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Congrats Japan!

September 2, 2009

I cannot tell how happy I am that the Japanese citizens have opted for a turnaround in government! That gives me a lot of hope for this country that was once so beautiful and that is populated with the kindest people in the world.


Rethinking the History of Japan – Part III

June 6, 2009

Growing Sub-Cultures in Japan
Is this the Closing of a Historical Parenthesis? 

An Optimistic View

Rethinking the History of Japan, Part I The Tale of the Lost Japonian Charter; Part II  The Myth of America’s Opening of Japan


Does Japans culture at the beginning of 21st century pick up some main socio-psychological traits of the late Edo period? Is Japan today in a phase of revival of its early 19th century popular culture? The late Edo period showed the emergence of what we call today civil society. This process started before the end of the 18th century but it was interrupted 1853 by Admiral Perry’s canon boat policy. Although the treaty of Kanagawa that was imposed to Japan by Perry in 1854 did not “open” Japan, as history textbooks still hold up the myth, the arrival of the Black Ships, the kurofune, came as a shock to the Japanese government and let many small spaces of freedom in Japan disappear. Most historians like Ian Buruma in his book Inventing Japan widely agree that this aggression had a huge and fundamentally bad influence on the following decades in Japanese politics. Thus, the new Meiji government was setup by a restoration of the old imperial power instead of a bourgeois revolution like in Great Britain, United States of America and France in the 17th and 18th century. More specifically the sense of vulnerability remained the intrinsic motivation of any political agenda. Even worse, this new approach proved to be extremely successful in the wars 1895 against China and 1905 against Russia.

Can we support the idea that just today, after more than 150 years, Japan is finally pulling out of something we could call its “historical parenthesis”? My impression is that Japan is going through a cultural revolution roughly since the first government of Koizumi. Learning more about Japanese history, especially from the late Edo period, I recognize a reappearance of some ancient behaviours, tastes and mindsets.

The German economist Kurt Singer, who lived in Japan between 1931 and 1939, complained in his excellent book Mirror, Sword and Jewel (London, 1973) the total absence of reflection and decision in Japanese culture. And he was convinced that the Japanese tradition of Buddhism was responsible for this absence of schemes of individuality. This might still be an acceptable explanation, yet there was a critical tradition within Japan unknown to Singer, starting at latest with the anti-Buddhist novels in the late 18th century. Hiraga Gennai, a physicist, pharmacist, inventor, painter and writer developed in his Furyo Shidoken den (1763) [The Dashing Life of Shidoken] a full-fledged satire that denounces the dullness of Buddhist education. His hero starts as a young man who is forced by his parents to enter a Buddhist monastery. One day during his boring studies a bird flies through the open window, sits down on his desk and drops an egg. The egg breaks up and a beautiful small woman appears. She shows the young monk the way to a hidden cave where a mysterious bump offers him a magic fan. With this fan he travels for many years through many fantastic countries – just like Swift’s Gulliver. In the end he even survives his journey to the Island of Women and returns to his home town as an old man. He has not reached any kind of satori, but instead he can tell a lot of fascinating stories about the human condition.

Politically Buddhism was an instrument to keep aristocracy under Tokugawa docile as much as Shinto became under the Meiji government instrumental to indoctrinate the military class and finally the whole people with eternal and unconditional loyalty to the emperor. Another cultural and social division in late Edo period existed between the refined and spiritually uplifting theatre for aristocrats and the much more spicy and popular Kabuki style of theatre. It was only in these years that also literature became popular with the circulation of Kyokutei Bakin’s Nansou Satomi Hakkenden, an engaging, thrilling and highly entertaining epic novel. It is about six “dog warriors” who bring peace and a full-fledged utopia to the province of Awa. Bakin was the first writer in Japan who could make a living with his books that where sold to common people on market places. Hakkenden, arguably the longest novel in world literature, was published in 106 woodprint booklets between 1814 and 1842. 

Mary Elizabeth Berry provides in her book Japan in Print. Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period (2006) a fascinating account of the conversion of the public from an object of state surveillance into a subject of self-knowledge. She identifies the traces of it in the circulation of commercially printed matters: maps, gazetteers, family encyclopedias, urban directories, travel guides, official personnel roasters, and instruction manuals for everything from farming to lovemaking. 

“The sharpest evidence for a public sphere of opinion in early modernity comes from the academy, where scholars of disparate station and philosophy sustained critiques of virtually all aspects of the polity: fiscal and monetary policy, taxation, international trade, defense and foreign relations, criteria of official appointment, the rationale for samurai privilege. The sharpest evidence for a public sphere of protest comes from the village, where farmers across the country used suits, petitions, and uprisings to oppose any variety of perceived misrule: high taxes, corvée levies, commercial and transport monopolies, usurious lending rates, and the personal ignorance and misconduct of local officials. And the sharpest evidence of a public sphere of letters comes from vernacular playwrights and storytellers who veiled as fiction a reality that made no sense: samurai reduced to tawdry vendettas, peasants compelled to sell daughters, honest merchants in hock, charlatans in glory.”

These are just some of the many traces of a surprisingly blooming culture of individualism in a country that is today stereotypically known for collectivist attitudes. One of the reasons for the possibility of such an expansion of popular and more individualistic culture was the existence of some relatively big urban centres. From the early 17th century on the Tokugawa Shogunate established 24 licensed quarters for prostitution all over the country, the biggest ones being Shimabara for Kyoto, Shinmachi for Osaka and Yoshiwara for Edo. The main reason for establishing these nightless cities was to prevent the nouveau riche chōnin (townsmen) from political intrigue. Especially Yoshiwara in Edo was such a city of its own within the Asakusa district. They were “walled, moated, glittering islands of style and panache in the dreary, gray seas of Confucian social order” (William Lindsay). But they catered more than just prostitution. In Asakusa there were also theatres and dance shows; pilgrims, artists and writers from all corners of the countries met in this world of amusement and joy. The shogunate even banned Kabuki theatre that had become too popular and socially too critical into these districts. But now there was more than just entertainment. This district has become a kind of rather exotic civil society. The writer Yasunari Kawabata described this vibrant atmosphere some decades later in his early book The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa (1929). Even ordinary people during the first half of the 19th century noticed how the self-image of Japan and its public order under Tokugawa government had become increasingly obsolete in the light of daily life and social reality. The inferior merchant class had accumulated some prosperity and could enjoy a lifestyle of which most members of the samurai class could but dream. Samurai where about to become pitiful and even ridiculous beings in a public order that seemed to lose its axis and legitimacy.

