The "trade pass" (Dutch: handelspas) issued in the name of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The text commands: "Dutch ships are allowed to travel to Japan, and they can disembark on any coast, without any reserve. From now on this regulation must be observed, and the Dutch left free to sail where they want throughout Japan. No offenses to them will be allowed, such as on previous occasions" – dated August 24, 1609 (Keichō 14, 25th day of the 6th month); n.b., the goshuin (御朱印) identifies this as an official document bearing the shogun's scarlet seal.

VOC Opperhoofden in Japan were the chief traders of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in old-spelling Dutch, literally "United East Indian Company") in Japan during the period of the Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the Edo period.

Opperhoofd is a Dutch word (plural opperhoofden) which literally means 'supreme head[man]'. In its historical usage, the word is a gubernatorial title, comparable to the English chief factor, for the chief executive officer of a Dutch factory in the sense of trading post, as led by a factor, i.e. agent. The Japanese called the Dutch chief factors kapitan (from Portuguese capitão).

The Dutch East India Company was established in 1602 by the States-General of the Netherlands to carry out colonial activities in Asia. The VOC enjoyed unique success in Japan, in part because of the ways in which the character and other qualities of its Opperhoofden were perceived to differ from other competitors.

Trading posts or factoriesEdit

Topographical map of the bay of Hirado in 1621. To the right on the shore-line, the Dutch East India Company trading post is marked with the red-white-blue flag of the Netherlands. To the far left, somewhat back from the shore-line, notice the white flag with the red cross, the St George's Cross of England at the East India Company trading post -- drawing, 1621.

Hirado, 1609–1639Edit

View of VOC compound at Hirado island - west coast of Kyūshū -- engraving, circa 1669.

The first VOC trading outpost in Japan was on the island of Hirado off the coast of Kyūshū. Permission for establishing this permanent facility was granted in 1609 by the first Tokugawa-shōgun Ieyasu; but the right to make use of this convenient location was revoked in 1639.

Dejima, 1639–1860Edit

An imagined bird's-eye view of Dejima's layout and structures. Note the island's fan-shape. Japanese wood-block print made by Toshimaya Bunjiemon in 1780.

In 1638, the harsh Sakoku ("closed door" policy) was ordered by the Tokugawa shogunate; and by 1641, the VOC had to transfer all of its mercantile operations to the small man-made island of Dejima in Nagasaki harbor. The island had been built for the Portuguese, but they had been forced to abandon it and all contacts with Japan. Only the Dutch were permitted to remain after all other Westerners had been excluded.

The Dutch presence in Japan was closely monitored and controlled. For example, each year the VOC had to transfer the opperhoofd. Each opperhoofd was expected to travel to Edo to offer tribute to the shogun (Dutch missions to Edo). The VOC traders had to be careful not to import anything religious; and they were not allowed to bring any females, nor to bury their dead ashore. They were largely free to do as they pleased on the island; but they were explicitly ordered to work on Sunday.

For nearly 200 years a series of VOC traders lived, worked and seemed to thrive in this confined location.

In 1799 the VOC went bankrupt. The trade with Japan was continued by the Dutch Indian government at Batavia, with an interruption during the English occupation of Java, during which the English (Stamford Raffles) unsuccessfully tried to capture Dejima. After the creation of the Kingdom of The Netherlands (1815) the trade with Japan came under the administration of the Minister of the Colonies by way of the Governor General in Batavia. The directors of the trade (Opperhoofd) became colonial civil servants. From 1855 the director of the trade with Japan, J.H. Donker Curtius, became 'Dutch Commissioner in Japan' with orders to conclude a treaty with Japan. He succeeded in 1855 to conclude a convention, changed into a treaty in January 1856. In 1857 he concluded a commercial paragraph in addition to the treaty of 1856, thus concluding the first western treaty of friendship and commerce with Japan. His successor, J.K. de Wit was Dutch Consul General in Japan, though still a colonial civil servant. In 1862 the Dutch representation in Japan was transferred to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This change was effected in Japan in 1863, Dirk de Graeff van Polsbroek becoming Consul General and Political Agent in Japan.

List of chief traders at HiradoEdit

Hirado is a small island just off the western shore of the Japanese island of Kyūshū. In the early 17th century, Hirado was a major center of foreign trade and included British, Chinese, and other trading stations along with the Dutch one, maintained and operated by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) after 1609. The serial leaders of this VOC trading enclave or factory at Hirado were:

  1. Jacques Specx, 20 September 1609 – 28 August 1612
  2. Hendrick Brouwer, 28 August 1612 – 6 August 1614
  3. Jacques Specx, 6 August 1614 – 29 October 1621
  4. Leonardt Camps, 29 October 1621 – 21 November 1623
  5. Cornelis van Nijenrode, 21 November 1623 – 1631
  6. Pieter Stamper, 1631
  7. Cornelis van Nijenrode, 1631 – 31 January 1633
  8. Pieter van Sante, 31 January 1633 – 6 September 1633
  9. Nicolaes Couckebacker, 6 September 1633 – 1635[1]
  10. Maerten Wesselingh (or Hendrick Hagenaer), 1635–1637
  11. Nicolaes Couckebacker, 1637 – 3 February 1639[2]
  12. François Caron, 3 February 1639 – 13 February 1641[3]

List of chief traders at DejimaEdit

Hendrik Doeff and a Balinese servant in Dejima, Japanese painting.
Pieter Albert Bik, main Dutch chief in Japan, 1842-1845, by Johann Peter Berghaus

Dejima (出島) was a fan-shaped artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki. This island was a Dutch trading post during Japan's period of maritime restrictions (海禁, kaikin, 1641–1853) during the Edo period. The serial leaders of this VOC trading enclave or "factory" at Dejima were:

  • Janus Henricus Donker Curtius: 2.11.1852 - 28.2.1860 [Donker Curtius became the last in a long list of hardy Dutch Opperhoofden who were stationed at Dejima; and fortuitously, Curtius also became the first of many Dutch diplomatic and trade representatives in Japan during the burgeoning pre-Meiji years.]


  1. ^ Historigraphical Institute (Shiryō hensan-jo), University of Tokyo, "Diary of Nicolaes Couckebacker"; retrieved 1 February 2013.
  2. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Nicolaes Couckebacker"; retrieved 1 February 2013.
  3. ^ Dejima opperhoofden chronology; Caron chronology Archived 17 January 2005 at the Wayback Machine (in German); Boxer, Charles Ralph, ed. (1935). A True Description of the Mighty Kingdoms of Japan & Siam. p. lxii; Shiryō, "Diary of François Caron"; retrieved 1 February 2013.
  4. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Maximiliaen Le Maire"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  5. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Jan van Elseracq"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  6. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Pieter Anthonisz Overtwater"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  7. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Pieter Jan van Elseracq"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  8. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Pieter Anthonisz Overtwater"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  9. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Renier van Tzum"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  10. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Willem Verstegen"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  11. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Frederick Coyet"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  12. ^ Shiryō, "Diary of Dircq Snoecq"; retrieved 2013-2-1.
  13. ^ a b c d e Kornicki, Peter F. "European Japanology at the End of the Seventeenth Century," Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Vol. 56, No. 3 (1993). pp. 510.
  14. ^ a b c d Kornicki, p. 507.


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See alsoEdit