Even though they are 10,000 km apart, the Netherlands and Japan have a long and intense shared history together, spanning more than 400 years. Between 1639 and 1853, the Dutch were Japan’s sole European trading partner and Dutch ships, mostly of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), have left many tangible and intangible traces of maritime heritage in Japan. At the moment, the RCE involved in one maritime heritage project in Japan: 'Search for the Van Bosse'. In the past, the RCE has also been involved in the project 'Search for the Kanrin Maru'.

Search for the Van Bosse

The ship Van Bosse was originally built in 1854 in Germany but was employed by the Bonke & Co. Trading in Rotterdam. With a Dutch crew on board, the Van Bosse was on its way from Shanghai to Singapore when it sank during a storm in 1857 at Tarama island, Okinawa prefecture. Fortunately enough, all 27 people on board survived. Though as Japanese investigations in the shipwreck ensued, the crew had nowhere to go and were taken in by the local community. After a few months, they were allowed to return to Dutch territory in Batavia, present-day Jakarta (Indonesia).

With the Van Bosse project, the RCE together with the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs and Ryukyu University aims to collect the stories about the interactions of the Dutch crew with the people of Tarama. While some stories have been written down, others have been passed down generations through oral history. In 2021, new research was started in the Dutch archives to find out what happened to the ship and its crew in the time surrounding the shipwreck and subsequent return to Dutch territory. Meanwhile, posters are being made that call on people to share any of their family stories that could pass on information about the Van Bosse, its crew and the Dutch-Japanese history in the Ryukyus.

Although no wreck was found, the presumed Van Bosse shipwreck location is registered as a Village Historic Site (オ ラ ン ダ 船 遭難 の 地: Oranda-sen Sonan no Chi ~ Site of Dutch shipwreck). This site is located on a reef at depths ranging from a few metres to about 30 metres. Over the years, several objects were recovered which are now presented in a local museum, including an iron anchor and several other finds. For more on conducted fieldwork, read past blogs on the Van Bosse project or watch this vlog.

Search for the Kanrin Maru

From 2017 to 2019, the RCE’s International Programme for Maritime Heritage and Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology worked closely together to search for the wreck of the Kanrin Maru and to collect the oral history surrounding the ship. Several blogs were written on this fieldwok.

The Kanrin Maru was a Dutch-built Japanese warship delivered to Japan in 1857. It saw 14 years of service before it was wrecked on the cliffs near Kikonai (Hokkaido), in the north of Japan. Today, the ship is famed for crossing the Pacific as part of Japan’s first diplomatic mission to the US in 1860. Only a few years prior, the Japanese crew that made the crossing had all received training from Dutch navy officers stationed at the Nagasaki Naval Training School from 1855 to 1859. From its Dutch roots it slowly transferred into Japanese hands, making the Kanrin Maru the epitome of the shared heritage of the Netherlands and Japan.

While searches for its wreck using sonar equipment yielded no results, several stories were collected from the heritage communities that had been established in name of the ship. These include a local town doctor’s accounts of the wrecking event in 1871, as well as the heartfelt story of an older brother helping out his younger brother by placing him in the care of the Nagasaki Naval Training School. Ultimately, this led him to board the Kanrin Maru as well as the Kaiyo Maru. These and other stories have been recorded, including the location of potential memorabilia, to commemorate this shared history.