This gap is the very beginning of political reflection and individuality. The Japanese subjects became aware that there is an alternative to the existing public order. And as soon as human beings are able to think in terms of options, they necessarily start to contest the necessity of the present public order. This reflection on public order typically accompanies the emergence of a public sphere as Jürgen Habermas described it in his famous book Structural Transformation of Public Sphere (1962). At the same time it is the core process that creates individuality, political subjectivity and modern political citizenship. This was not yet given in the 18th century. Marius B. Jansen explained in Changing Japanese Attitudes Toward Modernization how the dominating mindset even among early intellectuals was gratefulness for this long lasting period of peace and the relaxed way of life that Tokugawa government granted to many of its subjects.

Yet many of today’s historians and socials scientist have difficulties with recognizing some early civil society that could have led to a bourgeois revolution in Japan. In The State of Civil Society in Japan (2003) Susan Pharr (ed.) defines the topic of her investigation as follows: “Civil society consists of sustained, organized social activity that occurs in groups that are formed outside the state, the market and the family”. The following sentence is even more important: “Cumulatively, such activity creates a public sphere outside the state, a space in which groups and individuals engage in public discourse.” There is no mentioning of amusement districts, controlled prostitution and growing urban life under Tokugawa government as a springboard of civil society. Rather the opposite end of the social spectrum is considered as being more important. After pointing at the numerous academies of learning and the philanthropic associations of merchants, Sheldon Garon goes even further: “We do not usually think of rural society as a prime site of civil society. However, in the waning decades of Tokugawa rule, prosperous farmers and rural entrepreneurs (gōnō) increasingly crossed village boundaries to form regional and even national networks of production, credit, and sociability”.  My suspicion is that political scientists and sociologist stick too much to a supposedly inherent moral value of the concept of civil society and it is difficult for them to find this noble pattern of action in amusement districts.

Although I don’t agree with this moralistic approach of this book, I welcome the conclusion of the editors who consider “1990 as a watershed”.  They explain how the Hanshin-Awahi Earthquake in Kobe 1995 showed the embarrassing incapacity of straitjacket-ruled public services to respond the needs of this catastrophic situation. At the same time private initiatives of Japanese people and volunteers more than compensated this failure of the public service. After that incident there was a “volunteer [borantia] revolution” and a “NPO [non-profit-organization] boom”. I also believe that towards the end of the 1990s something changed fundamentally. But my claim pushes the topic much further as I want to suggest that the new civil society is growing out of the fields of culture, amusement and entertainment. It starts again where it has been stopped at the end of the Edo period. In this sense the past few years could represent the starting point in the process of closing a historical parenthesis. This parenthesis includes all the political, social and economic mistakes induced by the paranoia of being a vulnerable country, by the incapacity of acting in a self-determined way, by the feeling of being a rabbit under the eyes of many foreign snakes and in the end by the belief that Japan was the biggest rabbit that can protect the other small Asian rabbits from all the Western snakes.

The first emergence of a civil society within and on the fringe of the walled gardens of the red-light-districts is followed by a second one today, yet in another dress and outside of the old boundaries. This is not to say that the zoku, the urban tribes of young Japanese are signs of a fully achieved individualism and mature citizenship, let alone the lonesome hikikomori,the otaku, goth, gyaru, NEET and Freeter. But by realizing that the adherence to such groups is an individual choice that has also other options, that makes the big difference to the human self-understanding as a social and political being.

I believe that the conservative and rather militaristically inspired string of culture that had its hegemony in Japan from mid-Meiji period through about the 1990s, this string of culture is running out of supporters. Too many employees have dropped out of the lifetime employment scheme and too many young people are not prepared any more to go for a salary-man’s life or to find their harbour in a career as bureaucrats. And labour force becoming scarce due to demography, Japanese business and administration need to look for a much better and more efficient allocation of this unique source of national income. Symptomatically 2008 was the first year in which no graduate of Tokyo University applied for a career at the Ministry of Finance. Even the young elite students sneak out.

In 1867/68, there was the surprising and most popular Eijanaika movement, a “cheerful disorder of milleniarist inspiration” as the French historian Jean-Marie Bouissou wrote. It was said to have no political agenda and thus it was of no use for the analysis of the emergence of civil society. Yet maybe the Japanese director Shohei Imamura reached in his movie Eijanaika (1981) a more fertile understanding of this phenomenon by describing it as a kind of proto-political awakening.

But beyond these proto-political activities, and this is my hypothesis, the new civil society seems to be growing even more out of the fields of culture, amusement and entertainment. It starts again where it has been stopped at the end of the Edo period. In this sense the past few years could represent the starting point in the process of closing a historical parenthesis. This parenthesis includes many of the political, social and economic mistakes induced by the paranoia of being a vulnerable country, by the incapacity of acting in a self-determined way. The young people growing up now in Japan seem to be lost as future supporters of this fearful and overcompensating culture. They don’t do this in the classical western way that social scientists have canonized with the concept of civil society. Instead of saying a rebellious, highly politicized “No!” they remain typical Japanese in at least this respect by just not responding to the expectations any more. Japanese teens and twens increasingly focus on themselves and their limited communities and refuse to join the national consensus that was fabricated throughout the last 150 years. They just don’t care any more. Eijanaika! They watch closely the failure of the “grand design” and of the Japanese civil ideology that had not changed fundamentally after WW II. They also see the failure of their absent fathers who had passed their lives in corporate slavery and are spit out by their families as sodaigumi [bulky waste] when they retire. The Japanese youth is finally executing the secret and unfulfilled desires not only of their parents, but also of their grand- and even grand-grand-parents. Today, this new cultural basis has reached global recognition through the huge success of manga, electronic entertainment and the new narrations connected to virtual reality. It may sound odd, but the revolutionary power of individualism seems to have a totally different origin when compared to Europe and North America. It’s coming late but it might be very powerful. Thus, the actual cultural evolution in Japanese society should be interpreted as some kind of progress and Masao Miyamoto could be right with the concluding words in his scandalizing book Straitjacket Society (1994): “Instead of valuing the masochistic pleasure of messhi hoko [self-sacrifice for the sake of the group], if the Japanese focus on the pleasure of freedom, they can hatch from their adolescent shells and become independent adults. Freed from the constraints of the bureaucracy, they will then be able to lead richer, more meaningful lives”.

© Reginald Grünenberg is an author and publisher in Berlin/Germany. He attended the European Commission’s ETP Executive Training Programme in 2008 at Waseda University ( His historical novel Shiboruto about Philipp Franz von Siebold will be published in 2009 in Germany.

