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History of the Japan Center

History of the Japan Center

Along with the Institute of Oriental Languages in Berlin and the Institute of Japanese Language and Culture in Hamburg, Munich’s LMU boasts one of the oldest university programs in Germany for research on Japan. Although the “Institute of Japanese Studies” was itself officially created in 1956 when Horst Hammitzsch (1909-1991) was called as the professor and chair of the institute, Hammitzsch had worked within the Institute of Sinology since 1949, first as a lecturer and then as a professor for Japanese studies. After Hammitzsch left Munich in 1965 to accept a position at the newly founded university in Bochum, the position in Munich remained vacant until 1969.

Between the late 1940s and the mid-1960s, a number of graduate students worked in Munich whose formative contributions to the field remain relevant today. These include (in alphabetical order): Oscar Benl, Lydia Brüll, Hans Adalbert Dettmer, Geza Dombrady, Ulrich Goch, Bruno Lewin, Klaus Müller and Peter Weber-Schäfer. This generation of scholars included Hammitzsch's successor, Wolfram Naumann, who completed his doctoral studies in Munich in 1960 and his "habilitation" in 1964. He was professor of Japanese studies from 1969 to 1996 and placed an emphasis on the research of premodern Japanese literature. In the 1970s and 1980s, Wolfgang Schamoni and Klaus Antoni—both of whom went on to occupy the position of professor themselves—worked as assistants in the department. At the same time, Japanese studies in general profited from the expansion of the subject at universities throughout the German republic. Inge-Lore Kluge (1919–1995), who had already worked as Hammitzsch’s assistant, taught and researched Japanese history at the university in Munich, first as a lecturer (1971–1980) and later as a professor until her retirement in 1985. In 1985 she was succeeded by Carl Steenstrup, who specialized in the legal and institutional development of Japan in addition to political history. A bit later an additional professorship was added for modern Japanese religion and philosophy. Johannes Laube held this position from 1987–2002. By the end of the 1980s, therefore, scholars at LMU had already covered a broad spectrum of intellectual and cultural research on Japan.

Given the indisputable increase in Japan’s significance on the global stage, the university subsequently decided to expand its resources for the study of contemporary Japanese society and business. This resulted in the foundation of a Japan Center in 1991. In 1992 Peter Pörtner assumed a new professorship at the center for research on topics relevant to contemporary Japanese society. In its previous form, the center served many students from beyond the department itself, which created synergy that benefited the research and instruction within the department, too. In 1997 the center added a professorship for Japanese economics which was occupied by Franz Waldenberger.

After a lengthy vacancy, the professorship for Japanese studies was occupied after 1998 by Klaus Vollmer, who took over the focus on Japanese history—especially cultural and social aspects—after Carl Steenstrup’s retirement in the spring of 2000. The academic assistants in the department (Stanca Scholz (1990–1996): Nô und Kyôgen; Verena Blechinger (1993–1997): Political Science; Jutta Haußer (1993–1995, 1997–2006): Literature) expanded the spectrum of topics covered and offered a variety of further courses and subjects. In the course of these developments, the earlier division between “premodern” (Institute of Japanese Studies) and “contemporary” (Japan Center) became obsolete, because the definition of the areas of teaching and research was linked less to historical or chronological divisions but rather to the instructors’ respective academic disciplines, even though these remained somewhat fluid in the spirit of interdisciplinary cooperation. The two institutions were thus combined in 2002 as part of the university’s restructuring and formed the new Japan Center, which was affiliated with the Department of Asian Studies.

That same year, the department added a professorship for the study of modern Japanese literature, occupied by Evelyn Schulz. Between 2004 and 2008, Christoph Kleine dealt with the fields of Japanese religion and philosophy; in 2011, Martin Lehnert was appointed to deal with these topics within a broader East Asian context. From 2006–2011, Urs Matthias Zachmann taught at the center, focusing on international relationships in East Asia.
Thanks to the current staff, the Japan Center is unique in the German-speaking world, offering courses and facilitating research that span many disciplines including Japanese literature, religion, philosophy, history, social studies, political science, and business.