Tojin yashiki

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  • Established: 1689
  • Japanese: 唐人屋敷 (Toujin yashiki)

The Tôjin yashiki, or "Chinamen's mansions," was a compound in Nagasaki built by the Tokugawa shogunate to serve as residences and a base of operations for Chinese merchants in the city.

The walled compound served a similar function to the tiny Dutch East India Company settlement on Dejima, but was about twice the size, covering roughly seven acres (or 28,000 square meters). Surrounded by palisades, a moat, and gates which could be locked from the outside, the compound included residences, offices, and warehouses, and housed on average 2,000 Chinese merchants and sailors, though the number was initially nearly 5,000, and rose back up to that figure at times. Immediately inside the gates, authorized merchants operated stalls to the left, while roughly 300 interpreters, inspectors, and the like, and their staffs, maintained offices to the right. A pair of nagaya (long, two-storied barracks) served as the chief residences within the district.[1] Shrines and temples, market stalls, and a bathhouse stood near the center of the compound.[2]

Scenes in the Chinese settlement, Nagasaki, as seen in a handscroll on display at the British Museum.

While some Chinese residents of the city recognized as full members of Japanese society (a pre-modern equivalent to naturalized citizens, or perhaps resident aliens) were subject to the same restrictions as any Japanese commoner - free to move about the city and the archipelago, but forbidden from going overseas[3] - those associated with the Tôjin yashiki were prohibited from leaving the compound or moving freely about the city except to go to and from the ships, to engage in authorized interactions with Japanese merchants, or to visit temples, and when doing so were always accompanied by low-ranking Nagasaki officials.[4] Like the Dutch, but unlike very nearly all Japanese, the Chinese associated with the merchant compound were permitted, however, to travel overseas and return to Japan.

Chinese had been permitted to move more freely up until the late 17th century, when in 1689, in response to a rise in smuggling activities,[5] the Tôjin yashiki compound was constructed and the Chinese were restricted to it, as the Dutch were on Dejima. The construction was handled by the local people of Nagasaki, at their own expense, albeit with a sizable loan from the shogunate; the people of Nagasaki then recouped their investment, at least in part, by charging rent to the Chinese merchants, as they did to the Dutch East India Company.[6] Where freedom of movement had previously meant that very few Chinese were permanently resident in Nagasaki, these measures collected Chinese within the city, causing the number of regular/permanent residents to skyrocket from perhaps as few as twenty individuals in 1608 to around two thousand a decade later.[7] No women were permitted in the compound, with the exception of courtesans from the Maruyama pleasure district; the courtesans were also the only Japanese permitted in the district other than shogunate officials. Though permitted to stay overnight on Dejima, the courtesans were not permitted to do so in the Chinese compound. However, they did charge cheaper rates to the Chinese than to the Dutch, as it is said the courtesans preferred the company of the Chinese over that of the Europeans.[8] The compound was also provided with a supply of pork, from pigs raised just outside the city.[9]

In the 1820s, many residents of the Tôjin yashiki managed to bribe their way into freer movement around the city, and freer & more direct interactions with Japanese merchants. The shogunate attempted to put an end to this by having Kuroda Naritaka, lord of Fukuoka han, station guards outside the Chinese compound. The Chinese responded with a three-day-long riot, and though the samurai were able to restore order, trade in the port - and revenues for the shogunate's Nagasaki customs house in particular - declined in the 1830s. The shogunate initially blamed this decline on competition from smuggling organized or supported by Satsuma han, but in fact, the weakness of the Dutch East India Company in the 1800s-1820s, and increased competition for the foreign merchants from domestic Japanese products played important roles as well.[10]


  • Robert Hellyer, Defining Engagement, Harvard University Press (2009), 55-56.
  1. Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 29-30.
  2. Yamagata Kin'ya 山形欣哉, Rekishi no umi wo hashiru 歴史の海を走る, Nôsangyoson bunka kyôkai (2004), 108.
  3. Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Re-Inventing Japan: Time, Space, Nation, M.E. Sharpe (1998), 83.
  4. Jansen, 30.
  5. The defeat of the Ming loyalists brought renewed order and stability to Qing Dynasty China. The end of coastal restrictions led to a dramatic increase in the number of Chinese ships calling at Nagasaki. Fearing a drastic outflow of silver and/or copper, the shogunate attempted to limit the number of ships that could trade, labeling all the rest "smugglers" and criminals. Hence, the increase in smuggling, caused by an increase in the number of ships trying to trade, and a reduction in the number permitted to do so legally. Mizuno Norihito, “China in Tokugawa Foreign Relations: The Tokugawa Bakufu’s Perception of and Attitudes toward Ming-Qing China,” Sino-Japanese Studies 15 (2003), 140n181.; Jansen, 29.
  6. Arano Yasunori, "Foreign Relations in Early Modern Japan: Exploding the Myth of National Seclusion,", 18 Jan 2013.
  7. Jansen, 8-9.
  8. Jansen, 32.
  9. Herbert Plutschow, A Reader in Edo Period Travel, Kent: Global Oriental (2006), 47.
  10. Hellyer, 133-136.