This is why Beethoven is so popular in Japan

During the First World War thousands of German soldiers were taken prisoner of war by the Japanese. On 1 June 1918 they performed Beethoven's 9th Symphony for the first time in Japan - the beginning of a Beethoven hype.

By Beethoven-House Bonn

"すべての人々は兄弟となる" –  "All men become brothers"

On the first Sunday in December, ten thousand Japanese people gather to sing Beethoven's 9th symphony together. Yet, a little more than 100 years ago, nobody would have thought that a German artist could become so successful in Japan...

Map of the entire colony area, printed in BandoBeethoven-House Bonn

German influence in China

In 1897 German soldiers landed in China. They built a naval port in the Bay of Kiatchou, from which they wanted to increase German influence in East Asia. In their luggage: the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Night's rest: One slept on rice straw mats on the floor, the furniturewere pulled under the ceiling.Beethoven-House Bonn

Japanese prisoners of war

When World War I broke out in 1914, Japanese soldiers captured the German base and took almost five thousand prisoners. The Japanese believed that the war would end quickly. The prisoners were housed in temples and public buildings.

Marugamer Musikkapelle conducted by the violinist Paul EngelBeethoven-House Bonn

A lot of free time

Since the prisoners did not have to work, they devoted themselves to sport - and music. The violinist Paul Engel even founded his own chapel in the Marugame Temple Camp.

Concert from 10.12.1916Beethoven-House Bonn

Beethoven for the prisoners of war

On 10 December 1916 there was even a whole symphony concert in the camp. The program included Beethoven's 2nd piano concerto.

Main gate to the warehouse with the characteristic arc lampBeethoven-House Bonn

End of the provisional arrangement

When it became clear that the war would last longer, the Japanese moved their prisoners to larger camps. The picture shows the entrance to the Bando camp, where about a thousand prisoners were held. Because the place was far away from a large port, the danger of escape was low.

POW officers, Japanese camp officers and a Japanese interpreterBeethoven-House Bonn

Bringing together two cultures

The commandant also administered the camp in a humane and liberal manner. There was lively contact between German and Japanese soldiers and the rural population. Sports and music were used to get to know each other's culture.

"Music Seminar Paul Engel" - Engel with his Japanese students<Original Source: Deutsches Haus NarutoDeutsches Haus Naruto

Music lessons on free time

The soldier Paul Engel gave music lessons in the camp and was also allowed to teach Japanese pupils outside the camp twice a week.

Tour guide through the prisoner of war camp Bando, JapanBeethoven-House Bonn

Camp with six music ensembles

When new prisoners entered the camp, the old inmates printed a guide to help the new arrivals get started. In it they talked about two orchestras with 45 musicians each, two brass bands and two choirs with 60 singers each.

Concert of 9.12.1917 with Prometheus OvertureBeethoven-House Bonn

Music against the "camp fever"

During the approximately 32 months of captivity in Bando, more than one hundred concerts, chamber music, song and entertainment evenings took place. Beethoven was on the program at more than half of the "serious" symphony concerts.

Concert of 1.6.1918 with the complete 9th SymphonyBeethoven-House Bonn

First performance of the Ninth Symphony

More than 80 men spent months rehearsing Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". On 1 June 1918 the time had finally come and the Ninth Symphony was played in Barrack 1 of the Bando camp - for the first time in Japan.

Last issue of the camp newspaper of the barrack camp in BandoBeethoven-House Bonn

Returning home

On 30 December 1919 the captivity of the German soldiers ended. From Kobe, they left Japan and reached Wilhelmshaven almost two months later.

Tokushima OrchestraBeethoven-House Bonn

Beethoven has remained

The concert programs and scores of the German soldiers have remained in Japan. Through performances outside the camps they spread throughout the country.

Tokushima Orchestra and Choir with Hermann Richard HansenBeethoven-House Bonn

Late re-encounter

Only in the 1960s did the former prisoners resume contacts with Japan. In 1972, they founded the "Deutsches Haus Naruto" as a museum and place of remembrance. Every year on 1 June, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is played here - as a sign of international understanding.

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