January 16: Japan Netherlands Society Reception - and the History of JNS In Tokyo and Kansai
Your Habri team attended the traditional New Year's party of the Japan-Netherlands Society (JNS) in the Gakushi Kaikan in Tokyo, which as usual was chaired by the Society's President since 2005, Mr. Shigetaka Komori, the CEO of Fuji Film Co. Ltd.
With a current membership of 42 corporate and 286 individual/family members, the Society continues to be an important platform for Japanese-Dutch interaction in terms of both cultural and business relations.
The JNS was founded in 1912, with Count Shigenobu Okuma as its first President. Okuma was born in Saga, Kyushu, in 1838, and at age 15 joined a Dutch studies school. He travelled to Nagasaki where he met Guido Verbeek, a Dutch scholar and missionary, who was to become an important adviser on education to the Meiji government.
In 1882 Okuma founded the Tokyo Semmon Gakko, which later was to become Waseda University, one of Japan's leading universities. In 1889, a year after he was appointed Foreign Minister, he was attacked by an anti-westernisation nationalist with a bomb that blew off his right leg. He resigned after that, but returned to politics in 1896, again as Foreign Minister, and in 1898 was appointed Prime Minister. In 1907, he left politics to become President of Waseda University. Throughout his life, his interest in all things Dutch never wavered, as evidenced by his founding of the JNS in 1912.
In 1914, the JNS published a book entitled "The Netherlands and Japan" with a foreword by Okuma.
After a shutdown during the Second World War, the JNS was re-established in 1954, and today is as active as ever.
The Japan-Netherlands Society of the Kansai was founded in 1959, with Mr. Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the company now known as Panasonic, as its first President. He remained in that function for 30 years until his death in 1989. I first met Mr. Matsushita in Osaka in 1960, while I was working as Sub-Manager of the Nationale Handelsbank's branch there.
In January 1967, I was among a small number of guests at the Tokyo home of Jan van Gemert, the Japan representative of Philips, the Dutch company with which Panasonic had formed a joint venture in 1952. The guest of honour there was Mr. Matsushita. What happened at that memorable evening is the subject of an essay by Hans Brinckmann entitled "His Hidden Acting Talent: A Memorable Evening with Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, in 1967"
It was first published in Hiromi Mizoguchi's Japanese translation in the January 2015 issue of Atlas magazine. The English original appeared in the January 2018 issue of the No.1 Shimbun, the magazine of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.
To see the article, click here
February 12: Opening of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics - and the ongoing fear of another Korean War...
Two days ago, the 2018 Winter Olympics opened in PyeongChang, a small town in South Korea, about 450 km from where your Habri team lives, in Fukuoka. The opening ceremony was, as expected, a grand spectacle, lasting over 2 hours, undoubtedly watched by millions around the world.
There is much controversy among many South Koreans over their President's decision to allow the North and South's participating athletes to enter the stadium during the opening ceremony as one unified team, under the Korean unification flag, which depicts the entire Korean Peninsula in blue against a white backdrop. What's more, he also agreed to let the ice hockey teams of North and South compete as one team. The attendance of Kim Jung Un's sister at the ceremony - apparently ignored by US Vice President Mike Pence, who also attended - added further fuel to the controversial arrangements, seen by some as a first step toward a possible thaw in North-South relations (even eventual reunification?), but by others as South Korea's President Moon toadying to his despicable northern colleague.
Today there was a whiff of good news: on his flight back to Washington, Pence indicated that the U.S. government is willing to have direct talks with the North Korean regime "without preconditions."
This doesn't mean that the possibility of another war on the Korean peninsula is now off the table. Pence made it clear that the U.S. and its allies will not stop imposing escalating sanctions on the Kim Jong Un regime until it takes clear steps toward denuclearisation, which Un has repeatedly said is a no-no. But at least there is now an opening for negotiation.
For us here in Fukuoka, war in Korea is an unthinkable scenario. We're only 214 km from Korea's second largest city, Busan - 3 hours by ferry, or less than an hour by air. War in Korea would directly involve the U.S. and also almost certainly Japan - America's closest ally in the region.
We can only hope that sanity will prevail in the end, and that the U.S. and its allies will accept the reality of North Korea as a nuclear power, perhaps with certain restrictions on further development of its arsenal.