Some Pieces of Advice for ETP27

January 25, 2009

Dear fellows of ETP 27,

Congratulations to your election! Be assured that starting from March 2nd on you will go through one of the most fascinating periods of your life. First of all and for a good start: Enjoy Europe! The program gives you the unique chance to visit Paris, Milan and London, three most fascinating cities and their excellent universities, Sciences Po, Bocconi and SOAS. I really hope that the financial crisis and the recession will not impair your journey. For London at least it might be even an advantage as the Euro is now so strong against the British pound.

I have some pieces of advice for you that I didn’t want to write into the so called Blue Book of ETP alumni which is very useful though. Let’s start with another book. I would like to propose you, or better: urge you to read Dogs and Demons. The Fall of Modern Japan by Alex Kerr.


You can call it the Black Book of Japan. It may be a little bit difficult to enjoy reading it if you haven’t been in Japan before because there is a whole lot of details which probably don’t mean anything to you yet. But during the eight months with ETP in Tokyo you will surely come across all of the topics and then it makes a big difference whether you have read the book or not. It is also a strong remedy against the folkloristic or worse: concealing and obfuscating approach of some academics whom you will meet – especially at Waseda. With this book in hand you will be able to challenge their idealistic views of Japan. In an interview with Japan Times in 2005 Kerr was asked on this topic:

JT: You have also been very critical of academics experts on Japan?
Kerr: The academics don’t have a clue. The journalists are pretty good because they tend to actually live here. The academics’ problem is an incurable nostalgia and a kind of conversion mentality to whatever it is: in the old days it used to be tea ceremony, and now it’s anime. It becomes a living . . . and pretty soon you are co-opted. And that happens regularly in academia.”

And take one piece of text of his book:

“Japan is like the spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssee. The computer Hal runs all life systems aboard the ship with benevolent wisdom, speaking to the crew through the public-address system in a resolutely calm and cheerful manner. Later, when Hal goes mad and starts murdering people, he continues placidly to assure crew members in an upwaveringly upbeat voice that all is well, wishing them a good day. In Japan, articles in magazines paid for by the bureaucrats who cement over rivers and lakes assure the public that their natural environment is still beautiful. Bureaucrats at Donen (public institution managing the Japanese nuclear power program) instruct children that plutonium is safe to drink. Every day  in Japan we hear the soothing voice of Hal telling us not to worry. Since 1993 the government has predicted economic rebound every year, despite an ever-deepening recession.”

I know that this is like party-pooping, but a book like this will maybe help you when you start feeling that reality is something different in Japan, for example how the Japanese economy makes – very successfully! – money out of nothing and defies all western economic theories.

Another fascinating aspect of Japan is the unique and powerful online platform 2 Channel called “ni-channeru”/  2チャンネル on It’s not only the biggest of its sort in the world, it is also one of the rare examples of civil disobedience in Japan. On 2ch everybody is anonymous. This has released an incredible energy in a country where everybody is basically shy and hiding his or her thoughts and where official statements of people, companies and institutions are full of lies. Thus this mega-blog has attracted lots of criticism and even more lawsuites. This extremely successful and controversial online forum was many times just about to be shut down, but the authorities didn’t manage it. My wife told me that she first goes to 2ch when an actress dies from drugs or a child is killed by one of the many insane  guys around (this is a big issue) because all the facts are there within minutes. And it’s much more than newspapers disclose – journalism in Japan is generally very poor. In January 2009 its founder Hiroyuki Nishimura, one of Japan’s strange and lonesome online heroes, has sold 2ch to a company in Singapore; read more about this here. It’s also good and interesting stuff for one of the many presentations that you will have to make. You will learn about “Densha Otoko”, the most romantic story of the “Train Man” which ended in a famous printed book and started a whole new genre of literature. How it works and the community-specific vocabulary you will find at

And here is some practical stuff

Put stories in your luggage! You can prepare yourself for the language classes at SOAS and Waseda by collecting many private experiences and stories from your home country, village, family and job environment. Be prepared that you need a lot of these stories for Japanese conversation and presentations. Think about food (very important!), your interests, books and hobbies and be prepared to make full fledged presentations about them with Power Point in front of your class. One of the key practices you will learn is a compelling self-introduction, じこしょうかい (jikoshoukai) which includes personal and business information. Make it interesting! Otherwise you will soon get bored with your own story.

Try to find a place close to Waseda in Tokyo! Commuting is terrible and takes your time, something of which you won’t have much! I was living 50 minutes from Waseda, that was too much and I was often exhausted with classes going from 9 a.m. through 5 or 6 p.m or sometimes later.

When you are tired, sleep during classes! That’s very Japanese. If you look at Waseda into any classroom you will always find between 10 and 20 percent of the students sleeping in front of their teachers. And that’s what they call their elite! You can show a lot of conaisseurship by taking your ironic revenge this way on ETP for  the inflicted pain and exhaustion. It’s absolutely conclusive behavior and I have never witnessed a student being woken up by a teacher. You will see, sleepiness is a big issue in Japan’s daily life. Find more on this topic in my essay on Fatigue in Japanes Business Culture.

Make trade-offs! Basically, ETP is too much. It’s too much lectures and too much homework. You will see that you have hardly left any time for independent self-study, especially in Tokyo. Some of us, like myself, tried really hard – at least for a while – to cope with the whole program and to be zealous in all fields equally. It’s impossible. Don’t even try it. Make trade-offs and focus on what is most important – and that’s language. The business part at Waseda is far too big. With lectures, readings and homework it makes at least 60% of the whole schedule, but this stuff will not help you to have a good time in the most important part of ETP, the internship.

Forget Kanji! This is especially true for the beginners. It is a waste of time and energy to learn many Kanji in this short period of time (this is obviously different for non-beginners who have studied Japanese before). It is so much more important to learn well and fluent Hirgana and Katakana, even more speaking practice and conversation. And don’t underestimate Katakana as we did! You will be surprised how  many words in Japanese are written in Katakana. But basically focus on speaking. Use extensively audio supported learning programs like the one we got in Conversation class 『きくーかんがえるーはなす』i.e. “Hear – Think – Speak”. Japanese for Busy People I-III has also a very good audio support on CD, but we never used it because the teachers just ignored most of the part of these textbooks. I discovered only very lately how well these textbook are made. The teachers are all convinced that JBP I-III are bad textbooks, but the truth is that they made a totally unsystematic use of it. JBP I-III is very good, but how should one know this if teachers never used the main texts, target dialogs and speaking practices? I was angry about this because thus they made us learn vocabulary and kanji by heart that we never used in their context. The lesson learned is for me the fact that Japanese are very bad at teaching languages. They will tell you a lot of stories about different brain physiology and alike stuff in order to explain you why Japanese people after at least six years of learning English are unable to speak a single sentence. Forget it! Japanese teachers – even though they are lovely, dedicated people and make huge efforts in order to make you progress – are just bad at teaching languages. It’s not their day-to-day practice in class that is bad, it’s the systematics and the didactical approach. E.g. you will see how there is an almost complete lack of repetition and rehearsing because of a schedule that makes you learn every lesson a new grammar pattern. This applies even more to language classes at Waseda than to classes at SOAS, the latter being generally better. Japanese teachers have a religious belief in the importance of grammar although ironically spoken Japanese widely ignores these grammar rules and has many rules of its own that you don’t learn in class. By the way, this difference between spoken and written Japanese is one of the most frustrating experiences because you will see that you cannot apply your achievements from classes in Japan’s daily life. Probably you will work on the textbook『みんなの日本』”Minna no Nihongo” during ETP27 because teachers disliked JBP so much, but watch out because altogether the same applies here. Finally, for the beginners Kanji will not be part of the final exam.

