Dutch Cemetery Booklet

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As mentioned in a previous post, Flying Crane Press was commissioned by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Tokyo to produce booklets in English and Japanese on the Dutch Cemetery at Goshinji Temple in the Inasa neighborhood of Nagasaki.

The booklets, entitled “The Dutch Cemetery at Goshinji: Stories of Exchange and Cooperation,” reached completion in time for distribution at the ceremony to celebrate the installation of the Dejima Main Gate Bridge in November 2017, an event attended by several hundred people including members of the Dutch royal family and Japanese imperial family. The following is the booklet epilogue:

THE DUTCH CEMETERY AT GOSHINJI saw the burial of several hundred people from the time of its inception in 1654 until the last interment in 1870, and for the greater part of that more than two-century-long interval, it was the only cemetery in Japan allotted exclusively for the use of Europeans. Nearby was the huge Chinese cemetery, dating back to the early seventeenth century and studded with gravestones of the style of that country. In the final years of the Edo Period when Japan opened its doors to the world, a Russian naval cemetery and small multinational cemetery joined the potpourri, creating a virtually borderless patchwork of graveyards stretching across the hillside behind the temple. Over the years, the priests of Goshinji treated the foreign cemeteries in the same manner as their Japanese counterparts, offering invocations for the dead regardless of nationality or religion.

The Dagregisters and other historic documents of the Edo Period indicate that the vast majority of burials in the Dutch Cemetery were conducted without ceremony or the placement of grave markers. The remains of most of the deceased were interred in communal graves and may even have been removed periodically to make room for new burials.

Only forty-one gravestones exist today. A few are so eroded that the inscriptions are no longer legible, and eleven are simple headstones without inscriptions. Nevertheless, the Dutch Cemetery at Goshinji offers insights into life on the island of Deshima and the state of affairs during the turbulent years when people of the Netherlands and other countries assisted Japan in re-opening its doors and launching a project of modernization. The number of superlatives is remarkable: the oldest European gravestone in Japan, the oldest Russian and British graves, the oldest gravestone with a Christian inscription, the first gravestone of a European woman, and the gravestone of the first European child born and deceased in Japan.

The Dutch Cemetery suffered periods of neglect and disrepair in the ensuing years, but the government of the Netherlands, with the support of Goshinji and local authorities, repeatedly conducted repairs to the gravestones and to the walls and other structures surrounding the cemetery. Today, the gravestones and related historical documents provide a valuable foothold for further research

As a historic asset of great mutual value, the Dutch Cemetery at Goshinji will continue to enjoy the attention of future generations, speaking silently yet eloquently of the cosmopolitan history of Nagasaki and centuries of friendship and cooperation between the Netherlands and Japan.

 

The booklet can be obtained from the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands Tokyo. For further information contact the embassy’s department for Public Diplomacy, Political & Cultural Affairs: tok-ppc@minbuza.nl

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