160 Years of Learning,
160 Years of Progress

Over the past 160 years, Germany and Japan have constantly encountered each other, intertwined closely, learned from each other and developed further as a result. We have shared knowledge and expertise, we have failed and we have tried to learn from mistakes. Now, in the 21st century, we are working together toward a better world - through peacekeeping, but also through close cooperation in politics, science and business, art and culture.

We are currently at the beginning of a new stage of intensified multilateral and security policy cooperation. On the occasion of the anniversary year, it is therefore worth taking a look at history with a focus on our military and security relations. This perspective goes far beyond the issues of peace and conflict. It is also a look back at the development of two nations, the consequences of war and destruction, and the emergence of cooperation within the international community.

In this exhibition, discover evidence of the first encounter between Prussia and Meiji-era Japan and learn more about our cooperation today in maintaining regional peace and security.

We welcome you to a journey of discovery through 160 years of German-Japanese encounters in culture, politics and business from a military-historical perspective - 160 years of deepening bonds and friendly ties.

Learning Through Expertise

Prince Hiroyasu Fushimi (center, below) went to Germany in 1892 for training at the Imperial Naval Academy in Kiel.
Photo: Marineschule Mürwik und Wehrgeschichtliches Ausbildungszentrum

Until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan enjoyed two centuries of relative peace and witnessed a flourishing of its art and culture - from haiku and literature through bunraku and kabuki to woodblock prints and ukiyo-e. In Europe, and especially in Germany, the cultural influence of Japan was already noticeable at that time and aroused great interest in that distant country.

The arrival of Commodore Perry in Japan in 1854 and the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States on the one hand opened Japan's borders to trade, but also destabilized the Bakufu government, Japan's military government at the time.

When Prussia was also contractually granted access to Japan in 1861, Prussia had a reputation as a state with military might and special capabilities in science and technology, but it was also renowned for its art and literature. This coincided with the Meiji government's goal of "enriching the country and strengthening the army" while resisting foreign influence. Prussia thus had knowledge and skills that the Meiji government could use for its development into a modern nation.

This was the initial situation at the beginning of our diplomatic relations.

Arduous Treaty Negotiations and a Murder

Photo: Sven Saaler

160 years ago, Japan and Germany - then the Kingdom of Prussia - established diplomatic relations.

Challenged by Austria-Hungary's expansion into Asia in particular, Prussia also sent a delegation to the Asian region in October 1859. At first, however, the auspices for the mission were not good: The original expedition leader, Emil von Richthofen, canceled his participation. About one half of the Prussian marines was needed to man the four planned ships. And finally, one of the four ships was still under construction.

In the end, the MV "Arcona", the "Thetis", acquired in Great Britain, the schooner "Frauenlob" and the transport ship "Elbe" set out for Asia. But the passage to Asia was also marked by difficulties. The "Arcona" dragged itself from one accident to the next, and the first crew members already deserted in England. Only one day before arriving in Japan, the ships of the expedition were caught in a typhoon, whereupon the "Frauenlob" sank with 42 men. The three remaining ships anchored in Edo Bay on September 4, 1860.

The road to the conclusion of the treaty was rocky. The Japanese side was represented by Nobumasa Ando, a high official of the Edo shogunate. The plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Prussia was Count Friedrich Albrecht zu Eulenburg. Japan did not want to conclude any more unequal treaties with foreign countries in view of the strong domestic political pressure. Even the threat of military force did not impress the Japanese negotiators, who were well aware of the relative weakness of the Prussian navy.

The tragic murder of the legation's translator, Henry Heusken, on January 15, 1861, by supporters of the shogunate ultimately led to a breakthrough in negotiations. Since Heusken, a Dutchman, had been permanently employed in the U.S. service and had merely been "loaned" to the Prussian legation, international diplomatic pressure on the Japanese side increased, forcing them to conclude a treaty as quickly as possible. The bilateral treaty of Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation was ultimately signed on January 24, 1861.

Arduous Treaty Negotiations and a Murder

Photo: Sven Saaler

The mission led by Count zu Eulenburg set out from Europe in October 1859. Four ships, the corvettes Alcona, frigate Thetis, the schooner Frauenlob, and the transport Elbe, were on the way

Photo: Sven Saaler

The journey from Europe to Japan by sailing ship took more than 10 months across the Cape of Good Hope. The artist on board depicted the journey with music and other distractions to relieve boredom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons /『東アジア1860-1862』東京大学史料編纂所



After studying law at the universities of Königsberg and Bonn, Count Friedrich zu Eulenburg entered diplomacy as consul general in Antwerp, where he signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Japan and Prussia in January 1861 and visited the Qing Empire in September of the same year to conclude a similar treaty. In recognition of his achievements in Asia, he served as Minister of the Interior under Imperial Chancellor Bismarck from 1862 to 1878.

Painting of Prussian sloop-of-war SMS Frauenlob by Lüder Arenhold (1891, WIkimedia Commons)

After leaving Europe, the Arcona was damaged by a storm in the North Sea and was repaired in England. The schooner Frauenlob was unfortunately caught in a typhoon off Izu and sank. Traveling by sailing ship before the Suez Canal was opened involved many dangers.

Watercolor Painting of SMS Arcona in Yokohama Bay by Karl von Eisendecher (University of Bonn)

After a long journey, the delegation anchored in Edo Bay in September. However, negotiations for the conclusion of the treaty were difficult and they had to wait for another year.In the background of the sailing ship, seen from near Yokohama harbor, Mount Fuji is covered with snow behind the mountains of Hakone.

Photo: Sven Saaler

The Treaty of Friendship and Trade between Japan and Prussia was drawn up in three languages: German, Dutch and Japanese. Three representatives of the Japanese side signed the treaty, while the Prussian side was signed by Count Eulenburg, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

Photo: Sven Saaler

The Prussian delegation stayed at the Azabu Zempukuji Temple, which also served as the U.S. legation at the time,and overcame many difficulties in the process of concluding the treaty, including the suicide of the Edo shogunate official in charge of the treaty and the murder of their interpreter, Henry Huesken, by opponents against foreigners.

Photo: Sven Saaler

The signing of the Treaty on friendship, shipping, and trade.

Photo: Sven Saaler

First Germans in Japan

Meiji Consitution promulgation in 1889 (Wikimedia Commons / Toyohara Chikanobu)

First Germans in Japan

The Edo shogunate had imposed a policy of national isolation from 1603 to 1868. All foreigners - with the exception of the Dutch - were forbidden to set foot on Japanese soil. During this period, the island of Dejima in Nagasaki Bay was the only window to Europe. Doctors of various origins lived and worked in this trading settlement of the Dutch East India Company. Among them was the German physician and naturalist Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold (1796-1866), who later achieved special fame in Japan as one of the "Three Scholars of Dejima."

Siebold came to Japan in August 1823, long before Japan and Prussia established diplomatic relations. In order to be able to explore Japan, Siebold pretended to be a Dutchman, despite his lack of language skills, and was thus allowed to land in Dejima. Shortly after his arrival, he opened the Narutaki Juku - a kind of school for natural history and medicine outside Dejima in Nagasaki, where he practiced and taught Western medicine. Takano Chouei, a later critic of the Tokugawa shogunate, and others who attended his lectures, were later among Japan's leading physicians and scholars.

