German Literature in Japan

“The Germans,” Nietzsche said, “are a people with a day before yesterday and a day after tomorrow but no today.” German literature reflects this national disposition: it is more enquiring and speculative than realistic, which has given it less popularity in Japan than the more realistic French literature. Compared with English and American literature, too―for Japan’s connections with the English-speaking peoples have been deep, and English is the principal foreign language―German literature has made little headway. This is because German―unlike English, which is taught and studied all over the country from middle school on―was until the end of the war studied only from high school, and today not until university.
     Even so, in practice, German literature is read to an unexpected extent. Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, for instance, is a steady best-seller in Japan. Faust, again, is always accorded deep reverence as one of those books which it is incumbent on everybody to read. Nietzsche has had an incalculable spiritual influence in Japan, right from the Meiji Period and the first awakening to individualism up to the present-day, when existentialism holds sway. Reading surveys, too, show that Hermann Hesse has for ten years or so invariably held first place among middle- and high-school students. One could support the same thesis with countless other examples―Theodor Storm, Schnitzler, Rilke and Mann, just to take a few names at random.
       German literature has made a particularly brilliant showing in its conjunction with music. The German lieder, excellent music, are also excellent literature. Some of them, settings of poems by Müller, Goethe, Heine, etc. such as Lindenbaum, Heidenröslein and Die Lorelei have almost become Japanese songs, and are frequently sung in the original German. An enormous number of other works too are frequently sung and enjoyed in Japan―settings of Müller’s poems by Schubert such as Die Winterreise and Die Schöne Müllerin, Schumann’s settings of poems by Heine and Chamisso such as Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und Leben, and many others. It is not enough to consider these solely as music. Besides the lied, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with its setting of Schiller’s An die Freude, the Musikdrama of Wagner and other music popular in Japan has, as goes without saying, profound connections with literature.
         Heine once said,“In the song and in philosophy, Germany surpasses the other nations of the world. ” As if to bear this out, German philosophy, in the same way as the lied, has been a major influence on Japanese culture and thence on Japanese literature. Besides men such as Nietzsche who were poets as well as philosophers, one has only to cite Kant, Hegel, Marx, Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, Jaspers and Heidegger to see the truth of this. The latter, however, are outside the realm of literature proper, ·so I will do no more than mention them here.
           The same is true of the psychoanalysis of Freud and Jung, whose work is having a great influence not only on Japanese medicine but on the study and original writing of literature also―an influence, moreover, which is likely to become still stronger in the future. To take a couple of very recent examples, Mishima Yukio’s play “Tropical Tree” and Satō Haruo’s biographical novel Nagai Kafū find their themes in the psychoanalytical treatment of incest and the Oedipus complex respectively. This psychoanalysis has its origins, as needs no pointing out, in the German-speaking countries.
             It should be added here that the leading thinkers and writers of Scandinavia also―for example, Kierkegaard, Brandes, Hans Andersen, Björnson, Ibsen and Strindberg―came in chiefly via German translations. One practical case is that of Mori Ōgai, the first and greatest translator of German literature, who made many translations of Scandinavian writers, notably his celebrated rendering of Andersen’s Improvisatoren (Sokkyō Shijin).
               German literature, thus, proves on second examination to be much more closely linked to Japanese literature than expected. The new theater movement in Japan, under the influence of German naturalism, performed the plays of Hauptmann and Sandermann; Osanai Kaoru’s Tsukiji Little Theater in particular opened with a German Expressionistic play and followed it with many others. There were, of course, many dramatists such as Yamamoto Yūzō, Sekiguchi Jirō and Kubo Sakae, who began by studying the German drama. Yamamoto later turned to the novel and wrote before the war a whole series of works―Waves (Nami), A Woman’ s Life (Onna no Isshō) and A Wayside Stone (Robō no Ishi) among them―modeled on the orthodox German Entwicklungsroman and Bildungsroman, which attracted many readers and opened up a new and powerful field for the Japanese novel, which was dominated at the time by the “I-novel, ” or novel of personal reminiscence, and the popular novel. Besides such prewar cases, postwar writers include Shiina Rinzō, who owes much to Goethe and Nietzsche, and Mishima Yukio, who is familiar with German literature and has even translated a poem by Hölderlin in the magazine Koe. Rilke’s poems also, translated by Hori Tatsuo, have had a major effect on Japanese writers just as on those of other countries hroughout the world.
                 Examined closely, thus, the influence of German literature on Japanese literature has been quite great in some ways, but it is still undeniable that it has provided sustenance less for the professional writer than for those in search of a wider culture. The professional writer has learnt more as to new techniques and ideas in novel-writing from the novelists of France and Russia. For instance, while Japanese writers are aware that the now fashionable existentialism goes back from Camille and Sartre to Kafka, Heidegger, Jaspers, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, and pay admiration to these German writers accordingly, it is Camille and Sartre with whom they feel most direct affinity and who have most influenced them.
                   This fact is due not only to the excellence of French and Russian novels as such, but also to the comparatively abstract nature and heaviness of the German novel. It is also connected with the way Germany was defeated in the last two world wars and charged with the responsibility for those wars, thereby losing her spiritual authority, and in particular with the censure that Nazism is still incurring from the whole world. These factors have, in passing, tended to deal a blow at German literature’s reputation among Japanese writers, who like to consider themselves more progressive than they actually are. This is a great misfortune for the literature which produced Goethe and Rilke, but Japanese novelists on the other hand would also do well to reconsider their narrow, excessive partiality for technique.


