A square Arita porcelain bottle with polychrome decoration of Dutchmen

Late 18th/early 19th century

H. 16.5 x W. 8.6 x D. 8.6 cm

In Japan, European figures and their foreignness were considered to possess magical powers. The Japanese belief in raihõshin stated that gods arriving from unknown lands beyond the sea would bring happiness and wealth. Aspects of this belief are still seen in the form of festivals held annually in seaside areas along the coast of Japan. One typical example is the namahage festival in Akita prefecture. Namahage are thought to relate to big, red-haired, blue-eyed foreigners who were imaged to be gods from eternal lands beyond the sea, bringing happiness and prosperity. For that reason, Dutchmen came to be depicted on Arita porcelain. Not primarily as Dutchmen as such, but rather as 'foreigners', bringers of good fortune – the ‘Lucky Dutchies’. During the period of sakoku, the policy of the closed country between circa 1640 and 1850, the Dutch were the only 'red-haired' foreigners allowed to enter Japan.