“Not only do Japanese consistently rank among Belgium’s top 10 annual visitors, but Belgian businesses and R&D projects also hold a special attraction for firms in Japan.”

Belgium and Luxembourg

Holding Japan’s attention


Text by Andrew Howitt

The 1872 novel A Dog of Flanders, by English author Marie Louise de la Ramée, struck a chord with readers in Japan on its release, and is considered a children’s classic here. Set in Antwerp, Belgium, this tragic story of a boy and his dog was made into a popular anime series in 1975 and has also seen several Japanese film adaptations. As a result, Belgium — along with its chocolate and waffles — is part of Japan’s popular consciousness and holds a special attraction for many in this nation. Not only do Japanese consistently rank among Belgium’s top 10 annual visitors, but Belgian businesses and R&D projects also hold a special attraction for firms in Japan.

“The Belgian biotech and life sciences sector is currently booming, and is recognised internationally for its high standards,” says Belgian Ambassador to Japan Gunther Sleeuwagen. “Its work is highly relevant in societies with ageing populations.”

Japanese investments in Belgium in this industry are on the rise. For example, in May 2017, Japan’s Astellas Pharma acquired Belgium’s Ogeda, which specialises in advanced clinical programmes for treating blood vessel issues related to menopause. In October, Shibuya Corporation, a Japanese producer of regenerative medicine manufacturing systems, made an investment in Promethera Biosciences, a Belgian firm with expertise in cell-therapies for liver diseases. Then, at the start of this month, Japanese pharma giant Takeda announced that it would be acquiring the Belgian biotech company TiGenix, a developer of stem cell therapies for gastrointestinal disorders.

Luxembourg, Belgium’s neighbour to the south-east and long-term economic partner, has also succeeded in grabbing the attention of Japanese businesses in the life sciences sector.

JCR Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese drug developer and manufacturer, will be investing in Luxembourg as it has been chosen as the site of a manufacturing plant for active pharmaceutical ingredients. This new plant will allow JCR to further develop its therapeutic enzyme products and to expand outside Japan.

Interest in Luxembourg is not only coming from Japan’s life sciences industry. In recent months, three major Japanese insurance firms — Aioi Nissay Dowa, Tokio Marine and Sompo International — have announced that they will set up their EU headquarters in Luxembourg in response to Brexit. Meanwhile, Tokyo-based startup bitFlyer, which operates one of the world’s largest bitcoin exchanges, has said it will open a subsidiary in Luxembourg.

Japan has also taken note of the R&D being done in both Luxembourg and Belgium and is looking for opportunities to work together. One of many examples is a collaboration agreement focusing on research into Parkinson’s disease that was signed in October between Juntendo University in Tokyo and the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine at the University of Luxembourg.

“Various Belgian universities are aiming to commercialise innovative research via academic spin-off companies,” says Ambassador Sleeuwagen.

A case in point is imec. Known for its work on nanotechnology, the firm is a spin-off from the university KU Leuven, and today employs more than 3,500 researchers.

“Although almost 50% of Belgian exports to Japan comprise pharmaceutical and chemical products, we of course also have the highly symbolic export to Japan of chocolate, biscuits and beers,” states Ambassador Sleeuwagen. “The modification of Japan’s beer taxation law, and the widening of the definition of beer under the scope of this legislation, will contribute to an increase in beer imports to Japan — at a lower price.”

Undoubtedly, Belgium and Luxembourg will both continue to become even more attractive to Japanese consumers and businesses alike. 


A previous version of this story erroneously stated that JCR Pharmaceuticals had already invested in Luxembourg.

“The Belgian biotech and life sciences sector is currently booming”