Yamagata Europe belongs to a Japanese family owned company, the Yamagata Corporation (YCO). YCO has many overseas divisions and daughters in different countries, but Yamagata Europe is the only daughter without a Japanese expat from HQ. This does not mean that we are less Japanese than the others. At Yamagata Europe, you can find 4 local Japanese employees and 7 employees with a Master degree in Japanese studies. Four of these, Heidi, Piet, Joren and myself, were educated at the same university, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and inspired by the same person: professor Willy Vande Walle. I graduated in 1985, Joren in 2012, Heidi and Piet are somewhere between these two. At Yamagata, we cover 30 years of Japanology.

From this academic year on, “our” Vande Walle sensei will continue his excellent work as emeritus. This was the motivation for a three hour long laudatio by his team and all his fans in the fantastic university library. All four Yamagata Leuven japanologists were present, this shows how much we owe to Vande Walle sensei.

The sensei started the faculty of Japanology in Leuven from scratch and formed it to what it is today. Although the sensei has a very strong academic track record, the evening focused on the non-academic side. During the playful laudatio, we learned what we knew already, things like the fact that the emeritus likes karaoke, sumo, songs from Okinawa…. but we also learned nice old Japanese words like nokoriga, (the lingering smell of a received kiss), and Dutch words like zondagsverdriet (the uneasy feeling a man has when his wife is taller than him), …

In his excellent speech the sensei compared the shift from professor to professor emeritus to the butterfly in the famous haiku:

落下枝に かへるとみれば 胡蝶哉

The falling flower

I saw drift back to the branch

Was a butterfly.

By Arakida Moritake (1473-1549)--Translated by Babette Deutsh

During the event, most speakers shared a special private experience, so let me do the same. A few years ago, I had an appointment for a lunch meeting on a chilly February day with the sensei to discuss a project. The sensei explained me that - as it happened to be Valentine’s day that day - he also invited his wife for lunch. But upon arrival at the restaurant, his wife looked rather surprised that she had to share her well planned romantic event with two men. The double booking was cleared out over drinks and the atmosphere and the food were nice. Finally after the long lunch we briefly discussed the project. And I guess, this nice lunch indeed also resulted in a late arrival at the auditorium where his students were still waiting for their beloved professor even after the so-called academic quarter had long passed.

Thank you sensei