hirado and in 1641 ordered the Dutch to move there – and pay an annual rent for the privilege. Once there, the inhabitants of Dejima were confined to the island unless permission was granted to leave.

With their interest in trade, and no interest in proselytising, as well as their political hostility towards Spain and Portugal, the Dutch became the only Westerners allowed to remain in Japan during its closed period (sakoku) from 1641 until it was forced to re-open its borders from about 1853. Thus, Japan’s only window to Europe for 200 years was a Dutch one.

oranda no moji ka yokoto amatsukari

wild geese write a line
flap-flapping across the sky …
comical Dutch script

Nishiyama Soin (1605-82), tr Peter Beilenson 1

Oranda (Holland) is the Japanese word for the Dutch, both people and language. Nishiyama Soin was the founder of the Danrin School, which liked to push the envelope on topics used in poetry. When the poet Saikaku began to write verses that to his friends seemed outlandish and eccentric, he was given the nickname ‘Oranda’, an indication of how the Dutch were viewed by their hosts.

deijima map

An imagined bird’s-eye view of Dejima’s layout, copied from a woodblock print by Toshimaya Bunjiemon of 1780 and published in Isaac Titsingh’s ‘Bijzonderheden over Japan’ (1824/25). Image: Wikipedia

Trade with Japan was valuable for the Dutch, initially yielding profits of 50% or more, although that declined in the 18th century when only two ships a year were allowed to dock at Dejima. After the bankruptcy of the East-India Company (VOC) in 1795, the Dutch government took over the outpost and times were especially hard when the Batavian Republic (Netherlands) was under Napoleonic rule – the chief Dutch official, the Opperhoofd (Dutch name) or Kapitan (Japanese name), had to rely on locals for his food and clothing. During this period all ties with the homeland were cut and, for a while, Dejima was the only place in the world where the Dutch flag was flown.

kimi ga yo ya karabito mo kite toshi-gomori

Great Japan – 
a foreigner also attends
the year’s end service!

Issa, tr David Lanoue 2

The translator’s note says of this 1793 haiku: ‘Great Japan’ is my translation of kimi ga yo, a phrase that refers to the emperor’s reign and begins the Japanese national anthem. Issa would have known the lyrics, though not the current melody which came after his time. In 1793, Issa visited the port city of Nagasaki, where he encountered, possibly for the first time, a European – most likely a Dutchman.

Despite the restrictions, Dejima was a popular post among VOC employees. One reason being that the Japanese Government gave permission for limited personal trading, which provided employees with additional income, sometimes reaching levels of more than 20 times their normal annual salary. The Kapitan, whose salary was 1200 guilders a year, was recorded as making as much as 30,000 guilders.

Every year the Kapitan and a party from the enclave visited the emperor in Edo (Tokyo) in March to pay their New Year respects and offer special and expensive gifts (exotic animals, medical instruments, telescopes, books, etc), an exciting spectacle for the Japanese – and a journey that could last 3 months and comprise a procession of 150-200 people, including  translators assigned to the Dutch and civil servants from Nagasaki. ‘Oranda wataru’ (Dutchman travels) became a spring kigo for haiku. 3 In Basho’s time the Kapitan was Johannes Camphuys.

kapitan mo tsukubawase keri kimi go haru

even the captain
bows down before
the lord of spring

Basho, tr Jane Reichhold 4

Written in the spring of 1678. The translator’s note says: On New Year’s Day, the captain was required to make a formal visit to the emperor. For this visit he had to dismount and bow down before the lord or shogun (kimi).

The following haiku was quoted by King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands during a state visit to Japan in 2014. The annual tributes from the Dutch continued until 1790, whereafter they took place every fourth year.

Oranda mo hana ni ki ni keri uma ni kura

Hollanders too
have come for the blossoms – 
saddle a horse!