Push your teachers to teach you colloquial Japanese! Japanese teachers will only teach you a language that you can use in official and business contexts. For your daily life in Japan they will only be helpful in one out of four cases. With your school Japanese in mostly polite form you sound awkward and stupid in all contexts off business and public speech. With family and friends you cannot talk like that. Even in an office situation like during your internship you should be able to talk in common plain speech. Otherwise you will be treated like an “erai”, an elevated, noble person – which means that everybody makes fun of you and can’t address you in a personal and intimate manner. And this is the reason why Japanese teachers have so much difficulties to teach you “futsuutai” or “kougo”, because they would need to talk to you and let you talk to them as if you were (mostly) her brother, sister or friend. But don’t underestimate your influence on the program, especially in terms of Japanese language. If you push them hard they will start doing it. I had my best private lessons with Murakami-sensei when we started talking like friends, and I learned more than in most of the classes because I could use it right away the same day at home or in an izakaya.

Make grammar flash cards! This is a great invention that I only made after all the classes and in preparation of the final exams. You will most certainly use flash cards for Kanji and vocabulary, but grammar flash cards are even much more helpful. They should be bigger than the cards you use for vocab, something like 10 or better 12cm x 5cm.


On the front page you write down the general grammar pattern and you indicate the book and the page number where you found this pattern.


On the back you write some examples. That’s it.

Build up a list of all verbs! It is extremely helpful to have a special and separate list with all verbs that you pick up during classes and homework – from the beginning on! It will be a real asset later on in Tokyo. Leave enough space on the right side so that you can add the conjugations that you will learn (-te, -ta, -masu, -n, plain, dictionary, potential, passive, causative, honorific etc.). Why only verbs? Because it is through them that you can grasp the meaning of and the action in a given sentence. Actually conjugation is the biggest single task in learning Japanese because there is – luckily! – no declination of nouns. Thus, every time you have an exam you can rehearse the verbs apart from anything else, i. e. grammar pattern, kanji, vocab. It really enhances your understanding, not only in written texts but also in daily life. I should have done that much earlier, but like the grammar flash cards I discovered this method only by the end of classes at Waseda.

Start your business plan asap! To write a business plan is a really big task if you haven’t done it before. Gather as soon as many information as possible because the time left after the internship will be far too short because you will need to prepare the final exams.

Don’t miss to visit Gorudengai! More about this here.

Don’t hesitate to contact me and please let me know how you’re doing. Good luck, have big fun and find soon your personal equilibrium with this challenging program!

The Myth of America’s Opening of Japan

December 30, 2008

By November 2008 I offered two essays on Japanese history to Japan Times, my favorite English newspaper in Japan. But it took them more than two month to come back to me and then they offered to publish only a short summary of those two essays. I declined, because it doesn’t make sense. This is why I publish them here because I think that everybody should know the whole story

Rethinking the History of Japan II

The Myth of America’s ‘Opening of Japan’

The opening of Japan in 1854/1855 after more than two centuries of almost total isolation, along with the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and genbaku, the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945, is one of the three major milestones in Japanese history. With the victory of Ieyasu at Sekigahara the reign of the Tokugawa dynasty began, during which Iyemitsu, the third shogun, instituted the systematic isolation of the country. His sakoku edict of 1635 literally put the “country in chains”. Under the Tokugawa dictatorship Japan turned into a brutal police state replete with spies, informers and traitors. However, in one main respect, this political doctrine proved highly successful: preserving peace following centuries of civil war during the dreadful sengoku period. Since the beginning of recorded history no major country in the world has experienced such a long period of peace. With a duration of 219 years – not counting the 35 years of peace between the battle of Sekigahara and the sakoku edict – it proved longer than the legendary Pax Romana from 27 BC to 180 AD. However the price was high. While the ever belligerent western nations grew with their wars and colonial conquests in terms of both power and their knowledge in a range of industries, arts and sciences, the intellectual and industrial assets of Japan had stagnated throughout this whole period of violent peace. When the colonial powers knocked once again at Japan’s doors in the early 19th century, the country was underdeveloped, and, with its highly regulated and monopolistic industries, unprepared and unwilling to participate in any form of competitive international trade. However the colonial powers were determined to convince Japan of the necessity of precisely such an undertaking – by negotiation or by force. The number of serious diplomatic approaches, for more or less peaceful negotiations of this claim, conducted by Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Russia and America since 1790 amounted to approximately two dozen. In this context, it is almost possible to understand the United States’ impatience with this repeated “No”, and their decision to send Admiral Perry with an armed fleet in 1853, issuing Japan a clear ultimatum. But what really happened between the arrival of the Black Ships in Shimoda and the day in 1855 when the American Congress awarded Perry 20,000 US$ for his achievements in Japan? Had he, had America “opened Japan” to American trade, or even better, to international free trade, as everybody seems to believe? Do history textbooks around the world present us with the historical facts on this issue? Is it true what the website of the Naval Museum in Washington still asserts, namely that the Treaty of Kanagawa not only secured the provision of fuel for American ships “…but also opened the opportunity for trade between Japan and the United States. The signing of this treaty signaled the end of Japanese isolation“?

Three major treaties were signed between Japan and foreign powers between March 1854 and February 1855 marking the “Opening of Japan”. These were the treaties of Kanagawa, Nagasaki and Shimoda, signed by Japan and the United States, Great Britain and Russia respectively. When Perry arrived at the Bay of Uraga on the 8th July 1853 he conveyed a letter from the American president Fillmore to the Japanese Emperor. In solemn words, the president showed himself in search of peaceful relations, kind treatment of shipwrecked Americans and the supply of provisions, coal and water for the occasional stopover of American steamships. Concerning mutual trade, Fillmore urged the Emperor to lift the prohibition and to suspend the ancient laws for a transition period of five or ten years. Reluctantly accepting the letter, as it was unthinkable that the Emperor would negotiate with a foreigner, the Japanese authorities told Perry that the answer would take some time and that he should come back in spring 1854. Before leaving, Perry made clear that he would consider an unfavorable answer as an affront to the United States. In such an event he emphasized that the consequences would be grave, and, in a derisory gesture, left two white flags with the officials, underlining they would be useful in the case of surrender.

