Relationship Belgium-Japan

More information and history of relations between Belgium and Japan.

Diplomatic relations

Bilateral relations between Belgium and Japan, economic ties, and so on.

Overview of bilateral relations between Belgium and Japan

Belgium and Japan enjoy the multi-faceted and friendly bilateral relationship of advanced industrialized democracies, based on shared values and mutual confidence.

Our two countries share already a long common heritage and their collaboration takes an ever increasing range of forms and contents. 

The close ties between the Japanese Imperial family and the Belgian Royal family add a special accent to relationship between Belgium and Japan.

Heritage of the past

Prior to 1639, a limited number of books and art pieces from Belgium, including maps by Antwerp-born Ortelius and Flemish religious engravings, found their way to Japan, introduced by European (Portuguese) missionaries and Japanese envoys back from their exploratory mission in Europe. During the period of isolation from 1639 to 1854, books from Europe were imported by Dutch traders, as yearly gifts to the Shogun in Edo. The Cruydt-Boeck, a botanic treaty in Dutch by Dodoens (Mechelen, 1517-1585), was translated into Japanese in the 18th century. Copies of representations of the human body found in the Vivae Imagines Partium Corporis Humani, the major anatomy treaty by Vesalius (1514-1564), and in the anatomy treaty by Jan Palfijn (1650-1730), were used to illustrate Japanese medical science books of the 18th and 19th century. Interestingly, Dutch was then studied not only by the official interpreters assigned to the Dutch traders (who had a monopoly of trade with Japan in those days),  but also by some scholars in Edo who were eager to access information about the rest of the world. Although it remains unclear how they got there, a number of Flemish and Brussels’ tapestries from the 16th and the 17th c. are kept in a very good state of conservation in Kyoto and Nagahama (in museums) and in Otsu and Kanazawa (in private collections). The Kyoto tapestry depicting King Priam and his wife, decorates the rear of the Koiyama float (float of the Carp) at the yearly parade of the Gion festival.

After the opening of Japan to the outside world, Belgium was the 9th country to establish formal diplomatic relations with Japan with the signing of the Treaty on Amity, Commerce and Navigation (1866). Economic ties quickly intensified and at the turn of the century, Belgium was the third commercial partner of Japan. Looking for inspiration in Western countries for the creation of modern institutions in Japan, officials almost “naturally” looked at Belgium, a top 5 industrial power in those days. Envisaged by the Japanese to serve as a model for the Meiji Constitution (1889), the Belgian Constitution was thoroughly studied, before it was discarded in favor of the Prussian Constitution. The Belgian National Bank, however, did serve as an organizational, institutional and architectural model for the National Bank of Japan.

The first Belgian diplomatic presence in Japan was opened in 1866 in Yokohama. In 1893, the Legation moved to Tokyo. In 1921, the Belgian Legation in Tokyo formally became an Embassy. In 1928, the Embassy grounds in Kojimacho were acquired, which have remained the location of the Belgian Embassy ever since. The current Embassy building is the third one on this location and was inaugurated in 2010.

Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Friendship in 2016

2016 marked the 150th anniversary of the bilateral relations and friendship between Belgium and Japan. This important anniversary took place under the auspices of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan and His Majesty the King of the Belgians. An abundant programme of events took place throughout the year, both in Belgium and Japan. The activities underscored the many things that the two countries have in common, strengthened the ties of friendship further, and encouraged future cultural and academic exchange.

The celebration was crowned by the State Visit to Japan of Their Majesties the King and Queen of the Belgians, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, from 10 until 15 October 2016.

More information

Bilateral relations driven by close economic ties

The intensification of bilateral relations gained in speed in the Sixties, when Japanese companies successfully accessed the European markets and invested in European countries. That is also why the number of bilateral agreements between Belgium and Japan increased in the period between 1959 and 1973. Nowadays, an increasing number of issues are dealt with within the framework of the EU-Japan relations.

