First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Paul Anstiss

"The Netherlands has a long history of working and trading with  foreign companies"

The outgoing Managing Director of Mitsubishi Nederland has become the first recipient of a special honorary pin from amsterdam inbusiness for his work in furthering cultural and business ties between the city and the Japanese community.  

In addition to his work as Managing Director for the major Japanese business conglomerate in the Netherlands, Mr Akira Sakuma served as chairman of both the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands and the Japan Festival Foundation. The 58-year-old says working in Amsterdam has been the highlight of his career and he will treasure his award as the first “I amsterdam Ambassador”.

“I feel greatly privileged to be awarded this honorary pin,” he says. “I was fortunate that I could contribute to several projects over the past three years, and am truly grateful to those who supported me during that time. The fact that this was valued as a strengthening of Dutch-Japanese relations is the highest recognition I have received during my stay in the Netherlands.”

The honorary pin was presented to Mr Sakuma on behalf of the Metropolitan Region of Amsterdam by the Mayor of the Municipality of Amstelveen, councillor Mirjam van ’t Veld. During a special banquet that was held in Mr Sakuma’s honour, Van ’t Veld told him, “What you have done for Mitsubishi, the Netherlands, Amsterdam and Amstelveen is amazing. You have created so much value for the region and will leave an everlasting impression.”

Trust between two nations

The accolade comes as Mitsubishi Corporation celebrates 50 years in the Netherlands, but commercial ties between the Japanese and the Dutch date as far back as the 17th century when the Dutch East India Company (VOC) enjoyed a privileged position as the only foreign entity with which Japan would do business. That 400-year-old trust between the two nations continues to this day, and now more than 750 Japanese companies and more than 7,000 Japanese people have established bases and homes in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam and the nearby municipality of Amstelveen have become a home-away-from-home for the Japanese community. Apart from Mitsubishi Nederland, which manages more than 40 shareholding companies in the Netherlands, Mitsubishi Corporation has four other subsidiaries in this country. Interests include investment and finance, food processing, automobiles, off-shore wind power generation, and life sciences.

‘The best place to be'

During Mr Sakuma’s tenure as Chairman of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC), he worked with other organisations to hold annual seminars in Tokyo and Osaka to encourage Japanese companies to invest in the Netherlands. “We show them the reasons why the Amsterdam area is so attractive,” says Mr Sakuma, “and since the seminar was established ten years ago, the number of Japanese companies coming to the Netherlands has increased year by year.”

Mr Sakuma believes that, with Brexit, some Japanese businesses may choose to relocate to the Netherlands. “Most Dutch people are very positive towards Japan, the Japanese people, Japanese culture and Japanese companies,” he says. “Compared to other countries, the Netherlands is the best place to be for Japan. It has a long history of working and trading with foreign companies – it’s in the Dutch DNA. The fact that nearly everyone speaks English in Amsterdam also makes it easy to communicate and do business.”

Japanese culture in Amsterdam 

Prior to his arrival,  Amsterdam’s Japanese Festival was organised by local Dutch residents, but it was not long before Mr Sakuma’s talents were harnessed by the amsterdam inbusiness team and the Japan Festival Foundation to give it a more authentic feel. In 2016, around 20,000 people attended the event not just to taste Japanese cuisine, but to experience Japanese stage performances and take part in cultural workshops. What used to take place on a biennial basis has become so popular with Mr Sakuma’s help that it will now take place every October.

Mr Sakuma was also responsible for co-sponsoring an important exhibition of Rembrandt’s etchings and Japanese Echizen Paper at the Rembrandt House. Even the Netherlands’ most famous artist knew a good thing when he saw it, and he used the Japanese paper for some of his works, including the famous etching of his son Titus.

No goodbye

Mr Sakuma says he will be back to visit Amsterdam very soon, not least because his daughter loves the place so much that she decided to stay. So now he has family ties to the country as well. “I will miss the atmosphere of this open-minded society,” he says wistfully. “But this is not goodbye, it’s merely ‘tot gauw’ (see you soon).”

Japanese Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands

Founded in 1976, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce (JCC), now has more than 350 members. Its aim is to foster and promote friendship and economic relations between the Netherlands and Japan, and it holds seminars for Japanese companies seeking to invest in the Netherlands, as well as organising regular trade missions. Furthermore, the JCC has also become the core organisation that covers the whole of the Japanese society in the Netherlands.

Facts and Figures

  • More than 350 Japanese companies, including Hitachi, Yakult, Yamaha and Mitsubishi, are based in the Amsterdam area.
  • More than 7,000 Japanese people live in the Netherlands, of which 3,000 live in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, making it one of the world’s largest Japanese expat communities.
  • The Japanese School of Amsterdam is supported by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Japanese government.