Dejima Sensuality Between Foreigners and Japanese Sex Workers
Marijn Kruijff
4 min

Dejima Sensuality Between Foreigners and Japanese Sex Workers

4 min

After a relatively liberal period after 1543, in which the interactions between foreigners and the Japanese were fairly flexible, the Tokugawa shogunate introduced stricter regulations from 1639.

Dejima – Protruding Island

From then on, Nagasaki was the only port into which Dutch and Chinese vessels were permitted to sail. The Dutch (the Hollanders) had to give up their trading-post at Hirado and were allocated the man-made islet of Dejima (‘protruding Island’). It was built in 1634 for the internment of Portuguese merchants, since the Japanese authorities felt they could keep a closer watch on them on an island. The freedom of movement for the Hollanders was not much greater. They were not allowed to leave the island and even practicing their religion was forbidden.

Map of Dejima at Nagasaki

Fig.1. ‘Map of Dejima at Nagasaki

Chinese Trade Settlement

Not far to the south of Dejima, was the location of the Chinese trade settlement (Tôjin-yashiki), partly formed by a square island in the bay where the warehouses were located and which was connected to the warehouses and offices on the mainland.

Registered Sex Workers

It was accepted by the shogunate that male traders far from home to receive female company. Registered sex workers from Nagasaki’s Maruyama pleasure quarter were permitted to visit Dejima and the Chinese colony to supply sexual services.

Dejima: De grote partij in de kamer van het opperhoofd op het Eiland (The big party in the room of the chief on the island

Fig.2. ‘De grote partij in de kamer van het opperhoofd op het Eiland (The big party in the room of the Dutch chief on the island of Dejima)‘ (c.1805/15) scroll painting by an unknown Japanese artist


Authoritative decrees were even adapted so that long-term relations could be maintained between Japanese women and foreign men. Possible descendants were not allowed to leave Japan. The same was true for the mothers.

Kikugawa School

The images below (except for Fig.4.) are from an erotic album written by Ōta Nampo 太田南畝 (1749–1823) and illustrated by an unidentified artist from the Kikukawa School (active c.1800s – 1860s). It was issued around 1820, is now housed in the Honolulu Museum of Art, and purchased from the late shunga expert Dr. Richard Lane.  The album consists of six paintings (the other three are conventional images inspired by Kitagawa Utamaro and others) and text pages.

Painting depicting a Dutchman with a Japanese courtesan and a monkey

Fig.3. ‘Dutchman with a Japanese courtesan and a monkey‘ (c.1820) by an unidentified artist from the Kikukawa School (Source: Honolulu Museum of Art)

Hosoda Eishi

This first painting (Fig.3) is clearly inspired by an earlier piece (Fig.4) from the leading floating-world artist Hosoda Eishi (1756-1829). There is special interest in the European jacket, breeches and leg covering worn by the man.

Dutchman and Japanese geisha on the island of Dejima

Fig.4. ‘Dutchman and Japanese geisha‘ (c.1800-20) from a set of five paintings mounted as a handscroll by Hosoda Eishi (Dutch Private Collection)

Albino Monkey

The trousers are depicted with a satin-like sheen not to mention his sensitively rendered complexion and hair color. The masturbating albino monkey is chained to a blue collar. In Eishi’s version it’s about an unchained brown monkey.

Chinese couple at Dejima

Fig.5. ‘Chinese couple‘ (c.1820) by an unidentified artist from the Kikukawa School (Source: Honolulu Museum of Art)

Twisted Tree Branches

A middle-aged Chinese couple prepare for love-making (Fig.5). The woman is sitting in a striking twisted branch chair. She is wearing red silk lotus shoes. The man wears a Ming Dynasty-style headdress on his queue haircut.

Japanese couple making love underneath a mosquito-net

Fig.6. ‘Japanese couple‘ (c.1820) by an unidentified artist from the Kikukawa School (Source: Honolulu Museum of Art)

Noble Japanese Couple

The sultry weather (emphasized by the mosquito net and their entire naked bodies) has stimulated the sensuality of this noble Japanese couple (Fig.6).

You can find the whole set at the Honolulu Museum of Art

“Dutchman” Netsuke of US$230.000,-

Dutchmen were also a popular theme among netsuke artists. The piece below proofs that is also a favorite of collectors. It was the big surprise at the German auction house Lempertz on 27 November 2004. This unusually large, a height of 5 2/5 inches, ivory netsuke of a standing Dutchman holding a dead hare over his shoulder which is attached to a gun, produced in the late 18th Century, was estimated at $60.000,- and hammered at US$230.000,-.


There are a number of factors that can explain this extraordinary hammer price. First of all, this piece had been known for more than a century and part of several prominent netsuke collections, and already been discussed in 1895 by the Japonist art dealer Marcus B. Huish.


Fig.7. ‘Ivory netsuke of a Dutchman‘ (late 18th century)


Furthermore, the craftsmanship of the unknown carver, who very aptly depicts the somewhat caricature-like facial features and the elegant jacket (the red buttons are made of coral). He shows the Dutchman as a hunter whose bait is an indication of the “South Barbarian meat eaters”.


Of course, its rarity, condition and the theme also determined this explosive prize. The representation of the Westerner, in particular that of the Dutchman in Japanese art (in ukiyo-e and netsuke) is a much coveted subject.

Click HERE for the sensual adventures of the Dutch VOC head Jan Cock Blomhoff in Dejima..!!

The Honolulu Museum of Art
‘Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art‘ by the British Museum