Shortly after Perry’s departure, the Russian expedition under Vice-Admiral Putiatin arrived in Nagasaki. The Russians had followed the advise of the German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold, who, following his adventurous years in Nagasaki between 1823 and 1830, was the most knowledgeable person on Japanese affairs in the western world. He had instructed the Russian expedition that Nagasaki was still the only port open to foreigners and that they should not adopt the same aggressive approach as Perry. However, the Japanese authorities in Nagasaki were equally unreceptive to the letter from the Russian Count von Nesselrode, handed over on 21 September 1853, despite being addressed to the Senior Council of Japan, as opposed to making any inappropriate demands on the Emperor himself. They procrastinated and asked Putiatin to come back later. Before he left, the Japanese plenipotentiaries promised not to sign a treaty with any other country before closing negotiations with Russia. Yet when he arrived in Osaka in October of the following year, this promise of priority had just been broken for the second time, Japan having already signed treaties with the United States and England. Nevertheless Putiatin traveled to Shimoda and resumed negotiations with the plenipotentiaries, which began on the 22nd December 1854 in the Fukusen temple.

However the negotiations were soon to be accompanied by a series of dramatic events. The next day Japan was struck by an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 8.4 on the Richter scale. This was followed by a tsunami, a wall of water 7 meters high that destroyed Shimoda and severely damaged the Russian ship Diana by throwing it against the rocks. In this chaotic situation Putiatin ordered his crew to rescue as many Japanese as possible from the deluge. They succeeded in bringing them ashore once the flood had finally subsided, but the following day the Diana sunk. Thus the Russian mission was without a vessel and the shipwrecked crew was at the mercy of the Japanese government. Yet instead of being simply killed as Shimazu Nariakira, the highly influential lord of Satsuma had recommended, the struggling Russian expedition and the equally beleaguered Japanese were united by the tragedy. The atmosphere of the negotiations completely turned around. Following the initial period of disdain and hostility, the Japanese and Russian delegates now expressed mutual admiration and true friendship developed. After the signing of the Treaty of Shimoda on the 7th February 1855 the Japanese government allowed the 586 Russians who were at risk in Shimoda to be attacked by English or French ships – it was the time of the Crimean War – to cross Izu peninsula on foot and to look for a save shelter in a secluded village. It also ordered Japanese shipwrights to build a new ship with the help of the Russians, learning western naval architecture in the process. This first joint Russian-Japanese vessel was ready by May 1855. It was baptized by the new-found friends as Heda after the village where it was built. Putiatin left Japan stating that “my heart shall remain here forever.”

What was the result of Russia’s completely different approach to Japan and the fortune in misfortune accompanying the signing? How did the Treaty of Shimoda differ from the Japanese-American Treaty of Kanagawa? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions have been obscured until recently due to the reliance of the majority of authors and academics on the account of events related in Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron to the China Seas and Japan, written by Francis L. Hawks in 1856 under the supervision of Admiral Perry himself. Hawks was ignorant of the content of the Treaties of Nagasaki and Shimoda, but notwithstanding, he stated that ”… Their treaties are like ours. That of Russia is copied from ours, with no change [… ] We respectfully submit, therefore, that all, and indeed more than all, that, under that circumstances, could reasonably have been expected, has been accomplished.” Since then, history textbooks around the world have told the story of America’s ‘Opening of Japan’.

It was only in 2005 that the German researcher Edgar Franz threw new light on this matter by publishing a book on Philipp Franz von Siebold and Russian Policy and Action on Opening Japan to the West. At the German castle of Brandenstein he was granted access to the archives of the descendants of the Siebold family. There he found a quantity of documents that had never been considered before. He compared Siebold’s letters, plans and drafts to unpublished documents from the Russian Central State Archives of the Navy in St. Petersburg that had recently been opened to the public, as well as to Japanese governmental documents from 1852 to 1855. Siebold’s diplomatic activities in this period, in respect of Russia and the opening of Japan, were almost unknown. However, during the course of his investigations, Franz not only discovered the signal importance of Siebold’s influence on Russia’s policy towards Japan. More interestingly, although this was only an incidental result of his analysis, he was able to recalibrate the received ideas in respect of the entire process known as the ‘Opening of Japan’. As an aside, Franz made a detailed comparison of the three major treaties and the circumstances under which they were drawn up, negotiated and finally signed.

The conclusion of Edgar Franz’s thorough investigation is unambiguous: “Comparison of the Treaties of Shimoda, Kanagawa and Nagasaki showed that the Treaty of Shimoda [with Russia] was the most important of the three treaties of 1854/1855 which led to the opening of Japan.” The analysis of the newly discovered documents on Siebold’s activities and on the policy of the Russian government “…prove, beyond any doubt, that […] the opening of Japan for trade and navigation to all nations in the middle of the 19th century were influenced by Philipp Franz von Siebold to a much greater extent than previously believed.”

For a better understanding of the process of “opening” from the Japanese perspective, we first have to analyze what defined the previous “closing”. The main features of the policy of isolationism, as decreed by the sakoku edict of 1635, and several other edicts issued during the early years of the Tokugawa era, were the prohibition of Catholicism, of trade with foreigners and of foreigners entering Japan and taking up residence on Japanese soil. However the isolation was not total as the bakufu left some gateways open. Most importantly, it permitted trade with the Dutch factory on Dejima, primarily because this was a privilege formerly granted by the sacred founder of the dynasty, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Apart from this one exception, the bakufu followed the strict rules of the edicts in all other points. The Dutch merchants were only allowed to live on Dejima as it was built as an artificial island and thus didn’t constitute sacred Japanese ground. So, did the Treaty of Kanagawa between Japan and the United States of America break any of the strict rules of the sakoku? No, it did not. It neither allowed trade between Japanese and Americans, nor did it permit American citizens to reside on Japanese soil. It was no more than a shipwreck convention that guaranteed the safety of American crews tossed onto Japanese shores and the supply of necessary provisions. Similarly, the Treaty of Nagasaki between Japan and England failed to grant any further privileges. This is exactly where Putiatin reached a breakthrough. Not only did he successfully negotiate permission to trade with Japan, he also secured the privilege of a Russian consulate in Japan and the right of Russians to live within this consulate according to their own customs and laws. This is the definition of extraterritoriality that has only been granted to the Russians. Thus the Treaty of Shimoda between Japan and Russia is the document that truly opened up Japan, lifting the strict veil of sakoku that had been hiding Japan from foreign eyes for the first time. Furthermore, Russia’s envoy Vice-Admiral Putiatin succeeded in negotiating this opening of Japan in a spirit of mutual understanding and friendship.

