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  • A New Guide to an Old Source
  • Reinier H. Hesselink (bio)
The Deshima Diaries: Marginalia 1740-1800. Edited by Leonard Blussé, Willem Remmelink, Cynthia Viallé, and Isabel van Daalen. Tokyo: The Japan-Netherlands Institute, 2004. xl + 898 pages. Hardcover ¥13,000.

This is the second volume in a series meant to tame and harness what must surely be one of the longest continuously kept diaries in world history, the Daghregister ten Comptoire Nangasacki, known in English as the Deshima Diaries. Begun in 1634, this journal of the Dutch factory in Japan was maintained until 1860. Special circumstances existed, of course, to support such a literary behemoth.1 The Deshima Diaries, in fact, are the legacy of the interaction between two of the early modern world's great bureaucratic organizations.

On the one hand, the 938-page tome under review is the proverbial tip of the iceberg of paperwork created by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The Deshima Diaries were kept by the Chief Factor (opperhoofd), who added to it every evening, often dictating to one or more clerks (scriba). Meant to provide a record of all official business conducted on the island, the diary included such daily data as the weather, visits by Japanese, information provided by the interpreters, and the general outline of most business transactions. Clerks of the factory were responsible for making two additional copies of the diary. These were forwarded to Batavia every year, and one was eventually sent on to the directors of the Company (Heeren Zeventien) in Amsterdam. Deshima was just one of the Company's many factories in Asia keeping diaries, account books, letter books, and many other forms of records. Professor Leonard Blussé of Leiden University has made the study of this larger VOC archive his lifework, and the present volume is among the many projects he has initiated to make the VOC archive available to scholars all over the world.

That the Deshima factory and its diary survived the demise of the Company in 1799, however, was due to the other great bureaucracy that supported the Dutch presence in Japan, the Tokugawa bakufu. Beginning in 1600, the [End Page 515] Tokugawa regime occupied and reined in the freewheeling city of Nagasaki; in 1636 it created Deshima for the containment of foreigners in Japan; and finally, in 1641, it moved the Dutch factory there from Hirado, the Dutch base since 1609. The same bureaucracy continued to manage the Dutch in Japan until well into the second half of the nineteenth century. Because of the bakufu's support for the Deshima factory during the Napoleonic era, the Dutch government, which had inherited the assets of the bankrupt VOC, maintained this outpost until virtually the end of the Tokugawa period. In the nineteenth century, Deshima was thus the sole remnant of the VOC in Asia outside of the Dutch East Indies.

At the top of the Japanese bureaucracy stood the Council of Elders (rōjū), who dispatched their personal representatives, the Nagasaki bugyō (the "governors" of the Deshima Diaries), to the city every year. They, in turn, supervised the management of the literally hundreds of local officials (jiyakunin), ranging from the city's four (later six) machidoshiyori (D. burgemeesters) to the lowliest apprentice interpreters (keiko tsūji; D. "leerling tolken"). These local officials managed the population of the city of Nagasaki, where everybody in some form or other was involved in the trade with and intelligence gathering about the outside world that was Nagasaki's function in the larger context of the Tokugawa world.

The value of the Deshima Diaries lies in their being an unselfconscious reflection of this latter world. Whereas the other great compilations of Tokugawa historiography (and many primary documents in Japanese as well) are marred by editorial bias as to what was proper to record, the Deshima Diaries report everything:facts, opinions, and rumors. They should be considered, therefore, one of the great (and as yet virtually unmined) primary sources for Tokugawa history.2 This reader was thus startled to find in the introduction to this volume, written by Dr. Willem Remmelink, able director of the Japan-Netherlands Institute in Tokyo for the past twenty-some years, the following...


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