Big in Japan, big in Korea

It has been 25 years since my internship on Kyushu, the southernmost Japanese island, and last week I returned to the country as a member of the Dutch trade mission and state visits to both Japan and South Korea. Two very different Asian countries, but both important to Dutch businesses.

Jeroen Plag


More than 100 Dutch companies joined the mission, led by Henk Kamp, Minister of Economic Affairs, and Hans de Boer, chairman of the VNO-NCW employers’ organisation.

The first four days in Japan consist of seminars, company visits and official gatherings to further strengthen their centuries-old trading relationship. The mission received extra allure by the presence of the Dutch King and Queen and their visibly strong relationship with the Japanese imperial family. Especially in a country like Japan, where respect for hierarchy and monarchy is eminent from the teaching of Confucius, all the red carpets were rolled out.


In his latest blog, Jeroen Plag, head of Client Coverage Asia, Americas & UK at ING, writes about his recent visit to Japan and South Korea as a Dutch trade mission delegate. He joined the Dutch King and Queen, along with more than 100 companies, as they explored the international business opportunities for Dutch companies in the two countries.

Renewable energy

The trade mission seminars mainly focused on the presentation of Dutch sectors, including agriculture and horticulture, healthy aging, smart mobility and cyber security. Following a discussion with the board of the Keidanren – the Japanese employers’ organisation – Japanese companies showed particular interest in the Netherlands as a transit port. There was also great interest in Dutch developments and possible investments regarding (wind) energy. During the visit, the Dutch King opened an energy conference which saw Minister Kamp, the CEO of Ecofys [consultancy for sustainable energy], and representatives from Dutch businesses and their Japanese counterparts, come together. Japan is keen to invest in renewable energy, and the Netherlands is keen to expand – a beautiful combination. 

Creative solutions

This provides opportunities for the Netherlands, and for Europe. This is not only the case for energy, but also for the various creative solutions of Dutch companies regarding mobility and the aging of the population. Meanwhile, domestic spending on the 2020 Olympic Games is already high. This is already becoming visible. The historical Tsukiji fish market, for instance, has to be relocated. Gigantic tuna fish are sold here every morning between 5 and 6. As it is supposed to be a grand spectacle, I got up early on Saturday morning to see for myself. As only 120 tourists are allowed on the premises, I arrived at half past four to register in time. But I returned to my hotel empty-handed, too late!

As Korea is facing similar problems regarding its aging population, there are excellent business opportunities for Dutch companies with creative solutions for the issue

Highnesses in Japan and Korea

The population’s aging is not just a hot topic in Japan. Korea, where the trade mission has arrived, is facing the same issue in the coming years. Dutch companies with solutions to this matter are well represented in the delegation. In Korea too, the trade mission is part of the King and Queen’s state visit. In contrast to Japan however, their highnesses face some competition here. The royal couple asked the former coach of the South Korean national soccer team, Guus Hiddink, to join them. And walking around in public with Hiddink on the streets of Seoul is not an option. The man who led the country to success in the 2002 World Championship is surrounded by a crowd wherever he goes. A great opportunity for Koreans, but also for the mission, since figurehead Hiddink guarantees publicity in South Korea. 


Follow Jeroen on Twitter: @JeroenPlag


Initially published on the website of Dutch daily 'Het Financieele Dagblad', with permission re-published by ING.