                     What has preceded is a rough account of the relationship between German and Japanese literature. Let us now consider historically the way in which German literature was introduced into this country.
                       The first appearance of Germans in Japan, though later than that of the Portuguese and Spanish, goes back as far as 1639. The first German to arrive is said to have been one H.W. Braun of Ulm, but unfortunately he came bearing not literature, but―as was generally the case in those days―arms for presentation to the Tokugawa Shogun. Some time later, cultural exchanges between the two countries were opened with the arrival of two German doctors, E. Kämpfer and Ph. Fr. von Siebold. Literary exchange, however, was still far off. Even Goethe, with his cosmic knowledge and vision, and despite his prediction of the building of the Panama Canal, came no closer to the Japan that lay on the other side of the Pacific Ocean than a mention in his Westöstlicher Divan of a Japanese gingko tree which the aforementioned Kämpfer had brought back with him.
                         Before this, however, J. G. Herder, Goethe’s friend and teacher, had made an interesting mention of Japan in his Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit (1784-91). The Japanese, he says, were originally bold and violent savages, who learnt culture from the Chinese and eventually came to surpass them. This book, though old and long and containing only one uncomplimentary, extremely short, reference to the Japanese, has been, translated into Japanese. This translation, of course, was made in modern times; the first translation into Japanese of a German work was not made until half century after Herder’s death. The writer chosen for the honor was none other than Heine. Unlike Herder, Heine had called the Japanese the “most civilized and urbane people in the world, ” and even declared his wish to become one, so that the honor was perhaps not inappropriate.
                           In his Geständnisse, Heine makes the following most interesting remarks:

                             “If my colleague W.v.Goethe boasts that the Chinese with shaking hand painted Werther and Lotte on glass, then I can set against his Chinese fame a still more fabulous―namely, a Japanese―fame. A Dutchman told me that he had had my poems translated into Japanese and printed, and that this was the first European book to appear in the Japanese tongue. ”

