We are going to make a long journey. We will bridge more than 9.000 kilometres to visit the Netherlands. Isn’t that the country with Amsterdam, windmills and wooden shoes? Exactly, that is the country we are going to visit. However, I am not a typical tour guide. I won’t bother you with everything you don’t know, but I will show you everything you already knew about the Netherlands.
I am hinting at the many Japanese influences in the Netherlands. My own father works at NEC, and my generation grew up watching Pokémon, eating sushi and playing on Sony’s Playstations. Japan is alive far outside its own borders, which is what we will explore in the journey ahead of us. Are you ready? Let’s go!
I will start our journey in the Netherlands on a personal note. My first memories about Japanese influence in the Netherlands date back to my childhood. I was young and needed to spend my redundant time and energy somewhere. Judo became my solution. Soon I would learn that this defence sport originated from Japan, which explained the use of terms that were alien to me, such as Dojo. I did not know much about Japan or Judo, but it interested me, and I was not alone herein. In fact, the practice of Judo is fairly common among Dutch kids, as is the practice of Karate. Sumo-wrestling, although it is rarely practiced in the Netherlands, is also quite a well-known sport.
When we continue our journey through the Netherlands, we cannot help but notice the presence of another very Japanese phenomenon: anime. Two Japanese anime productions that are really famous in the Netherlands are Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon. I guess the majority of my peers watched Pokémon, collected Pokémon cards and played Pokémon games. A while ago the popularity of Pokémon in the Netherlands peaked because of the app Pokémon Go. It became a trend in the Netherlands to just ignore the traffic and go on a Pokémon hunt. If you play Pokémon Go in the centre of Amsterdam the game gets another dimension: Catch the Pokémons, before a car or a bicycle rider catches you. Indeed, not so safe. That is why I prefer a safer Japanese invention, namely the Sony Playstation.
During our travel through the Netherlands, we will see a lot of Japanese electronics, but the Playstation deserves special attention. In my circle of friends, the Playstation has been major source of leisure. I have used Playstation 1, 2, 3 and 4, and if I had spent all my gaming hours on practicing Judo, I would be ready to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Other common devices in the Netherlands that originate from a Japanese brand are Panasonic cameras, Casio calculators and Toshiba laptops.
As we advance our journey through the Netherlands, and we talk with Dutch people, it becomes clear that it is neither Pokémon nor Sony that Dutch people associate with Japan the most. Instead, when a Dutch person hears the word ‘Japan’, he or she will immediately yell: Sushi! Indeed, the Japanese cuisine is much appreciated in the Netherlands, reflected in a good number of Japanese restaurants. Yet, nothing the Japanese cuisine has to offer is nearly as popular in the Netherlands as sushi, though ramen is getting more popular as well. Fortunately, sushi is not the only thing Dutch people think about when you mention Japan. Another frequently heard response is: Interesting country, I have been there, or I want to go.
Apart from all the separate aspects of Japanese culture that are enjoyed by a lot of Dutch people, many Dutch people are interested in Japan as a country. All Dutch people that I spoke to that visited Japan were very positive about the country, and a lot of people want to go there. Speaking of travelling, our tour through the Netherlands comes to an end.
The journey was too short, I did not have enough time to show you all the ways in which the Japanese influences are present in the Netherlands. Yet, I hope that this short journey showed you how people at the other side of the world share with you what is so familiar to Japan. The Dutch people use Japanese electronics, watch Japanese anime, practice Japanese sports and love Japanese cuisine. Japan and the Netherlands are more than 9.000 kilometres apart, but the Dutch people are more Japanese than you would expect.
Author: Koen Donatz