To date there has been no social history of the interesting subject of the Dutch language in Japan from c.1600 to 1900. This article provides a brief introduction to the use of Dutch in Japan, and then considers three possible approaches to writing such a history, evaluating the merits of each approach. The first of these is to analyse the use of Dutch in Japan by communities of language. The second approach is domain-based. This approach considers the use of language within social domains or spheres of activity, such as commerce and education. The third approach is a function-based one, which focusses on the purpose(s) for which individuals and groups used Dutch. These include functions such as translation and interpretation. The article concludes that given the particularity of the use of Dutch in Japan, it may be better to use aspects of each approach in writing a social history on this subject.