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Top>Opinion>- Ogai, "Faust," and the Future - On the 150th Anniversary of Japan-Germany Exchange


Reiji Hirayama

Reiji Hirayama [Profile]

- Ogai, "Faust," and the Future - On the 150th Anniversary of Japan-Germany Exchange

Reiji Hirayama
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: German Language and Literature

The 150th Anniversary of Japan-Germany Friendship and Ogai Mori

Next year, 2011, marks the 150th anniversary of when Japan and Germany first began their amicable relationship. The relationship was formed when, in 1861, Prussia and the Tokugawa Shogunate signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce. It was seven years before the Meiji Restoration and ten years before the unification of Germany, which was realized under the strong leadership of Prussia's Chancellor Bismarck. The 150 years of exchange between Japan-Germany have not been easy ones for either of these countries, which were born at around the same time as modern unified nation states. They went into battle at Qingdao, China, during World War I, and in World War II, this time as alliance partners, they were both defeated. Both countries then, while carrying the burden of the task of trying to rebuild relationships of trust with neighboring countries, have arisen from the ashes of defeat, to achieve astonishing economic recoveries. The path of both countries has in this way had its common features. But who, then, would be the figure that one associates with and who symbolizes Japan-Germany relations on the Japanese side? There are probably few who would question the choice of Rintaro (Ogai) Mori (1862-1922) as such a figure. Ogai was born at the end of the Edo period in Tsuwano, and he studied medicine and became an army surgeon. At the time, German medicine was the mainstream in medicine, and after he received his commission as an army surgeon, Ogai went to Germany to study medicine for three years, studying in Leipzig, Dresden, Munich, and Berlin. In Berlin, he studied under Koch, who was famous for discovering the mycrobacterium tuberculosis.

However, Ogai made significant contributions to exchange between Japan and Germany not only in the field of medicine, but also, as is well known, in the field of literature. After his return to Japan, Ogai drew on his experience studying overseas, writing and publishing his three-part work: "Maihime," "Utakata-no-ki," and "Fumizukai." Most of all, "Maihime" caused a huge stir in the literary world of Meiji era Japan, to the extent that it is lauded as the inception of modern Japanese literature.

Views of Ogai in Modern Germany

How, then, do Germans view this figure, Ogai? Last summer, I visited Leipzig in Germany, and went to the famous restaurant and wine bar Auerbach's Cellar. I had been there many times before, but this time I looked up at the wall and was taken aback. A large picture of a man in military uniform raising his glass to a man in civilian clothes in front of a table was painted on the wall. The man in military uniform was Ogai and the man in civilian clothes was the philosopher, Tetsujiro Inoue. There is a description in Ogai's "Doitsu Nikki (Diary in Germany)" of how he went to this cellar bar with Inoue and they enjoyed a pleasant conversation. On this occasion, they talked about translating Goethe's "Faust"-in which this cellar bar also appears-into Japanese, and how interesting it would be if it were rendered in Classical Chinese. In the background of this picture on the wall, the devil's representative, Mephistopheles, who appears in "Faust," is also depicted behind the two figures. Next to Ogai in military uniform, there is also a picture of Ogai in his later years wearing a kimono. A large number of German tourists whose interest was caught when they looked at this queer scene painted on the wall took photographs of it in the cellar bar.

Like the motifs of this wall painting, in Germany, Ogai is known as one of those who introduced German literature such as Goethe and others to Japan, especially as a translator of "Faust." In the first place, my visit to Germany last summer was for the purpose of visiting the castle ruins at Doeben. This was where the castle in which Ogai's heroine in "Fumizukai," Iida-hime, had lived, but it was destroyed and was nothing but ashes during the time when East Germany was in existence. Then, in 1990, after the reunification of Germany, Iida-hime's distant relative, Mr. Below, moved into and is rebuilding the castle. In a garden on a high plateau overlooking the Mulde River, there is a statue of the head of the young Ogai. Mr. Below spoke enthusiastically of how he wished to turn this place into a place to promote friendship between young people from Japan and Germany. In fact, for the past three years, two students from Chuo University have visited Doeben and been warmly hosted by the Below family.

Under the guidance of Mr. Below, I visited the locations which appeared in many other scenes in "Fumizukai." In Machern Castle, there was a restaurant for light meals which had three photographs of Ogai displayed in one corner. In addition, in the central plaza in Machern there are several stone monuments to commemorate famous people who have visited in the past. Among these, alongside the stone monument for Goethe, there is also one for Ogai, a relief of Ogai's profile, with an inscription describing Ogai as a translator of Goethe's "Faust" as well as being a writer. I was amazed at the extent to which Ogai is treated with warmth and respect by the German people-not only when I saw the wall painting at Auerbach's Cellar, but also the statue of Ogai's head at the Below estate, and this relief of Ogai's profile-and it filled my heart with pride.

Seeing the Future of Japan-Germany Relations from Faust

In looking back on the 150 years of friendship between Japan and Germany, it is very significant that Ogai and "Faust" should be the linchpin. The tragic love of Faust and Gretchen and the philosophical searching of Faust as a scholar depicted in "Faust" connect with the tragic love of Toyotaro and Elis in "Maihime," which also connect with the admiration of Kiyoshi Miki, etc., for German philosophy. In addition, in "Faust," modern problems such as homunculus like test-tube babies, futile wars, and the phenomenon of inflation due to the extravagant spending of national coffers, and the like, are also addressed. That is not all, however, there are also hints for the future of Japan-Germany relations included in "Faust." In the final scene, the issue of reclamation of the sea is addressed. There is the tragedy of an old couple forced to remove themselves due to the land reclamation who are murdered by Mephistopheles. This is proof of Goethe's keen level of awareness of environmental issues. In addition, Faust himself describes his dream as being one of living in a free land, among free people. Here, there is the idea of world citizenship, crossing the frameworks of countries and peoples. At Chuo University too, there is an increasing number of students who are visiting Germany out of an interest in environmental protection movements by German citizens or in the East German democratic movements at the time of the reunification of Germany. There will be a need going forward as well for the Japan-German friendship to be conducted on a citizen-centered basis, with global issues such as environmental protection and politics from the perspective of the citizens being the areas which will deepen the Japan-Germany friendship.

Neither Ogai nor "Faust" is merely a classic-they remain very much alive in society today and they will continue to live on going forward as well.

Reiji Hirayama
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Research Field: German Language and Literature
Professor Hirayama was born in 1951 in Niigata City. He left without completing the Doctoral program at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities and Psychology (majoring in German Literature). After serving as a lecturer at Yamagata University and others, he has served on the Faculty of Law at Chuo University (in charge of German language studies) since 1984. His areas of specialization are German language and German culture. He is currently conducting research into 18th-Century German literature and thought, such as Lessing and Goethe.
Professor Hirayama is also researching the culture of the German Jews and the people who helped to save Jews from the holocaust.
In terms of his hobbies, when he was an elementary school student Professor Hirayama admired famous Rakugo performer Sanyutei Ensho, and he aimed to become a Rakugo performer himself. When he was a junior high and high school student, he admired graphic novels and aimed to become a manga artist (he applied for the Newcomer Prize at the "Shonen Magazine" twice but his work was not selected). When he was a university student, he wrote novels for Doujinshi (common interest magazines with a small readership). None of these efforts were successful.