Earlier this month, Brussels, the capital of my native Belgium, hosted its first EU G7 summit. Brussels is also the seat of NATO, and many international companies have their European head office there. In 2009, Herman Van Rompuy became the first Belgian elected President of the European Union. He was re-elected in 2012. Despite being a small country, Belgium has nevertheless been at the heart of European power and history for a long time.
My second home, Japan, was also present at the G7 summit, together with leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.
Compared to Japan, Belgium as a country has a rather short history (it only gained its independence in 1830), but the land it occupies has a long and rich history of trade and commerce. It was also once known as “the battlefield of Europe” due to all the wars that crossed its borders. Before gaining independence, the territory that became Belgium was consecutively conquered by France, Spain, Austria, The Netherlands, and Germany.
How different from Japan, with its 1000 years of history as one independent nation!
An island country vs. the heart of western Europe; a homogeneous people vs. a hodgepodge of European bloodlines; one language vs. three national languages. We seem so different. Still, we do have some things in common that come with great benefits.
One: It’s good to be the little guy.
Belgium and Japan may be small, but they’re surrounded by some of the most powerful nations on this earth.
Japan has China and Russia among its neighbors; Belgium has the UK, Germany, and France. Belgians have learned to be excellent negotiators over many centuries of dealing with different cultures. This, combined with a central location, has certainly helped us gain and keep a central position in Europe’s government.
The Japanese have a natural humbleness and wish to preserve harmony by seeking consensus. Although its economical prowess is not what it once was, Japan is still at the heart of global power.
Both small countries can use natural competencies to play an important role as bridge-builders between the big nations of this world.
Two: Work with what you’ve got…or what you can get.
Having no natural resource inspires nations to inventiveness and attention to detail. Before Belgium was founded, my native Flanders region was famous for the creation of textiles. Museums all across Europe display Flemish tapestries, sometimes wall-to-wall decorative pieces of art that have survived for centuries. The tapestry industry is no longer so vibrant, but Belgium still boasts world-renowned fashion and textile designers. And despite having no diamond resources anywhere in the country, the city of Antwerp has some of the best diamond cutters in the world.
Japan has of course a long history of extremely detailed craftsmanship and many successful business models based on this expertise. Attention to detail is so important in a global community. People today demand perfect product quality and optimal customer service. Japan and Belgium both have a history of excellence in these fields.
Three: Everybody loves a comic.
Love of the arts, and a dedication to the art of drawing, resonates with children and adults alike. The whole world knows about Japanese manga and anime, but did you know that some of the most famous comic strips are made in Belgium? The Adventures of TinTin, The Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, The Adventures of Nero, Thorgal – these have inspired the imaginations of people the world over.
Japan and Belgium have fostered unique artistic talent that has led to booming industries.
Japan and Belgium: very different, but similar after all, can confidently look ahead and stand their ground in the global arena.