Sculptor’s ship replica marks 400 years of Dutch relations

Kyodo

Dutch sculptor Louise Helianthe van Meurs returned to Usuki, Oita Prefecture, on Tuesday to fulfill a promise that goes back nearly 20 years.

During a ceremony, she presented the people of the city with a sculpture she made of the Liefde, a Dutch ship which exactly 400 years ago ran ashore in Usuki’s harbor. The event is largely credited with opening ties between Japan and the Netherlands.

Van Meurs’s promise was made in 1981 to a local youth group when she agreed to build a true-to-scale work of the ancient ship.

When she visited Usuki to research the project, she was given a symbolic invitation card to Wednesday’s ceremony officially marking the 400th anniversary of relations between her country and Japan.

However, in subsequent years, van Meurs, now 70, and the city lost touch, and many assumed the project had been all but forgotten.

Then in February this year, Usuki’s city office received a letter from van Meurs inquiring about the 400th anniversary. The office responded immediately with an invitation card — this time the real thing.

The sculpture she presented Tuesday is 40 cm tall and made from copperplate.

Toru Matsuzaki, who heads the city’s junior chamber, suggested that the original plan to build a life-size structure “had no chance of being fulfilled and was probably a humorous scheme by my predecessors.”

Still, Usuki Mayor Kunitoshi Goto called van Meurs’s gift “an object connected to our hearts that makes us happier than anything else.”

The 400th anniversary is being celebrated from Wednesday in Oita and Nagasaki prefectures with commemorative ceremonies, a parade and historical exhibitions. Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander is visiting Japan to take part in some of the events.

Apology policy stands

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori assured Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartzen on Tuesday that the recent change in Japan’s leadership has not altered its policy of offering its “deep remorse and heartfelt apology” to Dutch war victims.

Mori told van Aartzen in a meeting at his official residence that the position, reaffirmed by his predecessor Keizo Obuchi in his talks with Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok in February, “has not changed at all,” a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.

Van Aartzen welcomed Mori’s remarks, adding that Obuchi’s reiteration of the policy has been widely accepted in his country, the official said.

In the meeting, Mori and van Aartzen also agreed to cooperate to ensure the success of an upcoming visit to the Netherlands by the Imperial Couple, the official said.

The Emperor and Empress are scheduled to make their first official visit to the country from May 23 to May 26 as part of a 12-day European tour that will also take them to Sweden, Switzerland and Finland.

In the February meeting, Obuchi said, “As prime minister, I reaffirm the position of the government of Japan already expressed by then Prime Minister (Tomiichi) Murayama in 1995, when he, on behalf of the government of Japan, reiterated the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for the tremendous damage and suffering caused by Japan to many people, including Dutch war victims.”

Obuchi and Kok agreed to overcome problems regarding Dutch victims of Japan’s actions in World War II and build forward-looking ties on the 400th anniversary this year of the countries’ bilateral relations.

During the war, an estimated 14,000 Dutch soldiers and civilians were held by the Imperial Japanese Army in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia.

Van Aartzen arrived Tuesday for a five-day visit aimed at attending events in Japan marking the anniversary of bilateral ties.