                               Heine’s Geständnisse appeared in 1854, which means that if the Dutchman’s tale was true the Japanese translation of Heine’s poems had appeared at a considerably earlier date, which would make them unquestionably the earliest German literature to appear in isolationist Japan. Unfortunately, there is nothing to back up this interesting report. If one sticks to what can be definitely verified, Heine must yield the honor of being the first German author translated into Japanese to his colleagues Goethe and Schiller. Even so, Heine’s poems have, of course, been translated by many different people―notably Mori Ōgai and Ueda Bin―from the middle of the Meiji Period to the present, and have had many readers. The popular Meiji philosopher Takayama Chogyū, in the course of an exposition of Nietzsche’s Superman, declares sentimentally, “How many times have I clasped Heine’s poems to me and wept! ” Heine is known nowadays not only through settings of his poems such as Lorelei and Auf Flügeln des Gesänges, but is also rated highly as a champion of liberty and emancipation. His critical works, thus, have all been translated, and by now Heine the friend of Marx, and Heine the journalist with the extremely up-to-date outlook, are also well known in Japan.
                                 It was of course after the Meiji Restoration that the introduction of German literature started in earnest. At the beginning of Meiji, Germany had just defeated France in war and was at the height of its power, so that the new Japan adopted many things from her in the field of politics, military affairs, education, and medicine. The import of literature, however, came a little later. The first proven translations from German literature were Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell and Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs, which appeared in 1882 and 1884 respectively. One can understand the choice of Schiller’s Tell, with its world famous theme, but it is rather unexpected that from among Goethe’s works neither Faust nor Werther but a narrative poem about an animal should be selected. It was probably because the story, well known as “The Fox’s Trial, ”is easily appreciated by anybody.
                                   Following this, three biographies of Goethe appeared ―an appropriate reflection of Goethe’s greatness as a man. Then, in 1901 and 1904 respectively Hermann und Dorothea and Werther were translated. It is interesting to note that the translator of Werther was Kubo Tenzui, the Sinologist. From the time on Goethe’s works have been translated in endless succession, so much so that in Japan, too, one feels it is a case of “Goethe und kein Ende. ” In the case of Werther, there have been as many as 30 different Japanese translations, and many collections of Goethe’s works have appeared.
                                     Where Schiller was concerned, however, not many translations of his works were made apart from a second translation of Tell, entitled Suittsuru Gimin-den, made in 1905 by Iwaya Sazanami (who studied children’s tales in Germany and himself became a well-known children’s writer) and a Kabuki- style dramatization of the story put on in Tokyo. Even today he is seldom read for pleasure. Die Räuber and Kabale und Liebe have been put on twice, and at the time of the Schiller bicentennial celebrations in 1959, Don Carlos was also performed, but still no satisfactory collection of Schiller’s works has appeared. It is true, of course, that Schiller’s writings of aesthetics are highly valued among intellectuals and have all been translated.
                                       Mori Ōgai had already in 1889 translated the tragedy Emilia Galotti by Lessing, the predecessor of Goethe and Schiller. He followed this up with translations of Kleist and Hoffmann, and within the Meiji Period had even translated Rilke. At a time when naturalism had not yet been introduced into Japan, he not only understood the unique, unworldly atmosphere of Rilke’s poems but attempted to write poems himself on the model of the gentle-souled German. It is to be regretted, however, that while Mori Ōgai translated the poems of Goethe, Heine and Lenau, he translated none of Rilke’s poems―his most important work―but confined himself to the seconclary―and comparatively trifling―plays and novels.
                                         By translating German plays of the naturalist period such as Hauptmann’s Einsame Menschen and Schnitzler’s Liebelei, Mori Ōgai also contributed to the drama in Japan, and his rendering of Schnitzler’s psychological novel Sterben was accorded particular acclaim. Surpassing these, however, was his translation of Faust which, appearing in 1913, was an epoch-making achievement in the history of the introduction of foreign literature into Japan. This was not only because of the historical magnitude of the original work, but also because of the way Ōgai’s translation, through its lofty Japanese, made it possible for Japanese readers to appreciate this difficult masterpiece. For long this was the authoritative translation, but advances in the study of German literature and changes in the Japanese language gradually made new translations necessary, and several have since appeared.
                                           Ōgai, in short, with his modern outlook and his embracing blend of Japanese, Chinese and Western culture, translated German literature ranging from classics such as Lessing and Goethe to modern writers such as Hofmannsthal and Rilke. His translations can almost be called a part of Japanese literature. After his death in 1922, however, the translation of German literature came to be taken over on a wider scale by specialists in German literature. Till then, apart from Ōgai, most German literature had reached Japan via secondhand translations from the English or adaptations.
                                             From the beginning of the Shōwa Period (1926- ) cheap collected editions became increasingly popular, and the collected editions of world literature and modern drama included a considerable number of translations of German works. The powerful dramas of the Expressionists―Werfel, Kaiser, Hasenclever, Goering and Toller―which were translated into Japanese and many of which were put on by the Tsukiji Little Theater, afforded an extraordinary stimulus to the drama in Japan. The Little Theater, mecca of the New Drama (Shingeki) in Japan, chose as its first piece Goering’s Seeschlacht and followed it up with a succession of Expressionist works. Even today, the Japanese drama centers round the melodramatic, spectacular Kabuki, but gradually the modern psychological drama and character drama have come to offer it competition. It is impossible to ignore the role played in this by the import of the naturalist and expressionist drama. The ambitious, revolutionary pieces were given a welcome by the younger generation in no way inferior to that accorded such sentimental, atmospheric plays as Einsame Menschen, Liebelei, and Alt-Heidelberg.
