Prof. Dr. Josef Kreiner

Japanologisches Seminar, Universität Bonn


Japan-Germany – Some Thoughts on Mutual Reflection

In Mozart's opera "Zauberflöte", Tamino appears on stage wearing a "javonschen" hunter's coat, i.e. a 'Japanese' coat. We have no hints whatsoever as to kind of image Mozart held of Japan, but we know that in the 18th century there existed a very clear shaped, and moreover a very positive image of Japan in Middle Europe. Knowledge about Japan was predominantly transmitted by the writings of Christian missionaries of the 16th century. After Japan had closed its doors to the catholic nations of the Iberian Peninsula, the Jesuit drama of the Habsburgian counter-reformation used Japanese topoi to praise the firm faith of Japanese martyrs.

In addition, numerous books written by Germans in the service of the VOC (Dutch East Indian Company) on Japan contributed to this positive impression. Engelbert Kämpfer's book "The History of Japan" (London 1726) depicted Japan as a model of a peaceful and prospering society under the rule of an enlightened Emperor = Shogun. This description deeply impressed European philosophy from Kant to Fichte as well as Voltaire. On the other hand, Japanese arts and crafts - especially lacquer-ware, ceramics and kimono - influenced European culture to a great extent. Only when European Enlightenment reached its peak in the last decades of the 18th century, the image of Japan suddenly changed to an entirely negative one of a group-orientated, non-individualistic and non-innovative society.

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