22 augustus 2006

Royal visit, tag-along Dutch press get Japanese media play

Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006

Karuizawa, Japan (ANP) Japanese media have reported a rare private trip to Japan by Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his family -- and Dutch reporters who converged in the country to cover the visit -- with a sense of curiosity.

In its electronic edition Thursday, Asahi a left-leaning Japanese newspaper, said an official reason for Crown Princess Maxima's trip to the Japan is to convalesce, but the visit is more likely to be "an escape."

The paper said the 35-year-old Crown Princess has been under pressure due to the need to give birth to a male, who would be next in line to the throne after Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, but they have only two daughters, Princess Amalia and Princess Alexia.

Princess Amalia, 2, cannot become the reigning queen under the current male-only Royal succession law.

The paper suggested that given the Crown Princess' unsuccessful track record at changing the conservative Royal court, her latest recuperation abroad may be her final chance for self-emancipation.

Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper with a national circulation, paid attention to Dutch reporters on the front page of its Friday edition, saying they have come to the central Japanese city of Karuizawa in throngs to catch a glimpse at the Crown Prince's family.

On Friday, the family visited the Royal Stables near the castle with Emperor Akihito and other members of the Japanese imperial family for a photo session. The event was open to the media.

De Yomiuri's electronic edition doubted that Dutch journalists would have a better opportunity to see the royal couple because the imperial palace they are staying at is hidden from public view.

Japanese newspapers, including Nihon Keizai Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun, all ran big photos of Friday's event in their Saturday editions.

In its photo caption, Yomiuri said, "The Dutch have shown great interest in the Royal holidays because the Crown Prince's family rarely appears in public."

Yomiuri Shimbun, in its Saturday edition, referred to a rumor apparently circulating in Japan that Crown Princess Maxima wants to see a "Japanese specialist" during her trip to consult about her condition. A Dutch newspaper reporter quoted in the article called the rumor unfounded.

Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and family will stay in Japan until Aug. 30 and return to The Hague the following day.

Sometimes one needs to see things from the other side to see the differences...

Source: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/mail/nn20060822f1.html

20 augustus 2006

Summer in Rainy Amsterdam

August is turning out to pour back on us every drop of water that evaporated in hot and beautiful July. Today I visited my friend Marije and on the way back I decided not to take the bus. I walked home and played tourist in Amsterdam. Nice afternoon... :) (click on the image to enlarge!)

Camera Cohesion and Real Cohesion

Last Thursday I attended a debate between several Dutch politicians organised by Stichting JEP (Jongeren En Politiek/Youth And Politics). The second topic was the already much discussed issue of camera surveillance. This appears to be a very good solution to improve safety in public spaces here in the Netherlands. Many people also disagree, however, because they see it as a violation of their privacy. When I asked the politicians whether it wasn’t better for me to get to know my neighbours in order to feel safe in my neighbourhood in Amsterdam than to put up a camera, the only one who replied was Diederik Samson of the PvdA (Labour Party) who said that he thought the lack of cohesion in neighbourhoods was indeed a big problem in cities like Rotterdam and Amsterdam.

After talking with some people about this topic, I find myself even more willing to start working on this social cohesion thing. I think it is better for politicians to talk about the root of the problem of citizens feeling unsafe, rather than provide us with the best solution possible without addressing the cause. I tend to be of the opinion that if people were to create a sense of trust in their own neighbourhood, this would also help them with trusting or helping strangers in other places. Some people do not have any difficulties with talking to strangers, but many do. If politicians, our leaders, would also try to address this, next to thinking about other good policies (which might be camera surveillance), as something in which citizens have their own responsibility, I think it would help.

Some of you might remember my blog ('Sommige dagen' of 'Burgerplicht meets Mannelijkheid') of a few months ago in which I wrote about de Publieke Zaak (DPZ). This is an association of people who want to the government, the business sector, civil society and individuals to work together on creating tomorrow’s society. I was about to start making a contribution to this worthy cause when suddenly the internship at the Dutch Embassy in Tokyo was offered to me. After getting back from Japan (where I saw that people are starting to get worried about social cohesion among citizens as well), I was happy to find that my input is still welcome and last Friday I had a discussion with DPZ’s Barbara in Amsterdam’s beautiful Vondelpark.

