illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

Trip West to the Old–and New–East-Part 6: Nagasaki

I won’t say that Nagasaki was the most interesting port we visited–I think you can tell from my other accounts that each place was fascinating. But one image from Nagasaki, in a way, summarizes the whole journey.

Remember how we learned in grade school that everyone thought the world was flat when Columbus sailed east from Spain? Not true: the original of this globe was made in 1492. We saw it at the Nagasaki Historical Museum. Of course, there’s nothing but ocean between the west coast of Europe and the east coast of Asia. Previous international exploration consisted of following the coastline or going overland. That’s why they thought Columbus was crazy: “there was no there there.”

This 17th century image of Nagasaki harbor conveys the same impression of an expansive sweep of calm, safe water that we experienced in November–except, of course, that we went under a bridge.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’d read Mason and Caiger’s History of Japan, seen many monuments from the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868) and knew that the samurai government had isolated Japan from the rest of the world–especially from efforts to introduce Christianity. Although there were several bloody purges of missionaries and converts in Nagasaki, it remained the only city in the country open to international trade and only Dutch and Chinese traders were permitted.

The Dutch East India Company’s Japanese trading post was established on Dejima, an artificial island island in Nagasaki Port. The Dutch were not permitted to bring their families; but were permitted to fraternize in the town with geishas. Chinese traders were not permitted to leave their walled compound…

Despite these restrictions, we learned at the Nagasaki Historical Museum that students came from all parts of Japan to acquire new knowledge in the fields of medicine, astronomy and chemistry, laying a foundation for the modernization of Nagasaki and Japan as a whole. I’m not sure how many of the authors of the studies were permitted to come to Nagasaki, but we saw many texts that were studied there.

En route between the museum and Dejima, we stopped to snap a photo of one other Nagasaki landmark: the Spectacles Bridge:

I hope you can understand how my mind was stretched by this trip.

…there’s still a little more to come.

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This entry was posted on January 24, 2019 by in Writing.
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