                                               At the beginning of the Shōwa Period a complete edition of Nietzsche’s works translated into the old literary-style Japanese and an academic translation of Goethe's works appeared; these have, of course, since been replaced by new complete editions.
                                                 Around the end of the Taishō Period and the beginning of the Shōwa Period, Grimm’s fairy tales and the works of Schnitzler and Thomas Mann began to be translated systematically. Until this period translators had translated here and there whatever took their fancy, but from now on particular translators began to translate the German writers for whom they had a special admiration. Real translation, in other words, began in earnest. It soon spread to Hermann Hesse, Stefan Zweig, Hans Carossa and other attractive modern writers. At the same time, complete translations appeared of the works of Novalis, the quintessence of romanticism, and of Hoffmann, that extraordinary talent who has been called the Edgar Allan Poe of Europe. A complete edition of the music-dramas of Wagner also appeared. The weighty classical dramas such as those of Kleist, Grillparzer and Hebbel were also translated to a certain extent by specialist students, but they cannot be said to have won many readers. As might be expected, the novel proved more popular with the ordinary reader, and a fairly large number of the works of Storm and Keller were translated. The fact that the works of Storm, rich as they are in sentimental lyricism, should have found more readers than the more solid, masterly works of Keller with their superb realism and observation of human nature, is probably because such works are read chiefly by young students. It is doubtless for the same reason that novelists such as Raabe, Fontane and Stifter, highly rated in Germany, are also read far less than Storm.
                                                   Japan’s large child population contains many avid readers, and the fanciful adventure stories of the 18th-Century Baron von Münchhausen, and the children’s tales of Grimm and Hauff from the early 19th Century are widely read. Recently there have been repeated translations of Hebbel, also from the early 19th Century.
                                                     The pious Swiss woman writer of children’s stories Spyri; writers of animal stories such as W. Bonsels (Biene Maja) and F. Salten (Bambi); and E.Kästner, President of the West German PEN Club, who is known all over the world for his Emil und die Detektive, all alike command a remarkably wide following.
                                                       On top of these earlier efforts there came the post-World War II translation boom and with it the appearance of a large number of new translations, so that with German, as with other literatures, most writers are now fairly well represented by complete translated editions or selected editions. Even where there is no edition of a writer’s collected works, in no few cases almost all his writings have been translated individually. There are collected editions of Goethe, Grimm’s Tales, Heine, Wagner, Storm, Nietzsche, Schnitzler, Rilke, Hesse, Thomas Mann, Hans Carossa, Stefan Zweig, Kafka and Kästner among others, as well as editions of the plays of two unusual modern playwrights, B. Brecht and W. Borchert. The plays of Brecht, with their combination of advanced artistry and popular appeal have frequently been performed in Japan by“New Drama” troupes. lt is also worth mentioning here a complete Freud and a collected edition of the writings of Albert Schweitzer.
                                                         Faithful translations of the great medieval epic poems Nibelungen and Tristan und Isolde have been made directly from the medieval German. The existence among German scholars in Japan of quite a number studying medieval German shows how German studies are based on academically sound foundations unshaken by fashion.
                                                           A surprisingly wide range, thus, has been translated―from the medieval epic poems through Luther, Grimmelshausen’s l7th-Century Entwicklungsroman, the classicists, the romanticists, the naturalists and the expressionists, right up to the latest modern writers. Among modern writers whose works have been translated but are not mentioned above are the elderly woman novelist Le Fort; E. Wiechert, the bright hope of postwar German literature who died unfortunately in 1950; the present-day popular novelist M. Hausmann; H. Kasack, head of the German Academy of Literature; East Germany’s Anna Seghers and J. Becher; and the comparatively young H. Böll.
                                                             Despite some unevennesses and omissions, where volume is concerned German literature has been introduced into Japan fairly thoroughly. Unfortunately, as is shown by the extraordinarily wide popularity of Hesse’s earlier works, there is a prejudice in favor of works rich in lyrical, poetical atmosphere at the expense of more idealistic, philosophical works. Even so, the remarkable advances made in the study of German literature will doubtless gradually remedy this bias in the future.

                                                                (Work Posted) German Literature in Japan was published in Japan Quarterly (Vol.7 No1 P193-199, published by Asahi Shimbun Company, 1960 ).

                                                                TAKAHASHI Kenji
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                                                                TAKAHASHI Kenji

                                                                Scholar of German literature. September 18, 1902~March 2, 1998. Born at Kyobashi, Tokyo. The 8th President of the Japan P.E.N. Club.  He was accredited as Person of Cultural Merits and a Member of Japan Art Academy. He was awarded the Yomiuri Prize for Literature,

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