Children’s book about shipwreck of Van Bosse and its crew on Tarama

On 2 December, José Schreurs of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), along with Professor Kayoko Shimoji of Okinawa International University, presented the first editions of the children’s book "The Riddle of the Dutch Reef" to Theo Peters, Dutch Ambassador to Japan and Ikehiro Michio, the head of the Education Council of the municipality of Tarama in Japan. The book is the result of an oral history project that the RCE carried out in close partnership with the municipality of Tarama, Okinawa International University and Leiden University.

Standing on the left is Mr Ikehiro Michio. In the middle are Theo Peters and José Schreurs, with José Schreurs handing the children's book to Theo Peters while they also shake hands. On the right stands Kayoko Shimoji.
From left to right: Ikehiro Michio, Theo Peters, José Schreurs and Kayoko Shimoji.

Research into the shipwreck of the Van Bosse (1854-1857) revealed that stories about the 1857 shipwreck still circulate on the small island of Tarama. These stories form the basis for this children’s book, together with archive research in the Netherlands and previous publications about the Van Bosse in Japan.


The Dutch trading ship Van Bosse sank in 1857 off the island of Tarama, Okinawa in Japan. Tarama was part of the Ryukyu Kingdom at that time, which became part of Japan in 1879 and was made into the prefecture (province) of Okinawa in 1882. Between 1641 and 1853, the Netherlands was the only Western country that was able to trade with the Japanese Empire via the Deshima trading post (near Nagasaki). In the mid-19th century, Japan concluded a trade treaty with the United States and other European countries too.

The Van Bosse was one of the many Dutch ships that transported merchandise between Asia, Europe and America. In July 1857, while sailing from Singapore to Shanghai with a cargo of tea, the ship encountered heavy weather near the island of Tarama and sank. Her 27 crew members, including the captain’s wife, a young girl and a dog, managed to reach the island in two sloops. They were looked after by the Taramese population. After spending three months on Tarama, Miyako and finally Okinawa, they were picked up by another Dutch ship and arrived in Batavia (now known as Jakarta) on 2 December 1857. There are stories circulating in Japan that members of the Dutch crew returned to the island three years later to collect the dog and the ship’s cargo. However, there are currently no indications in the written historical sources to confirm this.

Wreck site now municipal monument

In 2016, the RCE in partnership with Japanese colleagues conducted a diving mission to locate the wreck of the Van Bosse. The ship was not found, but a large chest and other material were. Fragments of the ship and its cargo can still be found on the beach on Tamara. The location where these fragments were found has been designated a municipal monument and finds from the ship can be viewed in the Tarama museum.

In addition to the diving expedition, the RCE and its partners have also collected stories about the Van Bosse and her crew from residents of the island. The information obtained through this oral history project complements the information from the material remains and historical sources. The stories add context to the material remains and the location of the wreck. They are more than just tales about the past. The stories and the location also play a role in the community living on the island today.

The book is written in Japanese and Dutch, but also in Taramese – a language that only older residents of the island now speak. So the children’s book is helping to keep alive a language that has almost disappeared and connecting generations. And it is also helping to increase public commitment to the archaeological site: the Dutch Reef.

Image: Illustration done by Mark Verdult
The cover of the children's book "The Riddle of the Dutch Reef".

The story of The Riddle of the Dutch Reef

In "The Riddle of the Dutch Reef", Aoi and Yūma find mysterious fragments on the beach on the island of Tarama. They try to find out how the shards got there.

For more information about the Van Bosse, visit the MaSS website (Maritime Stepping Stones). This oral history project was carried out as part of the International Heritage Cooperation programme of the RCE.