Three other Germans were influential in the early phase of German-Japanese relations: Carl Friedrich Hermann Roessler (1834-1894), who came to Japan in October 1878, worked at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo as a legal advisor. He was instrumental in Japan's development into a modern constitutional state. The Meiji government decided to introduce constitutionalism on the Prussian model. Thanks to the trust the later prime minister Hirobumi Ito, later prime minister, who placed in him, Roessler was also involved in drafting the Japanese Imperial Constitution and the Commercial Code.

Clemens Wilhelm Jacob Meckel (1842-1906) was a Prussian officer who came to Japan in March 1885. In Germany, Meckel taught at the War Academy and had published various papers and books on tactics and troop command, as well as on training methods. The Japanese government entrusted him with the establishment of a general staff course in Japan. He began his training activities at the fledgling "Rikugun Daigakkō" - General Staff School. Upon his return to Germany, he continued to observe developments in the Japanese Army, and at the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, he sent an operational plan to one of his students, Gentaro Kodama, the Chief of Staff of the Manchurian Army. After his death in 1904, he was also mourned in Japan.

Heinrich Edmund Naumann (1854-1927), a geologist who became famous for the discovery of the "Naumann elephant," a prehistoric species of elephant whose bones he found in Japan, came to Meiji Japan as a so-called "OYATOI GAIKOKUJIN"- a hired foreigner. This was the term for foreigners whom the Meiji government specifically invited to Japan to help introduce Western sciences, techniques and institutions. Naumann laid the foundation for modern geology in Japan. The young geologist had come to Japan at the age of 21 and became a professor at Tokyo Kaisei School, later the University of Tokyo, in 1875. He toured the country and in the process produced the first complete geological map of Japan. He is also known for his discovery of the Fossa Magna, the great rift valley that divides the Japanese island chain.

First Germans in Japan

Painting of Philipp von Siebold by Kawahara Keiga (Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture)



Siebold, one of the so-called "Three Scholars of Dejima," introduced Western science to Japan during the Edo period. He came to Japan in March 1823 and became a doctor at the Dutch trading post on Dejima in Nagasaki. In 1824, he opened the Narutaki Juku outside Dejima, where he taught Western medicine (Dutch studies). Students at the school, including Chouei Takano, Keisaku Ninomiya, Genboku Ito, Sanei Koseki, and Keisuke Ito, later became doctors and scholars.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons



Born as a daughter of Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German physician, and Taki, a prostitute in Maruyama-cho. She was the first Japanese woman to learn the basics of medicine from Keisaku Ninomiya, a physician and a student of Siebold, and obstetrics from Soken Ishii. She opened an obstetrics clinic in Tsukiji, Tokyo, and attended the births of the imperial family.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Fossa Magna Museum



Born in Meissen, Saxony, Naumann came to Japan in 1875 as a teacher at Tokyo's Kaisei School. He taught metallurgy, geology and mining and laid the foundation for modern geology in Japan. As head of the first geological institute in Japan, which he co-founded, he was engaged in geological investigations of the Japanese archipelago. He discovered the Fossa Magna and left his name in the Naumann elephant, an ancient creature.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Geological Map of Kyushu-Kanto Region
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Catalogus Professorum Rostochiensium - Universität Rostock



Hermann Roessler came to Japan in 1878 and worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo as a legal advisor. In 1878, he came to Japan and worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo as a legal advisor. He responded to inquiries on public international law and domestic law and drafted related legislation. He served as an advisor to the Cabinet under the confidence of Hirobumi Ito, and was a key member of the preparation of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan and the draft of the Commercial Code. He introduced Prussian-style constitutionalism, which emphasizes the rule of law and the principles of constitutionalism, to Japan.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Imperial Japanese Constitution contains the Imperial Seal of the Meiji Emperor Mutsuhito.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Die Großen Deutschen im Bild (1937)



Born as a son of a Cologne brewing family, Major General Jakob Meckel graduated from the Prussian Military Academy in 1867. He participated in the Franco-Prussian War and was awarded the Iron Cross. He came to Japan in March 1885, at the request of an envoy from the Japanese government, which was promoting the modernization of the army. As a lecturer at the General Staff Officer School, he trained officers. As a result, the Japanese Imperial Army was under great influence of Prussian army.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / 『近世名士写真. 其1』(近世名士写真頒布会、1935)



Born as the eldest son of a mid-level samurai of the Choshu clan, Kodama Gentaro served as Governor-General of Taiwan from 1898 after playing an active role in the Sino-Japanese War. He also served as Deputy Chief of the Army General Staff and Chief of the General Staff of the Manchurian Army, and contributed to the victory in the Russo-Japanese War. His mentor, Jacob Meckel, held Kodama in high esteem, claiming before the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, "As long as General Kodama is around, we will not be defeated by Russia."

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Hamburgische Männer und Frauen am Anfang des XX. Jahrhunderts; Kamerabildnisse. / Taken, etched in copper, and printed by Rudolph Dührkoop.



Justus Brinkmann proposed the founding of the Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts, and served as its first director for more than 30 years after its completion. In 1889, he wrote a book, "Japanese Art and Craft," which helped to spread understanding of Japanese culture in Europe.

Photo : Wikimedia Commons / Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Photo : Wolfgang Wiggers

Photographs of Yokohama area believed to be taken by a German merchant in 1908

Photo : Wolfgang Wiggers
Photo : Wolfgang Wiggers
Photo : Wolfgang Wiggers
Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1982-139-22 / Hellmuth Struckmeyer-Wolff



German geopolitical scientist, born in Munich. He worked as a military observer in Japan and wrote his dissertation "The German Share in the Geographical Development of Japan and the Subjapanese Territory, and its Promotion through the Influence of War and Military Policy." He possessed a deep knowledge of the Asian culture.

Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
German postcard of Japanese soldiers in uniform

German-Japanese Encounters

Photo : Wolfgang Wiggers

German-Japanese Encounters

When Japan and Germany established diplomatic relations, interest in deepening exchanges also grew.

In 1862, one year after the conclusion of the bilateral treaty, a delegation from Japan set out for Europe. Among them was the young Yukichi Fukizawa, who later became known as a philosopher and founder of Keio University.

During their year-long trip, the delegation also visited Prussia and had an audience with King Wilhelm I in Berlin. There, they stayed at the Hôtel de Brandebourg, where many Berliners flocked to catch a glimpse of a kimono-clad "samurai." A local newspaper reported how Japanese delegation members poked their heads out of the windows to greet the onlookers in turn.

Opened in 1877, Hamburg's Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe houses arts and crafts from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, from ancient times to the present. The museum's first director, Justus Brinkmann (1843-1915), was a leading figure in introducing Japanese arts and crafts to Europe. Although he never traveled to Japan, Brinkmann collected a large amount of Japanese art. In 1889, he wrote the German standard work “Japanese Arts and Crafts”, in which he discussed in detail Japanese paintings, gardens, architecture, handicrafts, and ukiyoe prints (illustrated books and woodblock prints) by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai andothers. Brinkmann's work is still a standard literature for anyone interested in Japanese art.