Barbara and I talked about DPZ setting up De Slinger (chain) in several cities. Whereas DPZ’s main activities are in the field of discussions about improving society, De Slinger is meant as a platform-like organization in which projects meant to improve social cohesion in a Slinger-city can become part of the Slinger-chain and join forces to eventually become a real movement. My new ‘job’ will be to go to activities in Amsterdam and to write about them for the Slinger-website… can’t wait to start!

15 augustus 2006

Hard vs. Soft = Smart vs. Stupid/Stupid vs. Smart ?!

With the risk of proving myself to be completely unknowledgeable about these issues, I have to write something on things I picked up in the news this morning.

- Prime minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan visits Yasukuni Shrine on the 61st anniversary of the end of the war, with this keeping his electoral pledge to visit the disputed shrine every year of his tenure.

- The agreement between Israel and Hezbollah to stop firing missiles to each other is more or less kept by both parties and now there are discussions in Israel whether or not it lost the war.

- Millions of the sum that the British sent to Pakistan last year to support the emergency help to and the build-up of the earthquake-destructed areas there, appear to have been used to plan the thwarted attacks of last Thursday on the American airplanes. (nu.nl in Dutch)

The relation between the two last issues is more or less obvious, but the relation of the first with the latter two might not be. In my opinion, however, it is. The first issue is about a conflict between Japan and its Asian neighbours. Koizumi wants to show that Japan is a strong and 'normal' country that can take care of its own internal affairs and does not need or want interference from other countries on these matters. China and Korea (honestly or politically) feel tremendously offended by this Japanese prime minister who, in their eyes, glorifies Japan's military past by paying tribute to (some not so innocent) war-dead at Yasukuni. Koizumi's visit today might provide China and Korea with a reason to extend the ice-age relations with Japan a bit longer, at least until he steps down in September. One of the main issues in the race between his candidate-successors is whether or not they will visit the shrine, this being the way to show what sort of posture they will take vis-a-vis Asia's rising power, China. Will it be a concilliatory approach, or not.

And this is exactly where the relation with the conflict in the Middle East and the whole terrorism issue is so obvious in my view. On the one hand you have the so-called hawks that preach an approach of strength, of never giving in to anything, and on the other hand there are the people that think that talking and compromising is the best way out of these conflicts.

I find it incredibly hard to form an opinion on what is the best approach. Being a product of the Dutch poldermodel, I have an inclination towards discussion and compromise. But as that model's effectivity has been questioned often over the past years, my inclination might be wrong. A good friend of mine's immediate response to the third issue (relief money to Pakistan) was "Well, that means that we should stop giving money to Muslims". This is what I call a somewhat tougher stand on the matter.

My question is whether it is necessary to take a stand, and if so what stand to take. I will probably be influenced by arguments of hawks and compromisers forever and the road that these issues will travel on will probably be one of compromise between the hawks and the compromisers. Anyone else struggling with this matter?

PS A very interesting documentary called "Negotiating with Al Qaeda" can be found here. It's a Dutch docu, but all the interviews are in English, German or French.

9 augustus 2006

Sweet Spain

About two months ago my Japanese hostmum told me that Nozomi, her niece, was to get married to her Spanish sweetheart, Manuel, this August. And as my hostmum was going to attend the wedding, I decided to get myself a ticket to Spain too. I also decided to combine this trip with a long overdue visit to my Erasmus-mentorkids from Leiden, Jesus & Lidia, who live in Madrid.

Now, visiting Spain in the August heat is not exactly my cup of tea. I survived, however, thanks mostly to my sweet Spanish friends and my great host-relatives. Next time, I'll make sure to study some Spanish before I go, though.. :)

New in the Netherlands: NeighbourDay on 16 September!

Research has shown that 77 % of the Dutch would like to have more contact with their neighbours, but can't, mostly because of lack of time (I kind of disagree with this as other research shows that people still devote plenty of time to watching TV and surfing the web, all a matter of prioritizing if you ask me, but well). This research has been done for Dutch coffee brand Douwe Egberts which is a part of multinational Sara Lee. Maybe they saw their coffee sales decreasing and attributed it to neigbours spending less time together. But for me it is good to see that a Dutch company is doing something about a concern I also have for Dutch society. Whatever motivation Douwe Egberts has, I think it is a good initiative!

Check out the NeighbourDay website here!