Basho, tr. Makoto Ueda 5

A note in the source document says of this 1679 haiku: “Basho received notice that the Dutch merchant delegation were out looking at cherry blossoms, so he told his servant, ‘Hurry up, get the saddle for my horse!’.”

RH Blyth, who for this haiku translates ‘oranda’ as ‘red-haired people’ says: The saddle is used, as in Yorimasa’s waka, which the haiku is based on, to give the aristocratic flavour, to express the feeling of urgent desire, and in the haiku also perhaps because the Dutch saddle was different from the Japanese. 6

Oranda go kuchibiru usuki Fuji no yama

on seeing Mount Fuji
the thin lips of the Dutch
become thinner

Anonymous 7

Already considered thin by the Japanese, Dutch lips seemed even thinner when they first saw Mount Fuji during the court journey.

Deijima, perhaps measuring 120m by 75m, was not only home to men and cargo, but the Dutch also kept cows, sheep, pigs and chicken on one corner. Water for cooking came in bamboo pipes from Nagasaki and had to be paid as a separate item. The number of Dutch inhabitants fluctuated from no fewer than 15 to no more than 40 (most crew members of Dutch ships were not allowed to step ashore), plus a few slaves from Bengal or Batavia (Jakarta), and an unknown number of Japanese workers who returned to the mainland at night. For instance, the Dutch were obliged to use official Japanese interpreters – generally complaining about their abilities and behaviour – who numbered 140 in the 1850s and 1860s.

kogarashi ni kusu-kusu buta no netari keri

in winter wind
the pig giggles
in his sleep

Issa, tr David Lanoue 8

The translator’s note with this 1807 haiku says: This is only the second haiku that I have translated by Issa that mentions a pig. Shinji Ogawa notes, “From China and Holland, pigs were imported to Nagasaki in the middle of the Edo period but propagated only sporadically until the Meiji period because they belonged to the ‘foul food’ category (any meat of a four-legged animal was considered ‘foul food’).”

Hiroshi Kobori comments on the word, kogarashi (“winter wind”). In early Japanese poetry, this refers to the wind that blows through trees, breaking branches and turning the leaves brown. By Issa’s time it means “a dry windy day during the late autumn-deep winter season.” It is classified as a winter season word.


A Nagasaki-e woodblock print made about 1810-20. The figures are thought to be the successor to Hendrik Doeff, Jan Cock Blomhoff, his son Johannes, and either his wife Titia Bergsma or the boy’s nursemaid Petronella Muns. In August 1817 Titia became the first Western woman to step foot in Japan for any length of time (three Dutch women evacuated from Taiwan briefly landed in 1661). After a stay of 3 months her visa was refused and she left for The Netherlands, never to see her husband again. Her arrival was such an event in Japan that a portrait was made and copied and re-copied throughout the country. © The Trustees of the British Museum, used with permission

The presence of the Dutch inspired Nagasaki artists to produce woodblock prints that became known as Nagasaki-e, dealing with life in the port city, but more particularly depicting the lives of, or portraits of, the ‘exotic’ Dutch and Chinese traders.

It’s also known that in 1822 the famous Japanese artist Hokusai was commissioned by two Dutch traders for four scroll paintings which he delivered in 1826 to Dr Philipp Franz von Siebold and Kapitan Willem de Sturler. In his 1896 book Hokusai, Edmond de Goncourt writes, “And when Hokusai delivered his paintings, the kapitan gladly paid the agreed sum of money, but the doctor, pretending his salary was lower than that of the kapitan, only wanted to pay half the money.”

The first and fifth of the official ‘Regulations concerning Dejima-machi [Dejima ward]’ which were posted at the small stone bridge connecting the islet with the mainland, read:

It is forbidden:

1. For women to enter with the exception of whores (keisei no hoka onna iru koto)
5. For Dutchmen to go outside Dejima without permission (kotowari nakushite Oranda-jin Dejima yori soto e izuru koto).

