AMSTERDAM – The Emperor, on the first day of his official visit to the Netherlands, expressed grief and sadness Tuesday that the two nations fought in World War II, which he said has left “unhealed scars” among war victims even today.
The Emperor, who arrived in Amsterdam with the Empress earlier in the day, voiced his contrition during a speech at a state banquet hosted by Queen Beatrix.
The Emperor said Japan and the Netherlands have enjoyed close historical ties since the two countries first made contact 400 years ago, when the Dutch ship Liefde drifted ashore at Usuki in Kyushu in 1600.
“It truly saddens me that the two countries had to engage each other in the last world war after such a history had unfolded between us,” he said in his address at the Royal Palace.
“It grieves our hearts to think that so many people were victimized in their respective ways during that war and that there are still those who continue to bear unhealed scars from it,” he said.
“We believe that all of us should make unending efforts to foster peace so that such events will never be repeated.”
The Emperor also made similar remarks earlier this month at a press conference in Tokyo.
An estimated 140,000 Dutch soldiers and civilians were put into prison camps by the Imperial Japanese Army in the Dutch East Indies, and Dutch women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military. About 12,000 of the prisoners died in captivity.
Some survivors filed lawsuits seeking financial compensation from the Japanese government for the treatment they endured.
Japan has refused to grant redress, saying all state-level compensation matters were settled by the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty.
Queen Beatrix said in her speech at the dinner that World War II “brought about a deep division” between the Japanese and the Dutch people, with a great number of Dutch people becoming victims and the Japanese also suffering in the last days of the war.
“The memories of the suffering endured in the war years do not fade. They return again and again,” she said. “It is therefore better not to shy away from the confrontation with the past, even though courage is needed to face up to this painful chapter of our shared history.”
She said, however, that the “vision of the future may not be clouded by that past.”
The first day of the Imperial Couple’s four-day visit here went smoothly, despite initial concerns about anti-Japanese protests.
A demonstration by some 100 former Dutch prisoners of war interned at Japanese military camps in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, passed off peacefully.
The demonstrators, wearing vests marked “Pay Your Debts,” marched silently from Amsterdam Central Station to the National Monument and placed flowers in front of the fence guarding a wreath laid by the Imperial Couple earlier in the day.
The group, the Hague-based Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts, which has demanded compensation from the Japanese government, has said earlier that its members would demonstrate in a “dignified way.”
On Wednesday, the Imperial Couple began the second day of their Netherlands trip with a visit to a facility for handicapped children.
The Emperor and Empress visited the capital’s Mytyl School, a facility founded in 1947 for handicapped children between the ages of 3 and 12.
Following the visit, the pair were scheduled to go to The Hague, where they will meet representatives of Japanese residents in the Netherlands and attend a luncheon hosted by Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok.
They will also visit the International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace before returning to Amsterdam.
The Imperial Couple flew in from Switzerland on Tuesday morning and were greeted by Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
After laying flowers at the National Monument in Dam Square, the Emperor and Empress attended a luncheon with the Dutch royal couple and a reception hosted by the city of Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum.
The Netherlands is the second stop on their European tour. They will visit Sweden and Finland before returning to Japan on June 1.
AMSTERDAM (Kyodo) Leaders of two groups representing Dutch victims of Japan’s occupation of present-day Indonesia welcomed a speech on Tuesday night by the visiting Emperor voicing grief and sadness over the suffering caused by the conflict between Japan and the Netherlands during World War II.
Ben Bouman, head of The Hague-based Foundation of Japanese Honorary Debts, representing Dutch victims of Japanese internment camps in the former Dutch East Indies, called the speech “remarkable,” saying the Emperor seldom makes such statements.
The speech, along with a statement by the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in February, successfully addressed Japan’s “immaterial compensation” for its role during the war, Bouman said, adding Japan still needs to pay “fair and substantial” financial compensation.
“For us, it is still important that Japan pay material debt,” he said. “Immaterial compensation has already been paid.”
Rudy Boekholt, chairman of the Indies Platform, which consists of 18 groups representing Dutch people who returned from the region after the war, also welcomed the Emperor’s speech.
Boekholt, who attended the banquet with four other war victims, said the Emperor and Empress, led by Dutch Queen Beatrix, stopped to talk to them for 15 minutes before the start of the dinner.
He quoted the Emperor as telling them he has “pain” in his heart when he thinks about the war victims still suffering every day.
“I replied that I am very grateful” for such understanding, Boekholt said.
Boekholt, who like Bouman is a retired military officer, said he hopes the Imperial Couple’s visit to the Netherlands will be “a step to the future.”