Even though Germany is home to a number of Japanese culture centers and various collections of East Asian art, Japan should do more to promote its image there and in Europe as a whole, said departing German Ambassador Heinrich-Dietrich Dieckmann in a recent interview.
“Germans are surrounded by Japanese goods, from motorcycles to televisions and computers,” he said, “but most know very little about the country from where all this comes. Young Germans have a growing fascination with Japan and Asia. Hundreds have come (to Tokyo) on both exchange programs and just on their own, so this is very fertile ground.”
He pointed out that most Germans know much less about Japan than Japanese know about Germany.
Dieckmann described the Japan Agenda — a multifaceted plan to expand German-Japanese ties in the areas of business, science, culture and politics — and the Japan Initiative — an effort aimed at promoting exports from small and medium-size German companies — as examples of Germany’s increasing attempts to bridge the gap between the two countries. The German ministers of defense, youth, environment, economics and development cooperation will be visiting here in the coming months as part of growing German attention and commitment to Japan. In addition, at the annual Germany-Japan bilateral summit meeting this year in Denver, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto signed a joint declaration to promote German-Japanese educational exchanges.
“In the past, Japanese and Germans have had very strong cultural ties, particularly in the classical fields of philosophy and music,” Dieckmann said. “And many older Japanese speak very good German. But now we must add the new element of the modern, of today’s art and today’s problems as well. This is very important to increase mutual understanding among younger Germans and Japanese.”
He stressed the importance of the 45 Japan-Germany societies that have been formed all over Japan and their part in building a firm basis for this expanded cultural exchange.
Dieckmann began his tenure in Japan in 1994. In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, he had many opportunities to discuss Japan and Germany’s comparative postwar experience with Japanese political and business leaders. “We engaged in very profound discussions as only Japanese and Germans could have,” Dieckmann said. “But despite our shared experience of defeat, there are differences in our postwar approaches.”
Dieckmann explained that Germany was confronted with history much more strongly after the war simply because of its geography. Most of Germany’s neighbors were victims of Hitler, so it was necessary for Germany to be reintegrated into the region to bring much-needed peace and avoid conflict.
Japan, as an island nation, was not compelled to re-enter Asia after the war and this is part of the reason it has had a different postwar experience.
Despite the differences in postwar approaches, now Germany and Japan face some of the same concerns, including the difficulties in defining appropriate military operations and continuing exclusion from the U.N. Security Council, Dieckmann said. “As democracies and leading economic powers, both of our countries enjoy international respect,” he said. “This is marked by the broad support we have in our applications for a seat on the Security Council. But we should continue to play a responsible role in our regions, as well as facing global challenges like the environment, helping developing nations and strengthening the World Trade Organization to show that we are ready to live up to our international responsibilities.”