Maruyama, the licensed brothel quarter of Nagasaki, provided the lonely Dutchmen at Dejima – also known by locals Oranda heya (the Dutch lodge) or Oranda yashiki (the Dutch mansion) – with companions for their many idle hours.

Maruyama no koi wa ichiman sanzenri

love at Maruyama can sometimes bridge thirteen thousand miles

Anonymous 9

The prosperity of Maruyama went up and down in proportion to the trade with China and The Netherlands. For instance, in 1680 there were 74 brothels housing 766 girls, while by 1692 a peak of 1443 prostitutes was reached. At the end of the Edo period in the 19th century business was slack, and in the Ansei era (1854–60) there were only 28 brothels with 487 girls.

Because of the special conditions in Nagasaki the girls were — in contrast to the inhabitants of the licensed quarters in other cities — allowed to leave Maruyama. They were divided into three categories: Oranda-yuki ‘those going to the Dutch’, Kara-yuki, ‘those going to the Chinese’, and Nihon-yuki, ‘those going to the Japanese’. In the Meiji era (1868–1912) the term Kara-yuki-san was applied to foreigners’ concubines in general.

Maruyama ya onna ni yomenu fumi ga kuru

Maruyama —
where letters come to women
which they cannot read

Anonymous 10

Kapitan from 1827 to 1830, Felix Meylan, a German, wrote: “Although […] no Japanese is allowed to live on the Isle of Deshima, the Japanese Government permits wenches or so-called wh… to enter the service of the Dutchmen, and these are allowed to stay day and night on the island — on condition, however, that they appear once a day before the Banjoos [bansho, guard] on duty as a proof that they are still there …  there is a regulation that [male servants] are not allowed to remain overnight. If it were not for these wenches the Dutch people at Deshima — where there is otherwise not an overabundance of company — would have to remain without any service from sunset until late after dawn and would not even be able to get some tea water boiled, a great discomfort in the long, cold nights of winter.”

Maruyama de kakato no nai mo mare ni umi

on Maruyama
it can sometimes even happen
that one is born heel-less

Anonymous 11

A note or two about this senryu amounts to: For some reason, Japanese thought Dutchmen had no heels, perhaps because of the boots they wore (which had heels added to them). ‘Heel-less ones’ later became slang for all Westerners.

By the beginning of the 19th century — and probably even earlier — visits by the Dutch to the Maruyama brothels were tolerated. Children born to Japanese mothers and Dutch fathers were allowed to be nursed in the father’s home but after that were subject to the same restrictions of other Japanese in meetings with foreigners (although this changed over time). It is widely held that the Dutch saw these liaisons as unofficial marriages and it was customary for them to financially support any resulting children.

Hendrik Doeff (1764-1837) lived on Dejima between 1799 and 1817 – one of the longest stays of any Dutchman – working his way up from clerk to Kapitan in 1803. His sojourn as Kapitan coincided with the French occupation of The Low Countries and the English occupation of Java, a Dutch colony. In fact, so few ships were arriving that Doeff had to rely on the Japanese for his food and clothing.

Oranda no toio ni hae no tsuite kite

the Dutch,
the flies
follow them

Anonymous 12

The note with this senryu says: The Japanese bathed daily, the Dutch felt that this was unnecessary or unhealthy, so “the flies chased them”.

Doeff fathered at least two children while in Dejima, a daughter Omon who died in 1811, and a son Jōkichi. Knowing he couldn’t take the boy back to The Netherlands he asked to put in place an annual payment for him and this request was granted by the Shogunate in October 1815. In 1821 Jōkichi was granted the family name Dofu and was appointed an expert on foreign goods. Sadly, he died in 1824, aged just 17.

Cornelis van Nijenroode, Kapitan from 1623-32, had two daughters with local courtesans (while the VOC base was still at Hirado). After their father’s death in 1633, the girls – Cornelia and Esther – were taken in by the VOC and placed in an orphanage in Batavia (Jakarta). Esther married an English lieutenant and Cornelia a Dutchman, Peter Knoll who became director-general of Batavia and extremely wealthy. Read more about her interesting, though rather tragic, life.