From Bückeburg to the Far East - A German Non-Commissioned Officer in Japan

Photo: 和歌山市立博物館

From Bückeburg to the Far East - A German Non-Commissioned Officer in Japan

In 1869, Sergeant Karl Köppen, a soldier from the Hunter Battalion of the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe, was invited to Japan. He had been commissioned by the trading company Lehmann, Hartmann & Co, which sold the Dreyse firing pin rifle to the Principality of Wakayama. Köppen's official assignment was to train the local military to manufacture cartridges and powder for the Dreyse firing pin rifle. Unofficially, he also began training soldiers according to the Prussian system.

After taking up his work, Köppen encountered various problems. First and foremost, the way Japanese warriors fought differed considerably from what he knew from Europe's battlefields and was hardly compatible with the new weapons he had brought to Japan. In addition, the Japanese fighters' equipment was not suitable for modern combat. Consequently, with the help of his Japanese confidants, he began to reorganize the entire military system in Wakayama.

One of the most important training programs that Köppen provided for the warriors of the principality was the drill. In addition, he established a war school where, among other things, tactics were taught. In training, he placed special emphasis on “character education” in terms of punctuality, cleanliness and neatness of equipment, and he introduced comprehensive basic training (first aid, maintenance of weapons, etc.) for all soldiers. At the same time, he abolished cruel punishments and worked with positive reinforcement instead. Compulsory military service in the principality of Wakayama, the first ever in Japan, can also be traced back to Köppen. Although the resulting equality of the revered samurai with mere artisans and peasants caused a stir elsewhere, it was broadly accepted in the principality.

As new textiles were needed for the new soldiers' uniforms, flannel was introduced to Wakayama. Craftsmen from Köppen's home village, invited from Germany, also trained the Japanese to manufacture sturdy leather boots.

Thanks to his diaries, in which he dealt with both his work and his daily life, numerous aspects of Karl Köppen's life are known. His service in Wakayama ended after only two years, when the local army was incorporated into an all-Japanese army and his services were consequently no longer needed. As a result, little of Köppen's military activities survived. His merit, however, was to have turned the principality's army, at least briefly, into the most modern of Japan. The craftsmanship he brought to Japan can still be found in Wakayama today.

From Bückeburg to the Far East - A German Non-Commissioned Officer in Japan

Photo: 和歌山市立博物館



Karl Köppen came to Japan at the request of the Kishu clan as a military advisor and trained around 6,000 clan soldiers between 1869 and 1871. He instructed them in officer training, foot soldier and cavalry training, and work discipline, among other things. He also practiced making leather shoes and cotton flannel instead of Japanese-style clothing, which was less durable in comparison. He was a pioneer in introducing Western culture to Japan, building a ranch and making possible the procurement of meat and milk.

Photo: 和歌山市立博物館

Karl Köppen surrounded by his Japanese friends.

Photo: 和歌山県立博物館

Typical Prussian battle formation on the beach of Wakayama. With Sergeant Karl Köppen, new tactics and strategies came to Japan.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Swedish Army Museum (above)
Wikimedia Commons / Amenhtp (below)

The ability to make special ammunition was also necessary to equip the Dreyse firing needle rifle, which was the most advanced weapon at the time. Just as Karl Köppen taught ammunition making, western crafts such as shoe and leather making were also brought in through military training.


Flannel is still produced in Wakayama. Pictured is a loom that is still in operation since the end of World War II.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


1849 – 1913

After graduating from the University of Leipzig Medical School, Erwin von Bälz came to Japan in 1876 as a teacher at the Tokyo Medical School (now the University of Tokyo Medical School). He stayed in Japan for 29 years. While contributing to the development of the medical world in Japan, he also conducted research on the Sakhalin Ainu people in Hokkaido. He is also known as the person who fell in love with Kusatsu hot spring and introduced it to the world.

Wikimedia Commons



Franz Balzer came to Japan with his wife and two daughters in 1898 at the invitation of the Japanese government. As a railroad engineer specializing mainly in architecture, he contributed to the development of the railroad network in Japan. The elevated railroad around Tokyo Station was designed by Balzer, and despite the firebombings of the war, was sucessfully completed in 1972.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons



His real name was Rintaro Mori. He studied in Germany for four years as an army doctor. After returning to Japan, he published a translation of his poem "Omo Kage", a novel "Maihime", and a translation of "Sokkyo Shijin." He also translated three of Goethe's works, including Faust, as well as other foreign literature.

"Kimigayo" and the German Composer

Photo: OAG - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens

Today, "Kimigayo" is widely known as Japan's national anthem. What is less well known is that in the early Meiji period, various arrangements of this song were available for selection for the official anthem, and that the first choice at the time was the version by the German Franz Eckert, a military bandmaster who had been invited to Japan by the Navy Ministry in 1879. After only a year in Japan, he was commissioned to arrange the Japanese national anthem.

Since records from the early Meiji period are limited, there are various theories about Eckert's contribution and the process of selecting the official "Kimigayo" arrangement. What is proven, however, is that Franz Eckert, within a very short period of time, acquired extensive knowledge of the Japanese language, traditional music, and poetry read aloud in the imperial court as the chant "Wakahikō". Eckert's "Kimigayo" follows the tradition of sung poems - a factor that probably contributed to the selection of Eckert's arrangement

Today, it is believed that Eckert was probably also involved in the selection and arrangement of songs for school teaching in Japan. His work is characterized in particular by the fact that he adapted European songs for traditional Japanese instruments. His ability to play a variety of instruments and to find practical solutions to problems, proved to be beneficiary.

Franz Eckert's talent for quickly immersing himself in foreign cultures earned him another position in Korea after his many years of service in Japan. Franz Eckert died in Seoul on August 6, 1916, and was buried in the Foreigners' Cemetery there.

"Kimigayo" and the German Composer

Photo: Sven Saaler

Cross-section of a German warship

Japan's drive to modernize along the lines of the Western powers required rapid development in science and military technology. Prints from this period show the most advanced shipbuilding technology used in German warships at that time.

Photo: OAG - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens



After studying music in Dresden and other places, he became the captain of the naval band in Wilhelmshafen. In 1879, he came to Japan as a music teacher, and in 1880, he made an arrangement of "Kimigayo." While many Western ideas were raised, Eckert was interested in waka-hiko, a traditional Japanese poem performance from the Heian period. The introduction imitated the early Japanese music while the melody was brought out by adding rich Western harmonies .

Photo: OAG - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens & Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Curt Netto

Eckert's report on the arrangement of the Japanese national anthem

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Curt Netto

Cover page of "Kimigayo," the Japanese national anthem

Photo: Wikimedia Commons



Known as an expressionist architect, Bruno Taut arrived in Japan in 1933 to escape the persecution by the Nazis. While living in Kyoto, Sendai, Takasaki, and other cities, he wrote many critiques during his three and a half year stay, influencing future generations of architects and designers. While he praised Katsura Rikyu and Ise Jingu, he severely criticized the excessive decoration of Nikko Toshogu.

Photo: Atami City

The Atami Hyuga Villa built in 1936 in Atami as a vacation home.

