Mutual Perceptions in Japanese-German Relations

Person in charge: Sven Saaler (Sophia University, FLA)
Saaler(at), tel. 03-3238-4046

Participants: Bettina Gramlich-Oka (Sophia University, FLA), gramlich-oka(at)
James McKinley (Sophia University, FLA), j.mckinl(at)
Rolf-Harald Wippich (Former professor, FLA, Sophia University)


This project aims at exploring mutual perceptions in Japanese-German relations and at analyzing the influence of the visual imagery on the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Japanese-German relations had their beginnings in the Eulenburg mission to Japan in 1860/61 and look back on a history spanning 150 years. The history of the relationship between these two major countries has been receiving increasing attention in academic research as well as in the public arena, with new interpretations and assessments emerging. However, previous research has focused strongly on diplomatic and economic relations between Japan and Germany. This project proposes studying the relationship from the perspective of "mutual images" – analyzing Japanese-German relations from the angle of mutual perceptions, with emphasis on the investigation of visual sources.

In historical studies, visual sources have achieved considerable prominence in recent years, and some scholars have even proclaimed a "visual turn" in the humanities. In particular, "images of the other", which have been strongly influenced by visual media, stand at the center of this approach; increasingly, studies of international relations are also making use of this methodology. Attempts to improve a country's image abroad are still considered a high priority by many national governments; and, for many people today, images of "others" are still defined in terms of "national" perceptions and stereotypes. In many ways, directly or indirectly, the images of "others" and of "other countries" communicated by the media influence bilateral relations. Sometimes, these images and perceptions – or misperceptions – are even responsible for international incidents and tensions.

Against this background, this project proposes exploring the development of this mutual image-making in modern Japanese-German relations, from their beginnings until the present; the processes underlying the visualization of these images; and the changes such images have undergone, as well as key determining factors in the national and international framework.