Japan – more than 400 years of relationship with the Netherlands

H.E. Hiroshi Inomata and his spouse Mrs. Midori Inomata

On this occasion Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the Ambassador of Japan, H.E. Hiroshi Inomata Former posts: Ambassador in Pakistan; Consul-General in San Francisco; counsellor in the United Kingdom and Korea; Embassy of Thailand and several functions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan.

1. You are the Ambassador to the Netherlands as per March 2016. What is your impression of the Netherlands and the people?
When I came to the Netherlands it became immediately clear why the Dutch are so well-known for their water management. The canals, the polder and the impressive Delta Works are hallmarks of a life and history of dealing with water. Japan greatly benefi tted from this expertise when Dutch hydraulic engineers like Johannis de Rijke were employed by the Japanese government in the 19th century to improve water management structures. As for Dutch people, they are very hospitable, effi cient and goal-oriented. In Japan, people tend to establish a framework fi rst and adjust its contents. Dutch people rather set the goal and construct a fl exible path to reach it.

2. How would you characterize the relationship between Japan and the Netherlands?
In the year 1600, the Dutch ship De Liefde was cast ashore on one of Japan’s Kyushu islands and soon a Dutch trading post was opened, fi rst in Hirado, and later on Dejima in the bay of Nagasaki. Our countries have maintained a good relationship for over four centuries, except for the wartime years, a dark chapter in our history. There is a close bond between the Dutch Royal House and the Japanese Imperial House, and we value our long lasting friendship and relationship with the Netherlands as a “strategic partnership”.

3. What are the main import and export products from and to Japan in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is an important economic partner in Europe. I am happy to say that more and more Japanese companies open a branch offi ce in this country, where the infrastructure is excellent. Japan mostly imports chemicals, general machinery and agricultural products, and exports general machinery, electronic and transportation equipment to the Netherlands.

4. Is there a large Japanese community in the Netherlands?
Currently there are about 8,100 Japanese people living here. Amstelveen is a well-known hub of the Japanese community. There are full-time Japanese schools in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and Saturday Schools in Tilburg and Maastricht. There are some organizations that facilitate the Japanese community here, such as the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the Nichiran Silvernet Foundation, which was originally conceived as a support network for elderly Japanese people. Recently, I think the Japanese community has become more visible because of the increased overall interest in Japanese culture.

5. What can you tell us about the Sister City celebration on November 24, 2017 between Leiden and Nagasaki?
Leiden has a special connection to Japan, as it was the home of Germanborn doctor and botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold, who served on the Dutch trading post on Dejima (1823 -1829). A Sister City agreement was signed between the cities of Nagasaki and Leiden. This coincided with the opening ceremony of the Omotemon Bridge, which was organized as part of the restoration of the Dejima area of Nagasaki. We greatly welcome this chance to further promote and continue our longstanding relationship of cultural and economic exchange with the Netherlands.

6. What can you tell us about the SieboldHuis in Leiden?
Von Siebold brought back many Japanese objects and specimens upon his return to the Netherlands. These are now part of the collections of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the National Museum of Ethnology. The SieboldHuis is a Japan museum located in a former house of Von Siebold, where a part of his collection as well as temporary exhibitions can be admired. Their current exhibition is called “Masked Warriors: Battle Stage of the Samurai” (till May 27, 2018). Around the end of May the Siebold- Huis also organises the popular annual Japan Market, which draws around 10,000 visitors.

7. Are there any relations between the universities of Japan and the Netherlands?
I am happy to say that there are many Dutch universities that have exchange agreements with their Japanese counterparts, as there are currently about 67 different exchange agreements. Also, the Japanese government offers various scholarship programs that promote academic exchanges.

8. On the 8th of October the Japan Festival 2017 was held in Amstelveen. What did this festival involve?
The Japan Festival is organized in cooperation with the Japan Festival Foundation as well as the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands, Amsterdam Inbusiness and our Embassy. It takes place in Amstelveen and is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with the Japanese community and to get a taste of the traditional Japanese Matsuri (festival) atmosphere. I heard that about 20,000 people enjoyed the event last year. This year the festival will be held again on November 4.

9. Are there any Japan-related special events to look forward to this year in the Netherlands?
The Netherlands-Japan Association celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, a special number according to the ancient Japanese calendar. Furthermore, we have the Cherry Blossom Festival in the Amsterdamse Bos in April, and the Japan Festival, which I mentioned earlier, in autumn.

10. What would you recommend to our readers when they visit Japan?
Japan is a safe travel destination where the old and new are juxtaposed, especially in Tokyo where I am from. For cultural heritage I would recommend Kyoto, the former capital city. Japan is an island chain running from north to south, and consequently there are different activities that can be enjoyed. In addition, I would recommend enjoying Japanese cuisine “Washoku”, which is listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. 11. Can you please describe your country in one sentence? It is diffi cult to capture the spirit of Japan in one sentence, but I think the Japanese National Tourism Organization put it nicely: “Japan, where tradition meets the future”.