Photo: Atami City
Photo: Atami City

...and then they stood on different sides

Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr

...and then they stood on different sides

Entrance to the Royal Naval Cemetery in Malta, which is dedicated to former Japanese soldiers who died in the Mediterranean during World War I. (Photo: The Japan Malta Friendship Association)

Photo: 日本マルタ友好協会
Monument at the Royal Naval Cemetery in Malta
At the beginning of the 20th century, Japan and Great Britain were allies. The so-called Anglo-Japanese Alliance was formed in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, when Russia, the German Empire and France jointly pressured Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula to China, which the Empire had acquired following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05. As Great Britain refused to participate in this intervention, they became of greater interest to Japan as an ally.

The Japanese Empire was particularly surprised by the German Empire's position against Japan, as bilateral relations were perceived as friendly. In the course of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05, Japan expanded its territorial claims with the southern half of Sakhalin and parts of China. This put Japan in direct competition with the German Empire in mainland China. Therefore, the German Empire conjured up the image of the "Yellow Peril," namely that East Asian peoples posed a threat to the dominance of the West.

During this period, tensions between European powers also intensified. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, led to a rift between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia, which were protected by Russia. The German Emperor Wilhelm II and his Imperial Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, decided to give unrestricted support to Austria-Hungary. With the first declaration of war on July 28, 1914, the confrontation quickly escalated into a world war, activating the respective alliance systems. Thus, the German Empire and the Japanese Empire also faced each other as opponents in the First World War.

On November 7, 1914, the vastly superior Allied forces of Japan and Great Britain captured the forts of Qingdao and Jiaozhou Bay, the main ports of the German East Asia Squadron. In the process, some 4,500 Germans were taken prisoners of war and transported to Japan.

German soldiers in Japanese captivity, 1914-1920

Photo: 広島市市民局文化スポーツ部文化振興課

German soldiers in Japanese captivity, 1914-1920

The Japanese Empire was insufficiently prepared for such a quick surrender of Qingdao and the large number of prisoners of war. In an improvised manner, German soldiers were transported from China to Japan on cargo ships and under extremely adverse conditions. Here, they were housed provisionally at first, and later in one of roughly a dozen POW camps.

The best known was the Bandō Camp (today's Naruto on Shikoku), which was set up in April 1917 and became a veritable "model camp" due to its exemplary conditions. Due to its size alone - with over 950 inmates - but especially because of the very good camp conditions, the history of Bandō has had a lasting impact on the overall narrative of German soldiers in Japanese captivity. Thanks to the liberal attitude of the camp commander, Colonel Matsue Tomohisa, the German POWs in Bandō were treated very humanely. German POWs also enjoyed many freedoms and good treatment at other camp locations.

In general, Japanese camps were relatively spacious, and POWs were able to engage in sports activities, allowed to plant vegetables, keep (farm) animals, and even had access to alcoholic beverages. Over time, soldiers were allowed to leave the camps for walks and excursions in the immediate area under Japanese supervision. In addition, orchestras, choirs or theater groups were organized in the camps alongside sports clubs. Printed matter, such as camp newspapers, was produced in camp printing houses. The camp inmates taught each other according to their professional background and could take courses in East Asian culture and language.

In addition, there was sometimes a lively exchange with the local civilian population - for example, German soldiers worked in Japanese stores to earn extra money and at the same time taught the Japanese how to make German products, such as German baked goods, sausages or the art of brewing. To this day, for example, the "Narashino Sausage," a sausage made in the German style, has survived as a regional delicacy in Narashino.

The camp gates were opened to locals during the final stages of the war: they visited exhibitions designed by the detainees, where German products, art and crafts were demonstrated, and played soccer with the inmates. Despite the overarching wartime context, genuine German-Japanese friendships thus developed at some camp sites.

Nevertheless, German soldiers were prisoners of war and wanted to leave the camps as soon as possible. Field mail to the homeland was subject to censorship. There were internal camp conflicts, escape attempts and punitive measures, strong psychological stress due to captivity and also victims of the Spanish flu.

However, the end of the war in November 1918 did not immediately mean the end of captivity. It was not until the spring of 1920 that the majority of German POWs were repatriated; however, a few hundred soldiers preferred to remain in Asia (China, Japan, Dutch India). Today, the remains of the Bandō Camp still exist. The German House in Naruto, opened in 1972, has preserved the history of German POWs there in an exemplary manner.

German soldiers in Japanese captivity, 1914-1920

Photo: Deutsche Schule Tokyo Yokohama

The German School Tokyo Yokohama

After the conclusion of the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Japan and Germany, Germans began to live in Yokohama and Tokyo. On September 20, 1904, the first German school in Japan was established in Yokohama.

Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr

World War I in China

Qingdao, having been occupied by Germany since 1891, had German-style architecture as well as water and sewage systems. Germany, which was lagging behind other European powers, had taken measures to protected its colony from Japanese expansion through amoung other measures, the Three Power Intervention. This cartoon depicts the distrust towards Japan at this time. The Japanese archipelago is illustrated as seen from the Chinese mainland and shows the Japanese soldier reaching its hands towards the geopolitically significant Qingdao.

Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr

The Battle of Tsingtao

In 1914, Japan declared war on Germany in World War I. From October 31 to November 7, the allied Japanese and British forces captured Qingdao, the East Asian stronghold of the German Empire. The two photographs depict the Siege of Qingdao from the perspectives of the Japanese and German armies.

Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
A wounded soldier being cared for near the battlefield.
Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
Impressions of the battle scene.
Photo: Sammlung Hans Kolster / Digitales Tsingtauarchiv / Universität Heidelberg

Postcard from the Exhibition of Pictorial Art and Manual Skills held in Bando Prisoner of War Camp in March 8-18, 1918.

Photo: 広島市市民局文化スポーツ部文化振興課

Some of the POWs were artists and produced excellent woodcuts and paintings. Through the exhibtions, they deepened the cultural exchange with the local population.

Photo: 広島市市民局文化スポーツ部文化振興課

Many of the POWs who volunteered their service were originally civilians who practiced other professions. Hence, the craftsmen, artists, and musicians all put their creative skills to use. It was at Bando Camp that Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 was performed for the first time in Japan.

Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr
Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr

German soldiers in Japanese captivity, 1914-1920

Map of Bando POW camp drawn by Johan Jakoby in 1919(Wikimedia Commons / Bayerische Staatsbibliothek)

Bando Prisoner of War Camp

Of the 4,715 German soldiers captured by the Japanese in Qingdao, around 1,000 prisoners were held at Bando Prisoner of War Camp from 1917 to 1920. The camp commander, Colonel Toyotoshi Matsue, treated the POWs fairly and humanely, and the German POWs and the Japanese residents had a close relationship. In addition to the eight barracks for soldiers, the camp also had sports facilities, a farm, a liquor factory, and a pantry. The site of the camp was designated as a national historic site in 2018 and is now maintained as German Village Park.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / 663highland

The Ode to Joy

The story of the Bando camp was made into the movie "The Ode to Joy" in 2006. The film features famous actors from the Japanese and German film industries, including Ken Matsudaira and Bruno Ganz.

