Dutch welcome royals under cloud of WWII issues

by Daisuke Yamamoto

Kyodo

The Dutch have warmly welcomed Crown Prince Naruhito and his family to their country for a rest, however a shadow still hangs over the two countries’ relations from unresolved issues over Japan’s treatment of the Dutch during World War II.

Dutch Queen Beatrix invited the Crown Prince and his family about a year ago to visit the Netherlands for a rest. It was a goodwill gesture aimed at helping Crown Princess Masako recover from her stress-related illness and a sign of the good relations between the two countries.

The family took the Dutch royals up on their offer and arrived in the Netherlands Aug. 17 to spend two weeks at an ancient royal castle in the eastern city of Apeldoorn.

“I think good relations between the two countries have made this trip possible,” said Col. Bert Wassenaar, the crown equerry of the Dutch Royal Military Police, in Apeldoorn last week.

“I read about (Crown Princess Masako) in a magazine,” said Nadia Lorenzini, 37, a hotel receptionist in Amsterdam. “I feel sorry for her and hope she feels better during her stay.”

Norman Smit, 47, a tourism employee in Apeldoorn, wished the Crown Princess well, and said, “I hope this stay becomes a special one for her.”

Ronald Admiraal was positive about relations between the two nations.

“I think Dutch-Japanese relations are already pretty good. I don’t know what more can be added,” said the 53-year-old owner of an Amsterdam bookstore who likes playing the game of go.

Figures show robust interaction between the two countries. In 2005, 30,507 Dutch visited Japan, up about 27 percent from four years earlier, according to the Japan National Tourist Organization.

An average of 165,000 Japanese a year have visited the Netherlands between 2001 and 2005, the organization said.

Relations between Japan and the Netherlands go back more than 400 years, to April 19, 1600, when the Dutch merchant ship De Liefde drifted ashore at what is now Usuki, Oita Prefecture.

About 41 years later, the Dutch established a trading house on Dejima, a small island in Nagasaki harbor, and were the only Westerners allowed to trade with Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the country isolated itself from the outside world.

The Japanese learned medicine, astronomy, mathematics, botany, physics, chemistry, geography and the art of war from Dutch books brought by the traders.

However, World War II brought the two countries into a head-on conflict.

Japan occupied the Dutch East Indies — now Indonesia — during the war, and imprisoned an estimated 140,000 Dutch soldiers and civilians.

About 12,000 of them died in captivity and some Dutch women were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers.

After the war, former Dutch prisoners of war and interned civilians who survived demanded that Japan pay them compensation. Some of them have unsuccessfully sued the Japanese government for damages.

With bitterness lingering among the Dutch who suffered under the Japanese occupation, Japanese leaders sought to settle the issues in February 2000. The late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi expressed “deep remorse and a heartfelt apology for the tremendous damage and suffering caused by Japan to many people, including Dutch war victims” during the war.

Emperor Akihito, during his May 2000 visit to Holland, spoke of his grief and sadness over people’s suffering caused by the conflict between the two countries during the war.

The Hague-based Honorary Debts Foundation, which represents Dutch victims of Japan’s military aggression during the war, said after the speech that Japan had made spiritual compensation.

But there has been no material compensation as the Japanese courts have ruled that the Netherlands gave up the right to claim damages from Japan with the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty on Sept. 8, 1951.

Last year, the foundation requested that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi meet with its members during his visit to the Netherlands. Tokyo turned down the request, citing his tight schedule.

It was “a missed opportunity to express personally your great regrets and deep remorse to those who matter,” wrote foundation President Jan van Wagtendonk, in a petition letter to the prime minister dated May 9, 2006.

The petition then asked, “Were you afraid to admit that a direct apology to those who matter would be admittance of moral responsibility of the Japanese government and thus entail a financial compensation?”