List of bilateral agreements between Belgium and Japan

  • Treaty of Friendship, Trade and Navigation (establishment of diplomatic relations) 01 August 1866
  • Consular Convention, 22 December 1896
  • Air Transport Agreement, 20 June 1959 (extended to cargo flights in 2009)
  • Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Respect to Taxes on Income, 28/03/1968 (amended in January 2010)(renewed in October 2016, under ratification)
  • Agreement suppressing the requirement of visa for short term visits, 1972
  • Agreement on cultural affairs, 1973
  • Agreement on social security, 23 February 2005 (entry into force in 2007)

Local cultural ties have also thrived since the second half of the 20th century, with a total of 6 active twinning agreements between Japanese and Belgian cities.

List of Sister cities

  • Himeji – Charleroi (since 1965)
  • Kanazawa – Gent (since 1971)
  • Komatsu – Vilvoorde (since 1974)
  • Itami – Hasselt (since 1985)
  • Nagakute – Waterloo (since 1992)
  • Hanyu – Durbuy (since 1994)

With regards to Belgian exports of goods, Japan is the 17th client of Belgium, and the 3rd in Asia, after China and India. Chemical and pharmaceutical products represented the largest category of all Belgian exports to Japan, making Japan Belgium’s second largest market outside of the EU in this sector (after the USA). Transport equipment represented the second largest category of exports, followed by food and drinks. Belgium is the 5th largest exporter to Japan among EU Member States.

With regard to imports of Japanese goods in Belgium, Japan is the 9th largest supplier of Belgium, and the 2nd in Asia after China. Transport equipment is the largest category of imports, accounting for 50% of all imports, followed by machinery and equipment. Belgium is the 4th largest importer of Japanese goods among EU Member States.

Belgium is a country of choice for Japanese investments in Europe. Japan is the second largest non-European source of foreign direct investment in Belgium after the United States. Some 300 subsidiaries of Japanese companies have been set up in Belgium. They employ directly nearly 30,000 people. About 20% of Japanese companies in Belgium are active in the automotive industry.

With close to 80 subsidiaries present in Japan, the Belgian industrial presence in Japan is concentrated in the sector of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnologies, followed by ICT and the automotive and materials sectors.

The friendly bilateral relations and important economic ties between both countries have led to frequent and regular official visits. The first Belgian trade mission to Japan took place in 1962 and was headed by Prince Albert. Since then, numerous high level trade missions took place, the last one in December 2022 headed by HRH Princess Astrid.

Close ties of the Royal and Imperial families

The close ties between the Japanese Imperial family and the Belgian Royal family add a special accent to the relations between Belgium and Japan. The first personal contacts between the Belgian Royal family and the Japanese Imperial family go back to 1921 when the then Crown Prince Hirohito visited Belgium as part of a tour of Europe. The friendly relationship continued to the next generation as TTIIHH Akihito and Michiko stayed several times in Laeken as private guests of King Baudouin in the 1950s, and later in the 1980s, together with their eldest son Naruhito.

Leopold III, Liliane, Boudewijn, Akihito, Alexander

(© J. De Weel) King Leopold III and Princess Liliane, King Baudouin, Crown Prince Akihito and Prince Alexandre

King Baudouin I and Queen Fabiola, as well as King Albert II and Queen Paola went several times to Japan, for private and official visits. The tradition continues with regular visits to Japan, both private and official, by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde.

King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola conducted a State Visit to Japan in 1964. In 1993, Their Majesties the Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan paid a State visit to Belgium. King Albert II and Queen Paolo, accompanied by HRH Crown Prince Philippe, paid a State Visit to Japan in 1996. King Philippe and Queen Mathilde conducted a State Visit to Japan in 2016, marking the 150th Anniversary of Friendship between Belgium and Japan. Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress hosted a State Banquet at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and accompanied them on a cultural excursion to Yuki City in Ibaraki Prefecture. The Belgian Royal Couple also visited Nagoya and Osaka.