Learning Through Loss

Photo: Georgie Pauwels/CC BY 2.0

After their opposition in World War I, Germany and Japan approached each other again quite quickly. There was renewed interest in learning from each other. Scientists from a wide variety of fields met for mutual exchange. Einstein's visit to Japan in 1922 is symbolic of this period. In the field of military technology, Japan began to take an interest in German submarine technology.

At the same time, this period also represents the beginnings of a particularly dark chapter in Germany's history, namely the rise of National Socialism. Under Adolf Hitler, the Nazis succeeded in exploiting popular emotions over the defeat in World War I and the high reparations demanded by the victorious powers. Nazi propaganda stirred up hatred, conjured up enmities and built up inhuman images in the minds of the population.

With the German invasion of Poland on September 01, 1939, World War II began in Europe - a time of unspeakable violence and atrocities. Japan and Germany were allies in World War II and each suffered extensive defeats. The memory of this time, especially of the German crime of the Holocaust, must be preserved - so as never to forget and to draw lessons from the past for the future.

The Japanese-German Alliance

Photo: picture alliance / akg-images

The Japanese-German Alliance

The Tripartite Pact between the German Reich, the Japanese Empire and Italy was concluded on September 27, 1940, and was propagandistically elevated to global strategic importance by the contracting parties as the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis. In fact, it was a military extension of the agreements made in the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936, a political treaty in which the German Empire and Japan had agreed to jointly combat the Communist International by exchanging information. More significant, however, were secret supplementary agreements pledging benevolent neutrality in the event of an unprovoked attack by the Soviet Union.

Both Tokyo and Berlin broke their foreign policy isolation with this pact after both had left the League of Nations in 1933. In both countries, however, this rapprochement was highly controversial and ultimately the result of developments since the peace negotiations following the First World War.

Although Japan, as an emerging regional power in East Asia, had participated in the peace negotiations on the side of the victors, it felt marginalized for racist reasons. As a result, nationalist-militarist circles in Tokyo were able to gain increasing influence. As a result of its aggressive expansionist policy in its neighborhood, Japan gradually found itself on a course of confrontation with the United States and the European colonial powers in East Asia. In the course of the 1930s, Tokyo perceived the Soviet Union as the greatest threat. This - in addition to its ideological proximity to National Socialism - was ultimately the decisive reason for moving closer to Berlin. A significant catalyst for this development was the world economic crisis from the end of the 1920s and the industrialized nations' rampant protective tariff policies in its wake.

For Germany, on the other side, the Tripartite Act was an alliance of little substance, characterized by mistrust, racism and the pursuit of self-interest. Thus, the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis was fragile from the very beginning.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"The Daughter of the Samurai" is a German-Japanese feature film starring Setsuko Hara and Ruth Eweler.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"The Daughter of the Samurai" is a Japanese-German co-production co-directed by German mountain filmmaker Arnold Funk and Japanese filmmaker Itami Mansaku. In addition to Setsuko Hara, internatinal actor Sessue Hayakawa, cinematographer Eiji Tsuburaya, and composer Kosaku Yamada also collaborated.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Imperial War Museum

The Japanese Ambassador to Germany Kintomo Mushakoji and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nazi Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop signed the Anti-Comintern Pact on November 25, 1936.

Photo: Osaka Mainichi Shimbun (November 25, 1937) Provided by Sven Saaler

An article from the Osaka Mainichi Shimbun on the first anniversary of the signing of the Japan-Germany Anti-Comintern Pact

In the same month, Italy joined as an original signatory, and in 1939, Hungary, Manchukuo, and Spain joined, making it a six-nation agreement. However, it was rendered null and void by the conclusion of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (August 1939) and the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact (April 1941).

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Deutschen Reichsgesetzblatt 1937, Teil 2

Agreement against the Communist International published in the Imperial Law Gazette of Germany

Photo: Sven Saaler

Media Coverage During the War

The Japanese and German newspapers and other media used cartoons and illustrations to convey the significance of the alliance and the positive outlook for the war.

Photo: Sven Saaler

Caricature - Germany, Italy and Japan push England back into the sea.

Photo: Sven Saaler
Photo: Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr

Japanese delegation at a memorial

An Explosion in the Port of Yokohama

Photo: 横浜税関

During World War II, when Japan and Germany were allies, the navies of both countries conducted joint operations. For example, on August 6, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy's submarine I-30 was dispatched across the Indian Ocean to Brittany and returned to Japan carrying blueprints of German armaments.

For its part, the German Navy also sent submarines and 16 blockade runners toward Asia. These sank Allied transporters and other ships operating off the Japanese-occupied ports of Penang and Singapore. The German Kriegsmarine also continued into the Pacific Ocean, using Yokohama as a logistics port.

While several German ships were berthed in Yokohama, a disaster occurred: on November 30, 1942, at about 1:40 p.m., the tross ship Uckermark exploded. The Uckermark had been transporting aviation fuel from Indonesia to Yokohama. There are various explanations for the cause of the explosion, the most likely being that it was triggered by a worker who had been smoking while cleaning the oil tankers.

The blast wave from the explosion was so great that a total of four ships were lost: the Uckermark, the auxiliary cruiser Thor anchored nearby, the Australian passenger ship Nankin previously captured by the Thor, and the merchant ship Daisan Unkai Maru, used for military purposes.

The explosion, which could be heard for miles, also severely damaged port facilities and nearby buildings. The blast wave and flying debris caused window panes to shatter. A total of 102 people were killed, including 61 German naval officers and soldiers, 36 Chinese workers, and 5 Japanese workers and residents.

Many residents and workers in the area were seriously injured. Yokohama residents showed great solidarity: they banded together, organized shelters, and helped where they could.

The foreign victims were buried in the Yokohama Cemetery for Foreigners. Every year in November, they are commemorated. Some of the surviving German soldiers were unable to return to Germany due to the deteriorating war situation and relocated to an inn in Ashinoyu Onsen, Hakone, where they stayed until the end of the war.

An Explosion in the Port of Yokohama

Photo: 神奈川新聞(1942/12/01)

Because the accident involved a German warship, who was then an ally, the explosion was classified and not widely reported. For more than 40 years, a graveside service was held at the Negishi Foreign Cemetery to mourn the German crew members who lost their lives.

Photo: 横浜税関

A newspaper article reporting on the explosion of the German ship at Yokohama Port.

Photo:『横浜港ドイツ軍艦燃ゆ 惨劇から友情へ 50年目の真実』木馬書館 (1995)

Photo: Bundeswehr / A. Kurzawski

An aircraft turbine based on the blueprints brought to Japan from Germany via Singapore during World War II.

Photo: Bundeswehr / A. Kurzawski

The turbine is exhibited in IHI Corp.'s in-house museum.

Against Oblivion

Photo: picture alliance / Jemma Crew

The Second World War, unleashed by the German Nazi regime, reduced large parts of Europe to rubble by 1945 and brought immeasurable violence and suffering to humanity. Cruel acts of war and numerous war crimes were committed; weapons of unprecedented destructive power were used. At the end of World War II, some 80 million people were dead and another 30 million were refugees.

This record of horror raised questions: How to comprehend what cannot be comprehended? How to go on after unimaginable crimes committed by one's own country? How to deal with this past? For a long time, the war generation in Germany avoided these questions, which were important for coming to terms with what had happened. It was not until the following generation in West Germany, especially the "68 Movement," that Germans demanded answers from their parents and grandparents, thus laying the foundation for a (self-)critical culture of remembrance.

