The first of our meetings took place in Nijkerk back in July 2000, a year when The Netherlands and Japan celebrated their 400 year-long relationship. It so happened, none of us so intending, that that particular year saw publication in Japan of two books both relating to the more recent of those four hundred years. The one was penned by a well-known Japanese non-fiction writer Eidai HAYASHI, Memories of Indonesia: Dutch Internment Camps (Tokyo: Sanyo Shuppan: 306 pages), about half of which are devoted to painful experiences suffered by the late Mrs Annie Goudswaard – de Vries. Annie and Herman, her husband, also now deceased, would eventually become precious members of our group until their respective departure. Hayashi made a special journey to this country to interview Annie for a week or so. The book told a moving story of how Annie, after tens of years, courageously faced her past memories of the time in Indonesia and rose above her bitter feelings over the death of her father, which had taken place in an Allied POWs’ camp in Kohyagi, Kyushu. In 2004 she, accompanied by Herman, would visit Kohyagi and other places in Japan, completing this process of coming to terms with her past. The second book, which was just on the point of publication at the time of the first conference, was by EVERT W. LINDEIJER, Kisses to Nel and Children: From a POW Camp in Japan (Tokyo: Misuzu-shobo: 218 pages). The author was the father of the late Wim Lindeijer. The book took the form of a diary, consisting of occasional letters written, but never posted, to the author’s wife and children back in Indonesia. The diary was kept by the author during his confinement in a mine in Ohashi, North-East Japan as a POW along with other Allied POWs. The author managed to take the diary out at the end of the war and brought it back home. His eldest son, Wim, came to read it in his youth, and as a result was moved to visit Japan together with his step-mother, Adrie, to go to Ohashi and other places in Japan, asking for forgiveness for the hatred he had entertained over the years towards Japanese people.

The above was the background against which the first Dialogue meeting was held. It was meant to be a sort of a launching ceremony of the two books. People who were closely and personally bound up with the two books were among the participants. Among the speakers were included Herman and Annie Goudswaard as well as Wim and Adrie Lindeijer. This conference, however, was preceded by contacts between a number of Dutch and Japanese residents in the country. I for one had realised already at my arrival in the summer of 1991 to take up the Hebrew chair at Leiden University that there was something seriously amiss in the relationship between my host country and my fatherland against the background of what had been done by my former generation to Dutch citizens in Indonesia. In the course of my journey of exploration of the modern history of Japan I came into contact with the four Dutch people mentioned above, and a number of other people, both Dutch and Japanese. The then pastor of a Japanese Christian church in this country, Rev. Ishii, also became intensely interested in this issue, and he was one of the speakers at the first conference. Subsequently, when our Japanese church organised an annual European Japanese Christian retreat held in Menorode under the leadership of Rev. Ishii, Annie was a special guest speaker addressing the Japanese audience over her past and recent experiences.

Shortly after my first encounter with Wim and Adrie Lindeijer they indicated their ardent desire to see the diary published in Japanese. As I myself could not find time to translate it from Dutch, they brought over a certain Mrs Kato, an English teacher in Kamaishi, to translate from an English version of it which Dame Elisabeth H. Foppen had made from the Dutch original. Our contact with Mrs Kato still remains intact, and one from among her local circle came to our recent meetings in the person of Miss Wada, whose mother is still missing after the catastrophic tsunami four years ago. Some years back a Kamaishi middle school staged a drama largely based on the Lindeijer diary, leaving indelible impressions not only on the school, but also on the local community at large. The folks there had begun to realise that they were not only victims of the war, but their victims were in their midst during the war and they were still bearing scars from those years.

Last December, during my flying visit to Tokyo, I met for a lunch a group of Japanese people who had come into contact with one another during Annie’s visit to Japan in 2004, and a few of them are currently involved in a project to set up at Kohyagi a monument in honour of Allied POWs who suffered there during the war at the hands of Japanese soldiers, many of them dying there like Annie’s father.

This may show us how our first conference impacted on Dutch and Japanese residents here and in Japan, and how that impact is still being felt.

Though the first conference was planned as a one-off event, many who attended it wanted to see such a gathering continued. So we had our 17th conference last year.

To attempt here a comprehensive survey of all the past seventeen conferences would be too ambitious. I would therefore only mention a couple of details.

At the 14th conference (2010), Ms Yokohata of Brussels, addressed the issue of “comfort women.” This is the number one obstacle lying between South Korea and Japan. In a book coauthored by me and published in 2008 on Dutch victims of the wartime sexual exploitation by Japanese militaries in Indonesia I wrote, among other things, a chapter in which I gave an extensive description of what the Dialogue had been doing. In my recent Japanese translation of Marguerite Hamer’s Geknakte bloem I also described how this issue is being looked at over here. This is one example of how the Dialogue has been impacting on me. Another such example is my annual teaching ministry in Asia, accompanied by my wife, which I have been conducting since 2003. Through my contact with the couple Goudswaard I got to know of what the local Stichting Boete en Verzoening is doing, namely how to translate your inner sense of remorse into tangible, sacrificial actions in order better to communicate your thoughts and feelings to victims and their offspring.

Our 13th conference (2009) had “Kracht van muziek” as its theme. One of the invited speakers was Mrs Rijkevorsel, a daughter of Helen Colijn best known for her Kracht van een lied. During the conference I proposed that we sang “Captives’ hymn,” which was sung by a vocal orchestra at a women’s internment camp in Indonesia during the war. As we sang the piece, I noticed tears streaming down Mrs Rijkevorsel’s cheeks. She had been to many concerts where the song was sung and listened to its CD recording many times over, but had never sung it together with Japanese people. Since that year every conference of ours concludes with singing it in a chorus, though no hands are clapped as is done when the annual New Year’s concert in Vienna ends with Radetzky march. At this 2009 conference the Lord’s Prayer was sung in Indonesian. That brought us home an important missing link in our thinking, namely the Indonesian people and their history which has been associated with the Dutch people far longer, and Japan intruded their country and history in a violent way though over a mere three years or so. This realisation has led to a change of the official designation of our Dialogue, now Dialoog Nederland-Japan-Indonesië. Thus it was most appropriate that our 16th conference heard an Indonesian voice.

One challenge which faces us in the future is how to keep the young generation interested in this history. The Dialogue is not about historical or intellectual curiosity or dilettantism. The past war as fought in the South-East Asian theatre and the Dutch-Indonesian relationships stretching over the past centuries still confront us with many a hard and painful issue bound to have implications as to how our future is going to unfold itself, and we are to play each a role in shaping our future in mutual relationship and interaction. This is all the more important with people fast passing away who had first-hand experiences of this shared history.

Recent developments

The foundation Dialogue Netherlands – Japan – Indonesia was founded in late 2015 as a continuation in a legal form of the initiative already for 15 years organizes meetings aimed at reconciliation. The foundation of these activities continued and on June 4, 2016 shall organize its first dialogue meeting as a foundation. Among the foundation’s flag is also the book “Solidified tears in memory of the prisoner of war of Fukukoa-2 1942-1945” edited and launched a website on Fukuoka-2.