Edgar Franz’s conclusions were confirmed by William McOmie’s voluminous study The Opening of Japan 1853 – 1855 which was published one year later in 2006. McOmie states: “Article V [of the Treaty of Shimoda] allowed the Russians to exchange desired goods and property for goods, property and money brought, in Shimoda and Hakodate only. It seemed to allow a more general exchange of money and goods and to approach more closely to the idea of ‘trade’ without calling it that, than did the corresponding Article VII in the American treaty […] Although the treaty gave no specific permission to trade, it seemed to have clear advantages over previous agreements.”

While the British government was highly dissatisfied with the outcome of Admiral Sir James Stirling’s negotiations as documented in the Treaty of Nagasaki, Admiral Perry, who had hardly achieved any better, was welcomed as a hero in the United States. Right up until his death in 1858, resulting from liver cirrhosis following decades of alcoholism, Perry may have lived in the belief that he had opened-up Japan, just as he believed that he had negotiated with the Japanese Emperor. Today we can see that both these claims were unfounded and that it is time to rethink the history of Japan. Again we see the importance of Siebold’s activities. He had another kind of ‘Opening of Japan’ in mind and, ultimately, he had made an important contribution to a better outcome, as a close examination of the historical records has revealed a quite different chronology and causality of events. America conducted a highly successful marketing campaign with its story of the ‘Opening of Japan’. However, it is time to go back to the facts and for Japan to reopen the dusty files on one of the most important moments in its history. It may have much to gain by doing so.

© Reginald Grünenberg is an author and publisher in Berlin/Germany. In 2008 he attended the European Commission’s ETP Executive Training Programme at Waseda University ( His historical novel Shiboruto about Philipp Franz von Siebold will be published in 2009 in Germany.

The Tale of the Lost Japonian Charter

December 30, 2008

By November 2008 I offered two essays on Japanese history to Japan Times, my favorite English newspaper in Japan. But it took them more than two month to come back to me and then they offered to publish only a short summary of those two essays. I declined, because it doesn’t make sense. This is why I publish them here because I think that everybody should know the whole story.

Rethinking the History of Japan I

The history of nations is generally presented as a solid chain of causes and consequences. History as a reconstruction of events as they occurred is basically an attempt to spirit away their genuine, inherent contingency. Nevertheless, sometimes we discover the account of an incident, a document, or even just a line in a historical scripture, that unquestionably opens the door to an alternative outcome, to a junction where events were close to turning in a completely different direction. This kind of potential history is great stuff for novel writers as it provides them with the freedom to choose any matter or object for the historical peripetia of their plot. What if Nazi Germany had won the war in Europe or Hitler had died in 1936? Well, we were not particularly close to either of those dramatic turns, but they still inspired quite a few authors. Let’s try another one. What if Japan had not been opened up by the threat of American military force but peacefully by British merchants? What? Can this be a serious consideration? It seems more unlikely than Saudi-Arabian democracy, healthy Japanese public finance or vegetarian sharks.

The many aggressive attempts of the British merchant navy to open Japanese ports during the late Edo period are well documented. They exasperated the Japanese government and its subjects alike. Let’s take Captain Pellew’s assault in 1808 when he entered the bay of Nagasaki with the Phaeton under the disguise of the Dutch flag. The Napoleonic wars had wiped the Netherlands from European maps and replaced it with the Batavian Republic. For more than ten years, the artificial island Dejima in the port of Nagasaki was the last and only piece of ground where the Dutch ensign was flown. First Pellew took the Dutch delegates hostage who had credulously boarded the vessel. Then he demanded the capitulation of the whole Dutch delegation and the surrender of the island. The Dutch habitants of Dejima, after years of complete isolation from their homeland, were in a terribly bad shape, but the brave Hendrik Doeff, head of the delegation and chief of the factory, firmly resisted this violation and called the Japanese authorities for help. They reacted immediately and closed off the whole bay with all available vessels, from the sampan, small and swift rowing boats, up to the huge and ponderous Chinese junks. In this situation the Phaeton could have been easily burned down. Pellew had to give up. He obtained a face-saving compromise, got his stocks of food, water and wood replenished and had to withdraw from the shore. The aftermath was a political shock for the bakufu, the military “tent government” of the Shogun in Edo, that had to face the evidence of its vulnerability. The commissioner of the port of Nagasaki and his seven subordinates had to commit suicide. A solid iron chain crossing the entire bay, just under the water surface, was secretly put in place as a precautionary measure for the next incident.

It was neither the first nor the last time that British merchants tried to break the iron grip of Tokugawa’s sakoku policy of total isolation. Altogether there were eight unsuccessful expeditions, some of them at least as nasty as the one above, until 1854, when Admiral Matthew Perry forced the bakufu to sign the Treaty of Shimoda. The Japanese authorities put this together with the available information on Britain’s colonial activities in China and India. Thus they acquired about the worst possible image of the intrusive British barbarians. Was this degeneration of British foreign policy towards Japan really necessary? It is true that Japan was a low priority for the Crown. It is also clear that the attempts to open the country to trade relations were, at best, lukewarm. However, there was an objective desire to establish a breakthrough and the serial failure of the merchant naval powers, in particular those of the East Indian Company, should, as a blow to the Empire’s pride, have inspired greater efforts.

In fact, the opening of Japan was actually close at hand and could have been achieved at a stroke. The accidental discovery of a stunning document in 1985 by Hayashi Nozomu from Tokyo Gakuen Joshi Tanki Daigaku and Izumi Tytler threw the door wide open, not only to an alternative history of foreign relations between Great Britain and Japan, but also to the opening up of Japan itself. In 1990, Derek Massarella gave a detailed account of this finding and evaluated it as “one of the most interesting archival discoveries”. What kind of document could have turned around centuries of history and the whole fate of the Japanese nation? In a narrow, long box in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Nozomu and Tytler found a well preserved handscroll made from thick creped Japanese paper. When they read it they didn’t believe their eyes. In clear letters it stipulated the trade privileges that were to be granted by all Japanese authorities to the English East Indian Company. The document dates from 1613 and is signed in person by Tokugawa Ieyasu. His vermillion seal provided the immediate power of law. It is one of initially two originals of the shuinjô 朱印状 , the Japonian Charter regulating trade with England, which John Saris had received from Ieyasu. The privileges exceeded even those previously granted to the Dutch in 1609 – and by far those that Admiral Perry extorted from the bakufu in the Treaty of Shimoda!