"Never forget!" is the central concern - keeping alive the memory of the atrocities committed during World War II, especially the Holocaust against the Jews, but also the persecution and murder of Sinti and Roma, resistance fighters, people with disabilities, homosexuals and many other people who had been excluded from the "Volksgemeinschaft" and persecuted by the Nazi regime.

Today, remembrance takes place in many different ways. However, it is not only about remembrance, but also about coming to terms with the past and reconciliation. The best-known memorial is the Auschwitz concentration camp, which has been preserved as it was on the day of liberation by Soviet soldiers. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the so-called Holocaust Memorial, is located in Berlin in the immediate vicinity of the German Bundestag in the Reichstag building. It is thus always visible to major politicians. In addition, there are smaller, often subtle memorials in towns and villages throughout Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Sometimes it is a bronze jacket left lying around or a stone in a wall.

The artist Gunter Demnig has created a special kind of memorial. He lays so-called "Stolpersteine" (stumbling stones) not only in Germany, but throughout Europe and now beyond, in places where people lived and worked who were expelled, deported and killed during the "Third Reich." In 2019, the 75,000th stone was laid.

Against Oblivion

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2008-0415-508 / Arthur Grimm

Destroyed city blocks in Warsaw after a German bombing (September 1939)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / The National Archives and Records Administration

"Children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, waiting outside the wreckage of what was their home." (September 1940)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / The Daily Mail

View of London from the roof of St Paul's Cathedral after a German bombing

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 141-2020 / o.Ang.

Minsk in 1941 after the German bombing. 85% of the city was completely destroyed.

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-093-03 / Niermann

An industrial plant in Stalingrad destroyed by Stukas (1942)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Library of Congress

Waves of Consolidated B-24 liberators of the 15th AAF fly over the target area, the Concordia Vega Oil refinery in Ploieşti, Romania with little regard for the firing flak following the bombing. (May 31, 1944)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / SLUB / Deutsche Fotothek / Rössing, Roger & Rössing, Renate


3.6 million homes in 62 German cities were destroyed in the bombing, and nearly half of the infrastructure, including schools, was lost. The rebuilding of the bombed cities was largely left in the hands of women.

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 04413 / Stanislaw Mucha

The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp photographed shortly after its liberation in 1945

Photo: picture alliance / Jemma Crew

The infamous slogan "Work sets you free" is displayed.

Photo: picture alliance / dpa

West Germany Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling in silent prayer in front of the Ghetto Heroes Monument in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. (December 7, 1970)

Photo: picture alliance / imageBROKER / Joko

Stumbling Stones - Memorial stones to remember the Holocaust victims

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / K. Weisser

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

Photo: Ole Neitzel

Graffiti left by former Soviet soldiers in the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany

Photo: picture alliance / Winfried Rothermel

A monument to remember the deportation of Freiburg Jews to the Gül camp on October 22, 1940. Not far from the place where the trains were prepared for the deportation, there is a bronze sculpture of a coat that looks like it was left lying and abandoned.

Learning Through Collaboration

Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Carsten Rehder

The horror and injustice of World War II moved humanity to action. To resolutely confront the dangers of nationalism and militarism and to "save mankind from the scourge of war," the United Nations was founded in 1945 with 51 member nations. While the previous League of Nations had failed because of individual national interests, the United Nations was to succeed through increased joint work - today it has 193 member nations.

One of the greatest achievements at that time was the agreement on universal and inalienable human rights: all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. On December 10, 1948, these were enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rights such as the right to life and to live in freedom and security, the right to protection from torture and violence, and the right to equality before the law found their way into it.

With their re-entry into the international community, Japan and the then divided Germany also looked to the future. The Federal Republic of Germany and Japan aimed at economic and social success as maturing democracies and at peaceful relations with their neighbors. In the process, West Germany and Japan again became important partners with common interests, a dense network of friendly contacts, and flourishing exchanges in all fields, especially culture. Military cooperation did not begin until the end of the Cold War.

It was not until after German reunification that bilateral security policy cooperation also began, with a clear focus on maintaining world peace, for example in the context of peacekeeping operations.

However, the joint commitment goes far beyond the military-security policy sphere. Feel invited to discover examples from the broad field of cultural exchange in art, music and sports on the following displays.

New Tasks and New Missions

Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Jens Büttner

New Tasks and New Missions

It was not until after 1989, with the end of the Cold War, that Japan and Germany began to cooperate more closely again, including militarily. One of the earliest joint activities emerged immediately after the Second Gulf War in the Persian Gulf. As early as April 1990, before the start of the Second Gulf War, Germany had sent its first units, including minesweepers, to the Mediterranean Sea as part of Operation Southern Flank. A direct deployment of troops in the Gulf War was not possible at that time because the interpretation of the Basic Law, i.e., the German constitution, did not provide for the deployment of armed forces outside NATO territory. Nevertheless, as one of the leading economies, Germany was also under international pressure to become more involved.

An intense social and political debate ensued in Germany about the conditions for German Army (Bundeswehr) deployments outside NATO territory, which was ultimately taken all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court. One of the key questions was what purpose the Bundeswehr should have after the end of the Cold War.

In March 1991, Germany sent minesweepers to the Persian Gulf at the request of the United States. As part of a humanitarian aid effort, they cleared Iraqi sea minefields to make navigation safe again. The deployment of German naval units to the Persian Gulf acted as a signal to Japan to also make a contribution corresponding to its economic performance. Since its entry into force after the end of the war, the Japanese constitution had been interpreted in a pacifist manner - similar to the German Basic Law. In Japan, the discussion about permissible operations of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces outside their own territory was now also initiated. Finally, the Japanese government also decided to send minesweepers to the Persian Gulf. The basis for their deployment became Article 99 of the Self-Defense Forces Act.

After demining began, Japanese and German demining units assumed responsibility for adjacent areas, and various opportunities for cooperation arose. The German Navy, which had deployed three helicopters in the Persian Gulf, was refueled by the Japanese minesweeper Hayase or the supply ship Tokiwa. The German Navy, in turn, supported the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces by transporting people and goods.

An anecdote on the sidelines of the operation shows how well cooperation between the two nations worked during the Persian Gulf operation: on June 25, 1991, a medical emergency occurred on the German Navy's minesweeper Göttingen. The patient was treated and stabilized on the Japanese minesweeper "Hayase" late at night on the high seas. The next day, a U.S. military helicopter transported the patient to a hospital in Saudi Arabia. Through combined efforts, his life was saved.

New Tasks and New Missions

Photo: 『湾岸戦争後の掃海活動における海軍間協働 日独協力(「湾岸の夜明け作戦」と“Operation Südflanke”)を例として』(海上自衛隊幹部学校SSGコラム189 2021/03/18)/ Taken by the German Navy

A German Navy minesweeper engaged in the operation "Southern Flanke"

Photo: picture alliance / ZUMAPRESS.com / Stanislav Kogiku

Students from the National Defense Academy perform a military parade in honor of the academy's traditional commencement ceremony in Yokosuka.

Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Jens Büttner

The Japanese destroyer 'Asagiri' arrives in Rockstock, Germany 12 August 2016

Photo: Japan Self-Defense Forces

International students at the German Armed Forces Command and Staff College

Cooperation in the 21st century

Photo: Japan Self-Defense Forces

Cooperation in the 21st century

Free sea routes and the free movement of trade and goods are important assets for Japan as well as for Germany. At the beginning of the 21st century, the main artery for maritime traffic between Asia and Europe, the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia, was threatened by an increase in piracy.

Japan and Germany responded to this threat by sending ships and aircraft. Since the Anti-Piracy Law was passed in July 2009, Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Forces have been allowed to escort not only Japanese-flagged ships or ships under Japanese ownership through the maritime area, but also ships of other nations. In this way, we help and support each other.

Music also connects Japanese and German soldiers. In 2018, a joint performance of the Central Band of the Ground Self-Defense Forces and the German Armed Forces Staff Music Corps was held in Berlin. This marked the 100th anniversary of the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by a military band of German POWs at the Bando POW Camp in Tokushima Prefecture on June 1, 1918. Since then, guest performances have been held in both countries, deepening exchanges between talented musicians.

In September 2020, the German government published a basic strategy paper, the "Guidelines on the Indo-Pacific." This reaffirmed Germany's interest in the Indo-Pacific region and, within this framework, in deepening regional cooperation with value partner Japan.

On November 16, 2020, Chief of the Japanese Naval Staff Yamamura and Inspector of the German Navy Krause agreed to further strengthen cooperation between the Maritime Self-Defense Forces and the German Navy in the Indo-Pacific region. For example, the deployment of a German frigate to Asia is planned for 2021/22. The ship will participate in UN sanctions monitoring against North Korea and thus contribute to maintaining the rule-based international order.

Cooperation in the 21st century

© Bundeswehr / Rott

UN observers in Sudan issuing orders to patrols.

© Bundeswehr / Rott

The German Armed Forces in Sudan (2006)

© Bundeswehr / Sebastian Wilke
Caption from Bundeswehr

Activity on the German Navy's minesweeper Ensdorf (HL-Boot)

© Bundeswehr / Sebastian Wilke
Caption from Bundeswehr

The UNIFIL mission (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) is being conducted off the coast of Lebanon, where they ensure the safe navigation of ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, prevent arms smuggling, and are involved in the training of Lebanese naval forces.

Photo: Japan Self-Defense Forces

The Central Band of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and the Staff Band of the Bundeswehr gave a joint performance in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin as part of the "DAIKU 2018" project organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Photo: Japan Self-Defense Forces

The Staff Band of the Bundeswehr at the Japan Self-Defense Forces Music Festival in 2019.

© Bundeswehr / Ingo Tesche

A Eurofighter fighter aircraft takes off during an exercise.

Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Sealynx naval helicopter

Photo: Japan Self-Defense Forces

Self-defense forces deployed for rescue and assistance during natural disasters.

© Bundeswehr / Tom Twardy

The German Armed Forces on a support mission during the severe flood disaster in the Ahr Valley in 2021

Photo: Japan Self-Defense Forces

Defense Minister Kishi attends 2+2 talks between Japan and Germany.

Exchange in All Areas

© StarCrest Media GmbH

Exchange in All Areas

In the second half of the 20th century, bilateral relations developed into a close network between our societies, across all fields - politics, economics, science and culture.

After the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949 and the San Francisco Peace Treaty entered into force in 1952, Japan and Germany officially resumed diplomatic relations. Japan and West Germany, experienced an economic upswing from the beginning of the second half of the 1950s - the years of the "economic miracle." In addition, a lively cultural exchange once again developed between the two countries. Japan and the German Democratic Republic established diplomatic relations in 1973. Here, too, there was a lively economic and cultural exchange.

Exchanges between Japan and Germany were also maintained at the individual level. The following are some examples from the cultural sphere: The violinist Yasunaga Toru became first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1983. With Daishin Kashimoto, a Japanese citizen is still First Concertmaster today. The conductor Yutaka Sado was guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 2011, which made several guest appearances in Japan. In 1979, Leipzig-based conductor Kurt Masur received the title of Honorary Conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra. But more modern music genres such as techno and house also have a strong fan base in both countries, and Japanese artists such as Denki Groove have performed at the Love Parade and other major festivals in Germany.

The literature of Japan and Germany enjoys great popularity among readers in both countries. Yoko Tawada , a graduate of the University of Hamburg, has published novels and poems in German and Japanese and has won several literary awards in Germany and Japan. Yoshitomo Nara, one of Japan's leading contemporary artists, graduated from the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1993. From then until 2000, he produced works from his studio near Cologne.

Soccer is a passion of both countries; and athletes, coaches and trainers rotate between Japan and Germany every season. Dettmar Cramer, known as the "father of Japanese soccer," coached players such as Kunishige Kamamoto from 1960 and laid the foundation for the Olympic bronze medal. When the J.League started in 1991, world champions like Pierre Littbarski and Guido Buchwald were among the core players. Nine German pros have since played in Japan, including another world champion, Lukas Podolski. In 1977, Yasuhiko Okudera joined 1. FC Köln in the Bundesliga and became the first Japanese player in one of the highest divisions in Europe. Yasuhiko Okudera, Makoto Hasebe and Shinji Kagawa have all won league titles as key players. In 2011, Japan won the Women's World Cup for the first time in Germany.

Exchange in All Areas

© StarCrest Media GmbH


”Sushi in Suhl” is a movie based on the story of East Germany's only Japanese restaurant. It was released in 2021 and became a hit in Germany.

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1984-1003-010 / Helmut Schaar
© Jochen Viehoff


Pina Bausch was a contemporary dancer with a distinct style influenced by German Expressionism. She often performed in Japan and was close friends with butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno. She won the Kyoto Prize in 2007.

© Olga Film


Doris Dörrie, a filmmaker who first came to Japan in 1985, has since spent time in the country, making films such as "MON-ZEN," "The Fisherman and His Wife," "Cherry Blossoms," and "Greetings from Fukushima."

© Jun Yoshimura


Sado began his conducting career while studying flute at Kyoto City University of Arts. In May 2011, he was invited by the Berlin Philharmonic as a guest conductor to conduct their concerts.

© Fumiaki Fujimoto


Kashimoto has been a violinist since the age of 11 in Lübeck, Germany, where he attended the German Gymnasium and honed his violin skills as a special student at the Conservatory of Music. Since October 2009, he has been the first concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

© macht inc.


Denki Groove is a Japanese techno/electro-pop band formed in 1989 under the influence of YMO and Germany's Kraftwerk. The band is popular not only in Japan, but also in Germany, where they have created albums for German labels and performed in Germany, such as MAYDAY, gaining popularity both in Japan and abroad for their unprecedented performances.

Photo: Michelle Heighway


Damo Suzuki, born as Kenji Suzuki, lives in Germany since the early 1970s and was the vocalist for the Cologne krautrock band Can from 1970 to 1973. He is a figure who embodies hippie culture in both Germany and Japan.

