Burgemeester Eindejaarsbijeenkomst Nederlands-Japanse handelsfederatie (DUJAT)
Toespraak burgemeester Jan van Zanen
Amsterdam, Hotel Okura, 10 december 2018
Konbanwa, Your Excellencies, Mr Ambassador and Mr Balkenende, Mrs De Kemp, Mr Mantel, members of DUJAT, distinguished guests,
First of all: I'm truly grateful and honoured to have been invited to address you briefly during this annual Dujat dinner.
Nowadays, it seems that whenever people talk about trade and other relations between countries in the world, it is mainly in terms of restrictions. Here in Europe Brexit continues to dominate the news. Nine months ago, the countries around the Pacific signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but without the United States. Migration is still a controversial subject, as shows the situation near the Mexican-American border and the debate about the Marrakesh Pact.
One would almost forget that cooperation between people, between economies, between nations is still a enormous power in the world. The 'remaining' 27 member states of the European Union are an example, despite the differences that exist between them. In my eyes, our two countries, Japan and the Netherlands, are another example.
Our mutual relations, which began to flourish when Deshima was founded in the 17th century, had its ups and downs, good times and bad times. During the last century for instance they received a boost, the great sportsman Anton Geesink - from Utrecht - playing a major role. Trough all those years resulting in an association between our two nations that extends deeper than many people might think.
The Japanese people have taken Vincent van Gogh, Gerrit Rietveld and Dick Bruna ('Miffy') to their hearts. Successful exhibitions have been devoted to these artists in Japan. I experienced it myself: long lines for Dutch art and classical music in Japanese museums and concert halls. In the Huis ten Bosch theme park near Nagasaki there are life-sized copies of the Utrecht Dom Tower and other famous Dutch buildings.
The Dutch on the other hand love Japanese phenomena such as haiku, sushi, manga, origami, nintendo, Japanese literature and cinema. This is reflected in the huge popularity of the 'Cool Japan' exhibition currently running in the Tropenmuseum, which features all possible aspects of Japanese life and culture. And the programme about Japan made by journalist Paulien Cornelisse, that was proving a hit on Dutch TV.
Furthermore, Japan's various martial arts, car and motorcycle brands are well-known and even popular and almost every Dutch smartphone contains Japanese components. Some 2.800, partly smaller, Dutch companies do business in and with Japan, generating an annual turnover exceeding 3.6 billion euros and employing 26 thousand people. Trade between our two countries is developing positively and is set to expand even further thanks to the Japan EU Trade Agreement, signed last summer.
An increasingly large group of people and institutions from both countries cherish their personal relations, which, like tourism, contribute to mutual knowledge and respect. I cherish my own ties of friendship with Japan since the early eighties - almost forty years ... I am getting old - and further developed during a nine year term as mayor of a city in the Amsterdam area (I whisper: the better part of it), the nucleus of Japanese community in the Netherlands. Little Tokyo: Amstelveen. My present position as Mayor of Utrecht - in the heart, the very heart of the Netherlands - hasn't changed my opinion about the prospects offered by the synergy between our two countries.
A prime example of these prospects are the demographic developments in the world. More and more people now live in cities. Cities are developing rapidly. And if there is one distinct similarity between our two countries, it is, that they are both densely populated, both in terms of people and cities.
All this rises the question of how to ensure these cities remain healthy places to live, for their inhabitants. In Utrecht, we call this the challenge of 'healthy urban living'. A challenge that touches upon several major aspects of our daily lives. Housing. Urban development. Energy supply and energy saving. Mobility. Healthy food and lifestyles. Health care. Water management.
All of them challenges which are directly related to the future of our entire planet. A planet that increasingly experiences evident signs of imminent climate changes. You are bound to remember last summer's severe floodings in Japan. Europe experienced the opposite: one of our driest summers ever. After the tragedy of Fukushima, Japan is ardently looking for new, sustainable sources of energy. As are the Netherlands, after the earthquakes triggered by gas extraction in the province of Groningen (in the north of the Netherlands). And there are more similarities that positively suggest even more exchanges of knowledge between our countries. One more example is the ageing of both our populations.
We clearly have something to learn from Japanese technology, for instance in the fields of elderly care, but also housing and public transport. And I'm sure, the Japanese acknowledge the possibilities of Dutch (smart) mobility policy and Healthcare. Last spring, several Dutch construction companies accepted the invitation to visit Japan, with the aim of getting acquainted with modern residential construction practices. They felt that they might learn a lot in the area of building speed, earthquake resistance, sustainability and cost effectiveness. Furthermore, developments such as the so-called Smart City in the city of Ashiya attracted their attention, with its microgrid energy distribution management system.
And we in our turn assume that the Japanese may be interested in the Utrecht We Drive Solar System, comprising a network of solar charging stations designed to ensure that electric cars are fully powered by locally generated solar energy. Another is the small Utrecht Active Cues company, which invented and developed a unique digital game named Tovertafel (Magic Table), to brighten up the lives of older people with dementia. And I personally was delighted to receive, in Utrecht, a delegation of Japanese local and regional managers who were interested in the ways that Utrecht UW Bedrijven succeed in creating worthwile jobs for people with a handicap.
It's my personal conviction that the only way to tackle the challenges the cities of the world currently face, is by means of cooperation. Cooperation such as between science and business communities and local governments in the Utrecht region, with regard to sustainability, health and economic development. Or that between the four largest cities of the Randstad metropolitan area (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht), whose local governments cooperate in dealing with matters including economy, housing, mobility, town planning and energy transition. Jointly cope with challenges such as the availability of adequate and affordable housing, the accessibility of the places where our people live and work, clean air and a healthy environment for everyone.
Some 500 thousand houses need to be built in the Randstad metropolitan area. And they need to be both affordable and equipped with a sustainable energy supply. They will have to be built within the already existing borders of our cities, thus increasing the challenge of creating a healthy urban environment. An environment in which we may have to change our views about mobility by giving priority to facilities for pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and 24/7 mobility as a service. This is only affordable in compact, dense cities, where the different functions (living, working, going out) are located close together and where public transport turns a ready profit.
A balanced housing market. Sustainable mobility for everyone. Employment opportunities. Healthy, future-proof cities. These are challenges that the world's cities can only hope to meet by cooperating. The city governments of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht set out to achieve such a partnership. I am sure that our colleagues in Japan (a country with at least four metropolitan areas as large as the Dutch Randstad), are tackling comparable challenges and may be cooperating in a similar fashion. Here we have another area in which exchange between Japan and the Netherlands, between Japanese and Dutch cities, could prove rewarding.
This is the urgent and logical message that I wish to express in closing: cooperation takes some effort from everyone involved. But the relations between our two countries prove that in the end it will be worth the effort and, all things considered, there is no alternative. We need everybody's knowledge, experience and spirit of enterprise. We need this mutual inspiration. Cooperation and partnership are the only effective ways to create healthy cities for healthy people in a healthy world. Dear DUJAT friends, that is why I'm calling on you: do not think in terms of restrictions, but rather in possibilities for cooperation. Arigato gozaimasu.