Those privileges have been limited by the Japanese and then given up by the English, but they have never been revoked. How could they, having been granted by the now deified founder of the dynasty? However, the question is why the British didn’t make use of this document in their various attempts to open up Japan during the first half of the 19th century. It has been common knowledge that neither the English authorities nor the trading companies were careful in dealing with legal documents. In this case, the English East Indian Company is to blame, being careless enough to store the shuinjô in the department for Chinese documents as the librarians were unable to identify its contents as Japanese. So the answer as to why Britain didn’t resume the exercise of the privileges granted to it is simply that the Japonian Charter became lost in the libraries and was forgotten.

Could such a document really have influenced the course of history? Massarella is more than sceptical. He reminds us that after the departure of the English from Japan in 1623 due to commercial failure a new English expedition was sent in 1671. Its directors hoped to convince the bakufu with a translated and shortened transcript of the original shuinjô. The Japanese authorities were of course unimpressed. “Yet even had the English brought the original shuinjô with them […] they would still not have been readmitted to trade in Japan.”(The Japonian Charters. The English and Dutch Shuinjô, Monumenta Nipponica 2/1990, Vol. 45, p. 197) Massarella argues that the Dutch, alarmed at the prospect of English competition, informed the Japanese that Charles II, king of England, was married to the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, offspring of Japan’s archenemy in Europe. A little further, he mentions another move of the Dutch in an attempt to heal the souring relations with the Japanese, the forced displacement from Hirado to Dejima in 1641 and the tough restrictions that governed the delegation’s life on the island. To this end they presented their original shuinjô. “The Dutch hoped that a document bearing the revered Ieyasu’s seal would command the same respect and obedience as if it were  his voice speaking from beyond the grave.” The attempt failed. Japanese officials “were genuinely impressed with the care that the Dutch had shown in preserving such a hallowed document […] but, while listening, they turned a deaf ear to the Dutch demands.”

Would it really have been the case that this unique document of a former living god would be condemned to total powerlessness and insignificance in the face of history? I believe this assessment is profoundly wrong. Massarella supported his argument with reference to the earliest period of the Tokugawa’s reign. The first shoguns of this dynasty were absolute monarchs, each one of them being an extremely strong personality who would have had no problem, coming almost naturally to them, in challenging the written will of Ieyasu. How different in the late Edo period! It is quite unthinkable that the bakufu under Ienari (1786-1837) or Ieyoshi (1837-1853) would had treated an original shuinjô from Ieyasu the way their early predecessors did. But how to prove this conjecture which stands in complete opposition to Massarella’s conclusion? With an eye witness account from somebody whose expertise in this field is unquestionable. Who could that be? Nobody less than Philipp Franz von Siebold, the German physician, explorer and certainly one of the fathers of Japanese modernity. During his stay in Dejima between 1823 and 1830 in the service of the Dutch Ministry of Colonies he built a small university and taught a wide variety of state of the art western sciences to his Japanese students. Many of these approximately fifty people later laid the foundations for Japan’s modernization. Back in Europe, Siebold introduced Japan to European societies in many ways. Being fully aware of the plans of several Western nations to open Japan by military force, he fought tirelessly for a peaceful opening of Japan. It was in this political atmosphere, in 1851, that the librarian Thomas Rundall showed him a facsimile of the translation of the shuinjô dating from 1616, housed in the British Museum library. Remembering well Britain’s aggressive attempts to open Japan so far, he was simply furious to see the golden opportunity, so clearly documented, which England had missed. In a solitary und totally overlooked document of a mere 34 pages, written in German and published 1854 at the author’s expense under a terribly uncatchy title, Siebold expressed his utter frustration with the American and especially English aggressions towards Japan. After enumerating the fruitless intrusions and tentative invasions of England in Japan and then pointing out the existence of an old Japonian Charter, the original of which must be somewhere in England, he clearly stated:

“The Japanese government has become more distrustful than it has ever been. For England this dubious behaviour is all the more detrimental as its subjects, which have carried out trade with Japan in the years between 1613 and 1618, had been favoured with similar privileges as the Dutch by the same Shogun, the deified Ieyasu whose laws and edicts are irrevocable. Such antique charters would leave a deeper impression on the Japanese government and pave the way to a friendlier admission than a certain letter of recommendation in the Morning Chronicle (Oct. 20th, 1846) which tried to convince Japans hearts and minds by highlighting the English preponderance on the balance of global domination.”(Authentic Account of the Efforts of the Netherlands and Russia towards the Opening of Japan for Navigation and Trade for all Nations p. 28) 

Siebold was deeply convinced that everything had gone completely wrong with the way Japan had been forced to end its seclusion. And he was right. The arrival of the Black Ships marked the beginning of a tragic and disastrous aberration in Japanese history which consequently led to a complete militarization of society and a fatal imitation of the colonialist patterns learned from Europe and America. From his early years in Nagasaki up until his death, Siebold worked for the alternative solution, a progressive opening of the country through fair trade on equal terms and an exchange of culture and sciences. He failed dramatically in his time, but today we should give him credit for having been beyond reproach with his liberal beliefs and cosmopolitan ideals.

© Reginald Grünenberg is an author and publisher in Berlin/Germany. He attended the European Commission’s ETP Executive Training Programme in 2008 at Waseda University ( His historical novel Shiboruto about Philipp Franz von Siebold will be published in 2009 in Germany.

ETP 26 の終わり- ETP 26 Completed

December 4, 2008

It’s over! We have finished the Executive Training Program 26 with a truly splendid graduation ceremony, in Japanese “sotsugyoshiki” 卒業式. It was at the same time the farewell to all those great people who made this program become reality, including the Waseda staff and the students themselves. We became a family during the past twelve months and from now on our adventures in Paris, Milan, London and Tokyo are shared memories of an extraordinary part of our life. 


We made it!

Preparations for the ceremony

After the end of the internships by October 30th we had to pass a final written exam in Japanese including an  interview, furthermore to deliver our business plans and finally to make a full fledged business presentation in Japanese. I am afraid my presentation was really bad – but for a good reason. When we did the presentation, I had already passed two weeks of a very special kind of fasting. I call it Samurai Diet because it has not so much to do with religious fasting. Instead it is completely centered on losing the maximum weight in a minimum time. I lost 15 kilogram in 3 weeks. It’s easy! You don’t eat anything at all and you run at least 10-15 km per day. OK, it’s true, it is not easy at all and I would not be able to do it if I hadn’t done this several times before. I have developed this method six years ago because I wanted to lose 10 kg in two weeks and it worked better than expected. The trouble is that your brain activity is rather low during this period and your whole metabolism slows down – except during the periods of training, running and exercises. You are especially ill prepared for situations of stress requiring high brain performance. But this was the only drawback, everything else worked perfectly and I had a great time in November. By the way, I think it is an excellent deal to get away with three weeks of tough fasting in order to lose the weight accumulated in three years of unlimited culinary pleasures and alcoholic self-indulgence.


