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Column "My Cool Japan"

Radboud Molijn

Cool Japan, Hot Holland

entrepreneurRadboud Molijn

On July 5, 2018 “Ecce Homo”, one of Rembrandt’s finest prints, was sold at Christie’s in London for € 3mln. or ¥ 390 mln. The print, dating from 1655, shows Rembrandt’s mastership on … Japanese craftsmanship, a sheet of fine Japanese paper, which was rare in Europe at the time. Recent research proved that the washi came from Echizen, Fukui and arrived in the Netherlands through Deshima, the island in Nagasaki-bay that was the Dutch window on Japan and Japan’s window on the West. Rembrandt regularly used Japanese paper, also for the only etched portrait of his son Titus. The Japanese paper was often smooth and shiny, whilst Western paper had a more rough and matte surface. “Dramatic comparisons between prints on Western paper and on Japanese paper show the effect of Rembrandt’s striking choice”, wrote the museum Rembrandt House in Amsterdam that organised some years ago an exhibition on washi paper. An extraordinary example of Dutch and Japanese joint craftsmanship.
 Nearly hundred years after Rembrandt discovered the qualities of Japanese washi, the introduction of Dutch optics prints through Deshima resulted in uki-e, woodblock prints using the western style vanishing point perspective. Utagawa Toyoharu, Hokusai and Hiroshige are the most famous artists, who in their turn inspired Vincent van Gogh as we recently could see in the exhibition “Van Gogh and Japan” that was on display both in Japan and Amsterdam.
 The 鎖国 or sakoku, Japan’s isolation for over 200 years, was obviously the period in which the Dutch – Japanese relations were most intense. Through Deshima the Dutch introduced a great variety of scientific knowledge to Japan: chemistry, electricity, fire pumps, microscopes, telescopes, hot air balloons, globes, clocks. Also coffee, beer, chocolate and tomatoes were brought for the first time to Japan through this Dutch trading post and the Dutch even presented to the Shogun exotic animals and tropical birds. 蘭學, Rangaku or “Dutch Studies” was the basis of contemporary medicine in Japan. The解体新書, Kaitai shinsho of 1774, by Sugita Genpaku and Maeno Ryotaku, marks a turning point in the acceptance of Western medicine, and a word like mesu for a surgeon’s scalpel is still today in use. For the Japanese, the interaction with the Dutch offered new views on the world, which were instrumental to the rise of Japan as a modern nation. In return, the Dutch traders bought Japanese copper, silver, rice and camphor but also porcelain, lacquer ware and washi - and these products were the first examples of Japanese craftsmanship in Europe, or monozukuri as we would call it now. A telling example of mutual influence is Japanese ceramics. In the 17th and 18th century Aritayaki, Imari and other Japanese ceramics became so popular in Europe that in the city of Delft a flourishing industry developed based upon Japanese ceramic techniques and Japanese designs. “Delft Blue” is a direct descendent of this.
 Japan and the Netherlands: tokens of the synergy between the two countries are abundant and can be seen in many places in Japan and the Netherlands. One of the earliest Dutch merchants trading in Japan was Jan Joosten van Lodesteijn, who was onboard of De Liefde, the first Dutch ship to reach Japan; in fact he washed ashore 418 years ago in Kuroshima, Usuki. Later Jan Joosten was granted a house in Edo (Tokyo) in an area that came to be called "Yayosu Quay". In Japanese his name was pronounced yan yōsuten or (Yayōsu 耶楊子) and the Yaesu-side of Tokyo Station is named after him. The Dutch trading post Deshima, in Nagasaki, is recently restored including its famous bridge.
 The 紫陽花, ajisai or hydrangea that Von Siebold introduced from Japan to Europe and cultivated in his Hortus Botanicus in Leiden are now to be found in private gardens and parks all over Europe. Among the foreign government advisors in early Meiji Japan, known as oyatoi gaikokujin were a number of Dutch engineers who designed waterways and harbors in Japan including those of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Hiroshima. Their statues can be found all over Japan, incl. at Lake Asaka, Aisai city, Kizu at Nagoya. The standard for Japan’s water height,日本水準原点, Nihon Suijun Genten has been set by them. Dutch engineers helped to establish in 1857 an iron foundry in Nagasaki that would grow into the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard, the origin of the Mitsubishi Group.

Fast forward to 2018. The Dutch – Japanese relations are booming, still. The Japanese business community in the Netherlands is among the largest in Europe. The other way around: Dutch companies form, after American firms, the second largest investor group in Japan. On grass-root level, we see an impressive influx of Japanese cuisine in the Netherlands, ranging from ramen to okonomiyaki and real Japanese sushi. Japanese design and their designers are considered cool. Omotenashi can be experienced nowhere better than at the Amsterdam Hotel Okura. Thanks to the immense popularity of manga and anime, the number of Dutch students in Japanese language is increasing rapidly. And then there are the impressive collections of Japanese artifacts, objects and Japanese writings in Dutch museums, ranging from the Rijks Museum and the Van Goghmuseum to the Sieboldhuis and the Museum of Ethnology in Leiden that hosts probably the biggest collection of “Things Japanese” in the world. If you want to see the history of Japanese products, go to Leiden. When it comes to Japan, Holland is “hot”.
 So, why not capitalize on this unique past, present and future history of both countries. How? Let’s combine Japanese manufacturing excellence, famous Dutch mercantile skills and our exceptional shared history by creating a Reversed Deshima, a 21st Deshima … in Amsterdam. On show: Japan’s history and culture, the way how Japanese manufacturers re-introduced craftsmanship in the modern industrial processes. And of course, the Japanese drive for perfection, the passion for material science and the often surprising design culture. Monozukuri, not only from well-known manufacturers, but also from smaller companies outside the main industrial centers.
 And why? If there is one country that has a compelling story to share, it is Japan. And if there is one country that can tell Japan’s story, it is Holland. Cool Japan. Hot Holland.


Radboud Molijn


After having worked for several years in Paris, the Netherland and in Japan (as actor on stage with a.o. Gaku Yamamoto and Orie Sato and on TV in NHK’s Maneechan), Radboud Molijn changed his career by setting up a Japan-related advisory company supporting Japanese companies with their business development in Europe and vice-versa. Next to this, he managed for 13 years the Dutch & Japanese Trade Federation DUJAT for which he was conferred in 2016 by the Japanese government with the Order of the Rising Sun. With a group of entrepreneurs he is studying to establish “21 Deshima” in Amsterdam, a reverse Deshima in the form of a “Coool Japan Department Store” with a new retail structure, where the hottest of hottest products from Cool Japan can be experienced in a truly 21st century setting.

Document: My personal reflections on Japan