Kris Schiermeier, Director of the Japan Museum SieboldHuis

Director of the Japan Museum SieboldHuis in Leiden, Kris Schiermeier, shares her thoughts on the Netherlands and Japan as the two countries continue to exchange knowledge and deepen their friendship.

How important is the historical relationship between Japan and the Netherlands?

Although the Dutch had had a trading post on the island of Deshima since 1641 and Japan and the Netherlands enjoy a unique relationship that spans over four centuries, it wasn’t until Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) arrived at Deshima (Nagasaki) that the ties between Japan and Leiden became evident.

Philipp Franz von Siebold landed at Deshima, located off the coast of Nagasaki in 1823. He was sent to gather information on Japan, the trade situation, and the political system.  At that time foreigners were not allowed to leave the island, however after Siebold had cured an influential local official, he was given permission to open a clinic on the mainland and make house calls to the sick.  Immediately after arriving, Siebold contacted physicians and natural scientists, some of whom spoke and wrote Dutch and were known as ‘Rangakusha’ or Dutch experts.

Siebold’s home rapidly became a meeting place for lectures and discussion and Siebold himself gained recognition as an expert on Western learning. The Japanese-Dutch relationship is unique as it is the foundation upon which our two countries are based and through which our relations have grown and matured. These ties have proved to be mutually beneficial economically and have also enriched our societies in the fields of art and culture. Economic relations between the two countries are vibrant, covering the whole specter of goods and services. Several hundred Japanese companies call the Netherlands their home in Europe and this number is still increasing. The exchange in the high-tech sector is intensive.

What impact did the pandemic have on your work and what are you planning for the future?

The pandemic had a devastating impact on Japan Museum SieboldHuis.  It came at a most inopportune moment during a highly successful exhibition and challenged us to be creative in keeping the SieboldHuis alive in the minds and hearts of our loyal ‘friends’ and the public.

Social media played a significant role to this end. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, combined with online lectures, helped sustain interest in our museum. In spite of the lockdown, we were able to generate increased interest in our friends and patron’s programmes.

What do you see as the best aspect of the relationship between the two countries?

…the continuation of the exchange of knowledge, the deepening of our friendship and cooperation in matters of mutual importance and global significance.

How important is the Japan Museum SieboldHuis’ ties to the University of Leiden?

The exchange of knowledge was and still is vital to both our countries. Through his collection and his publications Siebold introduced the Western world to some of the many facets of Japan. His presence is still felt among the students of Japanese at Leiden University and his life work studied by students and scholars alike.

© Japan Museum SieboldHuis

What can visitors expect in 2021 and 2022?

Japan Museum SieboldHuis exhibits a vast array of objects painstakingly collected by Philipp Franz von Siebold during his stay in Japan (1823-1829). They are yours to discover in the stately Dutch residence that once was his home. It was here that he first displayed his treasures brought back from his beloved Japan. They included medicinal objects, art, maps, books, plants, and animals.

At present the works of “Ogata Gekkō and his contemporaries” are on display. The works of this versatile artist will be exhibited until September 5, 2021. Private loans (including a large collection from Tasmania!), consisting of prints, books, albums, and exquisite paintings, have made this exhibition possible. In addition to more than one hundred works by Ogata Gekkō (1859 – 1920), forty works of art by his contemporaries are on display. This exhibition offers a new perspective on printmaking during the Meiji period (1868-1912) and is a must see for lovers of Japanese art.

In the exhibition “Splendor in detail. 20th century Japanese Lacquerware” design works, luxury utensils, and art objects of the 20th century are on display from September 17 until December 5, 2021. The ancient art of Japanese lacquerware (urushi) is a lengthy and labor-intensive production process. Japanese lacquerware was exported to Europe as early as the 16th century and was extremely popular thanks to its superior quality and durability.

Regarding your commitment to strengthening the Japan-Netherlands relationship, what message would you like to share with our readers?

At Japan Museum SieboldHuis we look forward to exploring new opportunities and further developing cooperative ties with Japan. In the spirit of our founding father Frans Philipp von Siebold, let us reach out to each other.

Kris Schiermeier, Director of the Japan Museum SieboldHuis

I sincerely hope that through our activities and exhibitions, we will be able to build upon the existing bonds of friendship that unite our two countries. At Japan Museum SieboldHuis we look forward to exploring new opportunities and further developing cooperative ties with Japan. In the spirit of our founding father Frans Philipp von Siebold, let us reach out to each other.

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