On the day before Christmas, the Council of State of the Netherlands has given the citizens of Japan a present that's like a legal version of a Swiss pocket knife. Many are glad to have one, but will never use it. For some however it may prove to be a tool of vital importance.

Tea house

The story that triggered the judgement started more than five years ago when the Rotterdam foundation Shofukan decided to erect an authentic Japanese tea house, a 'Senshin-an', on their premises as a real and tangible ceremonial experience for their visitors seeking an exchange with the Japanese cultural heritage. After many preparations and fundraising campaigns, a construction order was given to a friendly Dutch architect living in Japan and a small family owned Japanese contractor that was honoured by the assignment and took great pride in assembling the best natural materials that the environment offered, to an original shrine man had used for ages.
In February 2012, when Rotterdam was covered in snow, the three craftsmen - one of them 76 years old - arrived in the Netherlands and started to carefully join the wooden parts that were tailor made in Japan and shipped to the Netherlands. No screw, nail or glue was used in this process since these 'modern' inventions were never used, nor were they ever missed.
What should have been a joyful and tranquil day, ended in dismay when Shofukan was brought an unexpected visit of the Dutch Labour Inspectorate claiming the employment of the three carpenters was illegal under the Dutch Foreign Nationals Employment Act. With brute enforcement the inspection officers closed down the work and interrogated everyone in sight for the rest of the day. Promptly Shofukan applied for the work permits which were issued in three days. The tea house was completed by the Japanese carpenters and the problems with the authorities seemed to be resolved.

€ 60,000

Quite the opposite, so it appeared eight months later. The inspection fined Shofukan, the contractor and the architect for a total amount of 60 thousand euro's - almost the same amount as the whole project had cost. In the administrative appeal the fine was reduced to 50%, still a substantial sum of money. To put this harsh policy against illegal employment into perspective: under Dutch administrative law an employer can be fined if he neglects precautionary basic safety measures which would have prevented the accidental death of an employee. In these fatal cases a fine of 5000-15000 euro's is found as appropriate. Apparently, the penalty for an infringement of (abstract) economic interests of a consistent labour market policy may often be valued 4-25 times as high. And the courts are accepting this discrepancy comfortably: there's almost no consideration for leniency.


The huge fine certainly would have terminated Shofukan, but dramatically - and at the time of the construction unknown to the creators of Senshin-an - its savor came from the very same source that inspired its foundation: the Netherlands and Japan have a long shared history that started in the seventeenth century when the Dutch were granted the exclusive right to trade with Japan, and evolved in the almost forgotten Dutch Japanese trade treaty of 1912. Immigration lawyer Stephan Roelofs published in 2004 an inspiring, fresh article that drew the attention of his colleagues to this antique legal source in which article 17 directly equalized the position of Japanese citizens to that of other foreigners living and working in the Netherlands. Simon van der Woude was the responsible lawyer that directed the attention of the court to the - in legal terms - even more ancient Dutch Swiss Friendship and trade treaty of 1875 that resulted in the ruling of the Counsel of 19 June 2013.
In that affair the Counsel considered that the Immigration office should review the application of Japanese citizens for a permit of residence in the same matter as was done with Swiss citizens. Since their treaty offered the Swiss free and almost unlimited access to the Dutch territory, and the trade and labour market, people from Japan should be granted the same rights.


Although this judgement was brought under the attention of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, that is responsible for the labour inspectorate, it resisted its conclusions. According to the government the treaties were only applicable to entrepreneurs and companies, not to their personnel.
In the latest decision the Counsel firmly reiterates its considerations of last year and expands the conclusions under the Foreign national employment act. The implication is ground breaking: Japanese citizens are, in any perspective, now evened to the Swiss, who were evened to the citizens of the European Union. In practice a Japanese citizen is now allowed to live, to work and to stay in the Netherlands without restrictions other than making sure he has sufficient means and refraining himself from any criminal activities.


I'm almost sure football player Keisuke Honda will never read this post, but if by any chance you know him, please inform him that whenever he's ready at AC Milan or any other football club, he's now even more than welcome as ever at FC Feyenoord Rotterdam. No bureaucratic strings attached, and - that's definite now - with an unique, tranquil Senshin-an, just two miles away from the stadium.

Dit artikel is ingestuurd door Julien Luscuere, advocaat te Rotterdam en is ook te vinden op zijn Linkedin profiel: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/japan-takes-holland-rightfully-balls-julien-luscuere