© Universal Music Group


Kraftwerk is known as one of the world's pioneers of the techno-pop genre and a major influence on Japan's YMO. In 1981, Kraftwerk performed in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Kraftwerk Vocoder custom made in early 1970s

Publisher: Konkursbuch Verlag


Tawada graduated from the Department of Russian Literature of Waseda University, and completed her graduate studies at the University of Hamburg while working in Germany. She is living in Hamburg and Berli and publishes various works in German and Japanese since 1987.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Born in Hirosaki City in Aomori Prefecture, Nara moved to Germany after completing his master's degree at Aichi University of the Arts. After completing his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Dusseldorf, he gained worldwide popularity for the paintings he created in his studio near Cologne.

Photo: 株式会社シックス / Dettmar Cramer Foundation


Cramer was the first foreign coach invited to Japan in 1960 and is considered the "father of Japanese soccer." As the interim coach of the Japanese national team, he laid the foundation for Japan's bronze medal at the Mexico Olympics and was instrumental in the founding of the Japan Soccer League.

Photo: Japan Football Association / Dettmar Cramer Foundation

Photo: Auswaertige Amt


Hasebe has been playing in the Bundesliga (Germany's first division) since 2008. He continues to break the record for the most appearances in the Bundesliga by an Asian athelete.

Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Arne Dedert


The FIFA Women's World Cup was held in Frankfurt in 2011. The Japanese national team defeated the U.S. national team to win their first championship. It was the first time for an Asian team, including men and women, to win a FIFA title.

Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Revierfoto

The captain of the Japanese women's national team, Homare Sawa, scored a dramatic equalizer in the second half of overtime of the final match.

The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces)

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-34150-0001 / o.Ang.

The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces)

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-34150-0001 / o.Ang.

Generals Adolf Heusinger and Hans Speidel being sworn into the newly founded Bundeswehr by Theodor Blank on 12 November 1955

Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 098967 / o.Ang.

The Federal Republic of Germany joined NATO in 1955.
Lines of tradition
The Bundeswehr was founded on November 12, 1955.

The Bundeswehr sees its lines of tradition as being based on three sources: the Prussian army reforms of 1807-1813, resistance against the Nazi regime and its own history since 1955. There is a clearly defined dissociation from the Wehrmacht and the National People's Army of the German Democratic Republic. They do not present any lines of tradition.

Against the backdrop of the Cold War, the Bundeswehr was conceived as an alliance army within NATO. Much has changed since then: the takeover of NVA soldiers after reunification in 1990, the transformation from a defense army to an operational army (the first military war mission since 1945 took place during NATO's air strikes on Serbia in March 1999), the opening up to women and the suspension of compulsory military service. Today, the Bundeswehr continues to focus on national and alliance defense and is permanently adapting its structures. The Bundeswehr also faces new tasks in the context of Germany's increasing security engagement in the Indo-Pacific.

According to Article 87a of the Basic Law (German constitution), the Federal Republic of Germany establishes armed forces for defense. Before 1990, German armed forces were deployed abroad only for disaster relief. It was not until the Federal Constitutional Court ruling of 1994 that the concept of defense was interpreted more broadly. This made deployments outside the alliance area possible within the framework of the United Nations, NATO and the EU.

The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces)

The Bundeswehr's foreign deployments began with Operation Southern Flank in the Persian Gulf in 1990. Many more followed within the framework of the UN, NATO and EU, such as in Somalia (UNOSOM II), Kosovo (KFOR), Afghanistan (ISAF/RS) and Mali (EUTM/MINUSMA). Today, the Bundeswehr is deployed in 12 foreign missions on three continents. Since 1992, 114 soldiers have died in Bundeswehr missions abroad.

"Innere Führung" (internal leadership) is the "corporate philosophy" of the Bundeswehr. As citizens in uniform, soldiers are particularly committed to the values and standards of the Basic Law. “Innere Führung” thus serves all soldiers as a basis for responsible action. Independent thinking and action in line with the tactics of the mission based on this set of values should be the guiding principle.

The domestic deployment of the Bundeswehr is strictly regulated. The Basic Law limits operations to disaster relief and emergency operations as administrative assistance. The Bundeswehr supports civilian organizations with its knowledge and skills, material and personnel. Currently, about 25,000 soldiers are deployed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other places, they are deployed to nursing homes, health offices, and corona testing and vaccination centers.

When the Bundeswehr was founded, serving in the armed forces was still unthinkable for women. Only recruitment as civilian employees in the administration was possible. This changed in 1975, when the medical service opened up to female medics in the wake of ever-increasing personnel shortages. In 1991, women were then admitted to the remaining positions within the Medical Service and the Military Music Service. In 1994, Verena von Weymarn became Surgeon General of the Air Force, the first woman to hold the rank of general in the German armed forces. In 2000, the European Court of Justice ruled that unequal treatment was not permissible and, with this ruling, opened all areas to women. The first female fighter pilot received her license in 2007, and the proportion of women in the German armed forces is now at around 13%.
Image: Wikipedia Commons

Navy Uniform
Image: Wikipedia Commons

Army uniform
Image: Wikipedia Commons

Air Force Uniform
© Bundeswehr/Oed
Caption from Bundeswehr

The first female medical officers with the Federal Minister of Defense Georg Leber in 1975.

© Bundeswehr/Detmar Modes
Caption from Bundeswehr

Surgeon General Dr. Verena von Weymarn was not only the first woman to hold the rank of general, she was also the first woman to lead a Bundeswehr hospital as chief physician. In September 1976, Dr. Verena von Weymarn joined the Bundeswehr as a staff physician.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Air Force

Ulrike Fitzer is the first female fighter pilot in the German Air Force. In 2006, she graduated from the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Programat Sheppard Air Force Base, and in 2007 became the first German female Tornado pilot after completing training at the Holloman Air Force Base.

© Bundeswehr/photothek/Michael Gottschalk
Caption from Bundeswehr

Soldiers participate in the Great Homecoming, celebrating the 60th birthday of the Bundeswehr in front of the Reichstag in Berlin on November 11, 2015.

© Bundeswehr/photothek/Michael Gottschalk

© Bundeswehr/Jonas Weber
Caption from Bundeswehr

Bundeswehr snow operation in Bavaria. Mountain engineers assist in freeing roofs from snow load in Bad Reichenhall, Bavaria after military disaster alert (milKATAL) was triggered. (Jan. 11, 2019)

© Bundeswehr/Jonas Weber

© Bundeswehr/Leon Rodewald
Captions from Bundeswehr

Frigate Hamburg departs for Irini mission. Family members and friends watch the departure of the frigate F 220 Hamburg from its home port of Wilhelmshaven. The ship will participate in the EU mission for almost five months. (August 4, 2020)

Looking into the Future

We hope that you enjoyed your journey through 160 years of German-Japanese military and cultural history and that along the way, you gained enlightening insights and made one or two discoveries.

The history of our two countries is marked by particularly difficult experiences. Over the past 160 years, Japan and Germany have shared knowledge, losses, but also responsibilities.

Today, Japan and Germany are stable and reliable partners who share the common goal of strengthening multilateralism and maintaining peace and the international rules-based order.

We look forward to all that we can still achieve together - as partners, as allies, and above all as friends.