Dutch_at Dejima

This painting by Kawahara Keiga shows Philipp Franz von Siebold with a telescope (teresukoppu), Dutch personnel and Siebold’s Japanese wife Kusumoto Otaki with their baby daughter watching an incoming Dutch ship at Dejima. The ship is towed by rowing boats. Image: Wikipedia

Dr Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866), a physician employed by the VOC in Japan from 1823, came from an illustrious German medical family. Initially, von Siebold’s contacts with Japanese physicians were minimal, although under the guise of being “translators’ assistants” they would visit Dejima to hear von Siebold give medical lectures. Soon, he was allowed to attend patients in Nagasaki, an extraordinary concession. He gathered medicinal plants and established a physic garden on Dejima. In 1824 at Narutaki (“murmuring waterfall”) at Nagasaki he established a medical school that is today the site of the Nagasaki-Siebold-Memorial Hall.

From a relationship with a Japanese woman, von Siebold had a daughter, Ine or Oranda-Oine, born in 1827. Although there was a strict ban on children being born on Dejima, it seems von Siebold’s daughter may have been born in his clinic with the local authorities looking the other way. In any event, it was well known that von Siebold’s partner had not been a prostitute when she met him.

When von Siebold was accused of espionage and forced to leave Japan in 1829 (Ludwig I had the sentence commuted from death) he made provisions for the child and her mother.


Ine Kusomoto, daughter of Philipp Franz von Siebold, became Japan’s first female obstetrician. Image: Wikipedia

As his ship left Nagasaki, it was accompanied a short way by a boat carrying his lover and their child. He carried their images and locks of their hair with him to Europe and in 1859, after 30 years, von Siebold received an amnesty and returned to Japan where he met his former lover (they had both married in the interim) and Oine, whose career he was able to help. Von Siebold returned to Munich in 1860, dying there a few years later. Oine became Japan’s first female medical doctor (an obstetrician) and was invited to Edo to practice at the Imperial Court. She died in 1902 aged 76 and unmarried.

The eighth shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751) was interested enough in Western knowledge to allow from 1720 the importation, through Dejima, of books for translation, including on astronomy, medicine (one on anatomy became a standard Japanese textbook),  natural history, shipbuilding and glass making, although none on religion were permitted. This became known as rangaku (or Dutch learning, the ‘ran’ from ‘Oranda’). However, the shogun’s government (bakufu) took a dim view and many rangaku students were arrested and jailed, including Nozawa Boncho, a doctor, haiku poet and editor of a collection of haiku (died 1714).

Here’s one thing he’ll understand without interpreters!
The kapitan hears it –
the bell of Kochucho

Sobun 13

Kochucho was home to the Dutchmen’s Edo (Tokyo) residence, and also to the city’s main time bell.


A portrait of Hendrik Doeff by Charles Howard Hodges. Image: Wikipedia

The first haiku known to have been written by a European was penned by Hendrik Doeff. He had learned Japanese quickly and worked almost daily with the VOC Japanese interpreters to teach them Dutch. Together they worked on a Dutch-Japanese dictionary, started in 1811 and completed just before he left Dejima in 1817. To get round the ban on the Dutch being allowed to learn too much about Japan, Doeff emphasised that it was a book to improve Japanese knowledge of the Dutch language. He left the text behind (but smuggled a copy out, see more later) and this was revised and improved several times. The dictionary was officially presented to the Shogun in 1833 as Oranda jisho wage (Dutch Dictionary for Japanese) and quickly became an important book.