Staatsbezoek in België

State visit in Belgium (© Van Parys Media/Sygma/Corbis)

Staatsbezoek in Japan

State visit in Japan (© Van Parys Media/Sygma/Corbis)

Staatsbezoek 2016

State visit 2016 (© Belga Image)

For more information on the ties between both families, the following blog (only available in French) offers a nice overview and vintage pictures

Present day image of Belgium in Japan

Belgium benefits from an excellent image in Japan. Ever since the 1960s and the development of a strong Japanese investors’ presence in Belgium, the perceptions of Japanese citizens have been shaped by four main elements of encounter with Belgium and its culture: work, tourism, quality consumer goods, and art.

The reestablishment of the non-stop flight between Brussels and Tokyo in October 2015, has greatly added to the attraction of Belgium for Japanese businessmen and tourists alike. “Chocolate and beer”, or the image of Belgium as a country of gastronomy, craftsmanship, history and tradition, remain powerful assets.

About 5,000 Japanese nationals live in Belgium on a permanent basis. Japanese managers and employees who lived in Belgium and who, without exceptions, have excellent recollections of their years in Belgium, also contribute to the excellent image of Belgium in Japan. The same can be said of the 3.000 former students of the Japanese School of Brussels, who have even created an association (Japan School of Brussels Alumni) and meet occasionally at the Belgian Embassy in Tokyo.

Located in Brussels, the Belgium-Japan Association and Chamber of Commerce (BJA)regroups most Japanese investors in Belgium, and Belgian companies with strong business relations with Japan.

In Japan, more than 1200 Belgians are registered in the consular registers of the Embassy in Tokyo. The Belgian Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo provides a stable framework for Belgian professionals in Japan to meet regularly.

The Japan Belgium Society has Chapters in Tokyo and Osaka, and HIH Prince Hitachi is the honorary Patron of JBS. Members include Japanese (and Belgian) citizens deeply attached, both professionally and personally, to Belgium, and who are keen to maintain these links and to contribute to Belgium’s image and reputation in Japan. Japanese companies with a long presence in Belgium often join the JBS. Japanese academics with ties in Belgium and former beneficiaries of scholarships are organized in the Japan Belgium Academic Society, a sister organisation of JBS created in 2007.

The close and friendly relations between the imperial and royal families, which have been passed on from one generation to the next, also largely contributed to the excellent image of Belgium in Japan.

The role of Brussels, seat of the European Union institutions, for the image of Belgium in Japan should not be underestimated. Belgium is also very widely recognized as a vibrant artistic and cultural hub, as numerous Japanese art students choose our country to perfect their education. The Antwerp fashion Academy, La Cambre, and our music academies are all of repute in Japan, as is the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition. Numerous cultural events linked to Belgium are organized each year in Japan (exhibitions of widely known painters such as Rubens or Delvaux, screening of Belgian movies, etc.), most of the time with the financial support of important Japanese cultural sponsors.

Belgium in Japanese popular culture

In Japan, Belgium is not only associated with its famous historical and cultural heritage sites, artists and art forms (Bruges, Art nouveau, Magritte, Brueghel, etc.) and its gastronomy products. It is also connected with two stories that are not widely known in Belgium, but that are hugely popular in Japan thanks to mass media. The first story originates from the 1872 novel “A Dog of Flanders” by English author Marie-Louise de la Ramée. The story, featuring a poor Flemish boy called Nello and his dog Patrasche, is set in the Antwerp area. It has been adapted many times in Japan, in TV animation series, in film animation and in film (in 1975, 1992, 1997, 2009). The play “Blue Bird,” by Belgian author and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck is also well-known in Japan, mainly through the 1980 animated TV series “Maeterlinck's Blue Bird: Tyltyl and Mytyl's Adventurous Journey.”