With the two Juliens and Fabienne in my new shape
and in suit that I could not wear for two years


With my French “Busenfreund” (bosom buddy, old crony) Julien

letizia_rafal_eric_regi_georgiLetizia (Italy), Rafal (Poland), Eric (France),
Reginald (Germany) and Georgi (Bulgaria)

For me, this evening was extremely moving and sometimes I could hardly breathe. This was partly caused by an extraordinary event. The keynote speaker Kunitake Ando, former CEO of Sony Corp. and founder of the joint-venture Sony Ericsson, one of the most impressive personalities in Japanese business and industry, mentioned my name during his speech and declared himself in public to be my business mentor and to have identified business opportunities for Audiantis within Sony. This is extremely unusual in a Japanese context. Moreover, I really admire this man and I felt so honored to be mentioned by him. To be honest, I thought my heart is going to stand still when I heard his speech. Right after that exciting moment there was another surprise. My Audiantis business plan won the prize for the best business plan. And all of my guests who became good friends to each other shared these moments with me.

Ando-san, former CEO of Sony Corp.


A last take with JJ Ikegami-sensei from Waseda,
the fabulous mastermind of ETP


With the Biohouse core team:
Tanaka-san, Mako-san and Noriyuki-san

Final farewell toast of the ETP students 

I had also some unforgettable culinary farewells from Japan. First there was the “tuna head dinner” with my parents in law and the staff of their musical instruments shop. They were kind enough to pass on my dish the “easy-to-eat” parts of it – which were delicious! – while I was marveling at the young people who devoured with pleasure the fatty and unquestionably slimy parts around and beneath the eyes of the poor fish. It is indeed a very rare delicacy that only few restaurants know how to prepare. Even my parents in law did not eat this before. 


Tuna head meal

And more of tuna head eating 

Another farewell was again Konno-san’s fine art of cooking. He spoiled us with an incredibly juicy Shabushabu, a very suitable dish for this late autumn season. It’s so nice that my stay ended in the same fashion it started in March. This time we had some VIP guests. 

Dom Perignon and some of his Italian friends, i Signori Barolo e Brunello

shabushabuDelicious Shabushabu at Konno-san’s place

The day of departure, November 21st, was an incredibly bright and sunny day that reminded me of the latitude of Tokyo. It’s as much in the south as Lebanon and Morocco. You don’t feel this during the summer because there is too much humidity and smog. Autumn is the most beautiful season in Tokyo.

departureRelaxed departure, one hour sun bathing at Narita airport
and almost sun burned

Now back in Berlin I will change my profession. I am an author and publisher from now on. The publishing house Perlen Verlag was started in 2003 and it is time to become serious about it. My new book that will be published in December is about German politics, more precisely why Germany needs a new constitution if Germans don’t want their state to degenerate into a bizarre form of dictatorship: (only German, sorry)

reginald_lesung081121_1The day after jet lagged in Berlin
at the first lecture of my new book   
in an enchanted old theatre






Our Summer 2008

October 30, 2008


I underestimated the difficulties that come along with being separated from the family during ETP. In springtime the situation grew really uncomfortable and I had to take a first leave from the program in May. Fortunately everything went very well from then on. We spent a lot of time with the kids and made some excursions in and around Berlin.

Sakura in Berlin’s Bötzow quarter where we live near the Friedrichshain park.

Berlin is a city with lots of lakes, rivers, parks and forests. Here we are at Wannsee

It was still a little chilly outside, but the kids had definitely fun


By the end of Juli I went to Europe again, picked my wife up in Berlin and headed to Florence. We had five days without children, something every couple should have once in a while. We go like every year to Italy and we were never disappointed. Both of us speaking Italian – Motoko is even fluent – we have always a great time there. We first stayed two days in Florence in a nice little hotel right next to Ponte Vecchio with rooftop view on the old city. I wanted to rent a classy car, a cabriolet of course. But they were all gone and so we had to take what was left. And that was the new Fiat Cinqucento (500). How lucky! It’s a wonderful car and we were very happy to travel on this speedy little thing through Toscana. We went for agritourismo close to Montepulciano where we stayed at a renewed farm with a swimming pool. From there we made daily excursions to Pienza and Montalcino.

View from our nice hotel in Florence

Happy Cinquecento driver!

We also made an excursion to Fiesole, a beautiful and romantic village in the mountains above Florence.

Agritoursimo at Montepulciano

View from Pienza

Mo and I, we both love photography. Toscana offers some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen

Cinquecento, what can I say. Great car!



Back in Germany we had just one day to get everything packed for us an the three kids, but we managed it. The flight to Tokyo was smooth, kids loved looking videos for hours. The last summers with the kids in Tokyo in 2005 and 2007 were difficult because of the extreme heat and humidity and the total indifference of children for the excitements of big cities. This time it was different. We had really big fun.

Tokyo 360° Sky View in Mori Art building on 57th floor

We played around with “purikura”, the popular photo booth and the stickers they produce. We liked the results!

One of the nicest beaches around Tokyo is Hayama, next to Kamukura. Here a view on the riff and surfers

Wonderful beach bar, mostly hippies hanging out there until late night

Training in a karate dojo with some friends. I did 20 years Taekwondo, that helps

Mo at Lotus Calyx

Toni, half Japanese and half Italian like all three kids, gets his first genuine Japanese haircut

Suits him, but he’s not sure yet

These kids love onsen

The Seta Onsen in Futakutamagawa is a very beautiful one; from this outside pool called rotenburo you can see mount Fuji and sip your cocktail or beer that is served at the tiny bar.

Komazawa park is 10 minutes walk from my place. It was part of 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Here the old pool, now already greenish. In August we were swimming here. The whole park doesn’t look like Tokyo or Japan, rather like a former east European capital with crumbling monuments of communism.

Please join for a tour through the park on my running course. I bet it is the best place for jogging, yet I haven’t tried the one in Meji Jingu that Murakami has recommended in his book What I talk about when I talk about running.

This was weather in Jiyugaoka as of today, October 30th, when I learned for the final exams in Japanese during the lunch break on our rooftop. This is by far the best season in Tokyo. For me, the end of summer has not yet arrived.