While still in Dejima, Doeff wrote in Roman letters a postface for, and contributed a haiku to, Misago-zushi compiled by Ōya Takuzō (1788–1850). His two surviving haiku were composed in Japanese, later translated into Dutch by Frits Vos and then into English by Max Verhart.

inazuma no kaina wo karan kusamakura

lend me your arms,
fast as thunderbolts,
for a pillow on my journey

Hendrik Doeff, tr Max Verhart 14

This haiku supposedly refers to a young lady he saw slicing tofu very fast, while he was in an inn during the journey to visit the shogun.

harukaze ya amakoma hashiru hokakebune

a spring breeze
hither and thither they hurry
the sailing dinghies

Hendrik Doeff, tr. Max Verhart 15

There is no evidence that Doeff continued his interest in haiku after he left Japan.

During his tenure Doeff fought off a British attempt to take Dejima, the invaders led by Thomas Stamford Raffles, later founder of Singapore. Raffles had moved from Calcutta, where he was working for Britain’s East India Company, in 1811 to become lieutenant-governor of the East Indies (Indonesia) after British forces ousted the Dutch.

Raffles sent two ships to Dejima in 1813, the party ostensibly led by a Dutchman but who was, in reality, a cover for British trading interests. Doeff persuaded the man actually in charge of the party that having the British openly trade from the island would endanger the ships and their crews. With the connivance of Japanese interpreters trade carried on under Dutch colours and Doeff remained in place. Raffles tried again in 1814 but with no success and London began to lose interest in Japan. Doeff, who had previously lived in Batavia (Jakarta), was decorated for his loyalty and courage in refusing to surrender.

Upon his departure in 1817 Doeff smuggled out a copy of his dictionary. Unfortunately, this text – and his entire collection of artifacts and scientific papers – were lost in a shipwreck during his 1819 voyage from Batavia to The Netherlands. The passengers, including Doeff’s pregnant wife, were rescued by an American sealing ship off Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Tragically, his wife died on the next leg of the journey.

Doeff also wrote a memoir, Recollections of Japan (published in 1835 but since 2003 available in an English translation).

tarai kara taranai ni utsuru chimpunkam

tub to tub
the whole journey
just hub-bub

Issa, tr Lewis Mackenzie 16

From one tub until moved into the other – it’s all double Dutch to me!

tr Max Bickerton 17

This is often claimed as Issa’s last poem, found under his deathbed pillow in 1828. He refers to baby’s first bath after birth and the final washing of the corpse. Chimpunkan is a colloquialism for what can’t be understood. Max Bickerton, knowing Issa had heard Dutchmen speaking in Nagasaki, chose ‘double Dutch’ to convey ‘jibberish’ and Issa’s idea that all he had written was meaningless in the face of death.

David Lanoue, the Issa authority who has translated thousands of his haiku, does not believe this haiku was composed by Issa and even Bickerton seems doubtful, saying in his translator’s note, that local disciples had gathered around the bed and asked for a last verse. Issa opened his eyes and murmured this poem. “To use such slang on the edge of the grave shows admirable self-control – if it is true.”

The 1853 arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry with his fleet of black ships led to the opening and modernisation of Japan. In 50 years the country changed from a feudal society to a modern Western democracy. The exclusive role of the Dutch ended, though close contacts between the two countries continued. In the beginning Dutch was the language used in official contacts with foreign countries, so the first meetings between the Americans and the Japanese were conducted in Dutch!

Ho no ōki oranda-bune ya kumo no mine

A Dutch ship
With many sails:
The billowing clouds.

Shiki, tr. Blyth 18

Now part of the Nagasaki mainland after repeated reclamations, Dejima is being restored to its 19th century state with buildings reconstructed using period methods and furnished based on drawings of the island and models of its buildings that are preserved in The Netherlands. Exhibitions include artefacts found on the site and the history of Dejima and Western learning.

