Dutch and Chinese traders were the only foreigners permitted to enter Japan for over two hundred years, from 1639 to 1854. Moreover, they were confined to certain areas of the port of Nagasaki in the far south-west: the Dutch to the man-made island of Deshima, the Chinese to the Tōjin-yashiki ('Chinese residence'). Curiosity about the foreigners was obviously great, and paintings and prints depicting their customs became popular.
Some eight versions of this pair of scrolls are known, dating from the end of the seventeenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth. It seems that in 1699 the shogunal official Hagiwara Shigehide arrived in Nagasaki to inspect the harbour, and ordered paintings of the Dutch and Chinese 'factories'. The official painter Watanabe Shūseki (1637-1707) recorded the buildings, warehouses, people, animals, and activities in detail and sent the results to the shogun's headquarters in Edo (modern Tokyo). The present work would appear to be a later, probably eighteenth-century, copy.
In the section shown here the Dutch men can be seen in one room seated at a high table (a strange custom to contemporary Japanese) for a meal. Next door they listen to music, played by African servants on European instruments. Later on comes a garden of medical plants and men playing billiards. Explanatory labels are supplied throughout. The Chinese scroll begins in a similar fashion, but continues with a temple and a market. Together, these scrolls form a fascinating and invaluable record of the foreign enclaves.