* * *

End note: (Carl) Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944), an author of early haiku and tanka in English, was born on Dejima to a Japanese mother and German father. Sadly, his mother died shortly after his birth and his father arranged for Carl to attend a naval training academy in Germany. But the boy ran away and in 1882 was sent to distant relatives in Philadelphia where he promptly befriended Walt Whitman. Hartmann’s first collection, Poems, appeared in 1889 but there is no knowing if it contained haiku. But he did include several tanka in his 1904 book of poetry, Drifting Flowers of the Sea, and in 1915 published Tanka and Haikai. He reworked and reissued these images for much of his life.

White petals afloat
On a winding woodland stream –
What else is life’s dream!

Sadakichi Hartmann 19

Poem References:

1: Japanese Haiku Series 1 (Peter Pauper Press, 1955), accessed June 22, 2020.

2: Haiku of Kobayashi Issa, accessed June 23, 2020.

3: Fay Aoyagi, in the HSA newsletter, 31.3, 2016. Accessed June 23, 2020

4: Basho: The Complete Haiku by Jane Reichhold (Kondansha Press, 2013).

5: World Kigo Database, accessed June 23, 2020.

6: Oriental Humour by RH Blyth (Hokuseido Press, 1959). Accessed June 25, 2020.

7: Some Senryu and Haiku about Dutch people from the Sakoku period, accessed June 24, 2020. The English version is my own.

8: Haiku of Kobayashi Issa.

9: Forgotten Foibles: Love and the Dutch at Dejima. Accessed June 22, 2020.

10: Ibid.

11: An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850 edited by Sumie Jones, Kenji Watanabe (University of Hawaii, 2013).

12: Some Senryu and Haiku about Dutch people from the Sakoku period.

13: An Edo Anthology.

14: Tracks in the Sand by George Swede (Simply Haiku 4:2, 2006) accessed June 22, 2020.

15: Ibid.

16: The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology, edited by Faubion Bowers (Dover thrift editions, 1996).

17:  Issa’s Life and Poetry by W M Bickerton (Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, 1932). Accessed June 23, 2020.

18: World Kigo Database.

19: Tanka and Haikai, Japanese Rhythms by Sadakichi Hartmann (author’s own edition, San Francisco, 1916). Read the book here.

Cited Sources

An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850 edited by Sumie Jones, Kenji Watanabe (University of Hawaii, 2013).

Forgotten Foibles: Love and the Dutch at Dejima. Accessed June 22, 2020.

Great Britain and the Opening of Japan 1838-1858 by William G Beasley (Routledge, 2013). Accessed June 22, 2020.

Hokusai’s ‘Dutch’ courage, The Japan Times, Dec 20, 2007. Accessed June 24, 2020.

Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 by Gary P. Leupp (Bloomsbury, 2003).

Introduction to Dutch Trade in Asia, Part 1: Papers of Hendrik Doeff, accessed June 24, 2020.

Kingdom of The Netherlands website, accessed June 23, 2020.

matsuo-basho-haiku website, accessed June 23, 2020.

Philipp Franz von Siebold: A Medical Pioneer of the 250-Year Holland-Japan Legacy. Accessed June 22, 2020.

The ‘Floating Life’ on Deshima Island: A Gloomy Side of Dutch-Japan Relationship during the Tokugawa Period, 1715-1790, a 2015 paper by Abdul Wahid (University of Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta). Accessed June 23, 2020.

The History of Ophthalmology in Japan edited by S. Mishima (Wayenborgh Publishing, 2018).

The Unexpected Import: A disquisition on the days of proto-haiku by Brett B Bodemer, California Polytechnic State University, 1999. Accessed June 22, 2020.

Uncharted Waters: Intellectual Life in the Edo Period, edited by Anna Beerens, Mark Teeuwen (Brill Publishing, 2012).

Visible Cities: Canton, Nagasaki, and Batavia and the Coming of the Americans by Leonard Blussé (Harvard University Press, 2009).

Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems by Stephen Addiss, Fumiko Yamamoto and Akira Yamamoto (Shambala, 2009).

Author’s note: This article was written especially for Haiku NewZ and was published there in July 2020. It may be found in the Archived Articles list.