Karl Florence

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Karl Florenz, pioneer of German Japanology

Karl Adolf Florenz (born January 10, 1865 in Erfurt , † February 9, 1939 in Hamburg ) was a pioneer of German Japanology . He was best known for his work on Japanese literary history (1903-1906) and for his translations of half of the Kojiki from the Nihongi ( Japanese Annals , 1892-1897) and the entire Kogo-shūi ( Japanese mythology , 1901, and the historical Shinto Religion Sources , 1919).


The son of a teacher and his wife already studied oriental languages ​​as high school students. In 1883 he began studying German and comparative linguistics at the University of Leipzig . He studied various Middle Eastern languages ​​with a focus on Sanskrit and Indology . His doctoral supervisor was Ernst Windisch , he also attended lectures from Friedrich Max Müller . He learned Chinese with Georg von der Gabelentz and also took Japanese . After graduating from Leipzig, he continued his Japanese studies with Inoue Tetsujirō at Berlin University .

In 1889 he became lecturer for German language and literature at the Imperial University of Tokyo , in 1891 full professor for German literature and comparative linguistics.

In 1914 he received the first professorship for Japanese studies at a German university (and in Europe at all), the chair at the seminar for Japanese language and culture at the Hamburg Colonial Institute . In 1925 he was elected a foreign member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences . In November 1933 his name appeared on the confession of German professors to Adolf Hitler . Retired in 1935, he worked with the Dutch Japanologist Jan Lodewijk Pierson on the classical collection of poems Man'yōshū . This joint work between Florence and Pierson, which remained the only one despite planned further joint projects, was dedicated to Adolf Hitler.


For his translation of Nihongi (also Nihon shoki), Florence was the first foreigner to be awarded the highest Japanese scholarly degree (Bungaku-Hakushi) in 1899 .

Monumenta Nipponica , founded in 1938, published an article from Florence in its first issue. Herbert Zachert was his last student, his successor at the Hamburg chair was Wilhelm Gundert .

In 1983, the “German Society for Natural History and Ethnology of East Asia” decided to award a “Florence Prize” in Tokyo. The first award, which was planned for 1987, was suspended because a student had rediscovered the dedication in question.

Florence's lecture "Germany and Japan" (1914)

In addition to its very specialized work on the oldest Japanese literature, Florence has rarely made programmatic statements on recent Japanese history and Japanese-German relations . A very personal and at the same time symptomatic text in terms of ideology, however, is his public lecture in Hamburg on October 30, 1914, which was printed as a brochure that same year. Florence also mentions the historical sympathies between Japan and Germany, common virtues such as chivalry, idealism, self-sacrifice and ancestral loyalty. Above all, however, he expresses his disappointment that Japan did not maintain neutrality at the beginning of the World War in August 1914, but followed "English agitation" and declared an alliance with England. Nobody else in the world has contributed so selflessly to Japan's "welfare and prosperous development" as Germany. The “loyal cooperation and teaching staff of the Germans” in the modernization of the country is now rewarded with ingratitude, despite the “piety of the student towards his teacher” taught in Japan. Florence also saw itself personally betrayed by the "nation I have served for 25 years, working for the spread of German language, German literature and culture".

With some analytical sharpness, in his war lecture, Florence names the Japanese government's goal of domination in East Asia. To explain it, he resorts to Japanese claims on the Korean and Chinese mainland from the 4th to 7th ( Mimana ) and the 16th century ( Imjin War ), also on a “lively national ambition”, which is achieved through the “recognition of the Country as a great power ”in the Russo-Japanese war , through the United States-mediated Peace Treaty of Portsmouth 1905 was fueled. With the action against the German "model branch" Tsingtau , allegedly an "obvious embodiment of German ability in business and administration", Japan wanted to destroy a "first-rate cultural source for the young China in need of education". Incidentally, Florence assesses the world war as “Europe's suicide”, in which England had most to lose. Florence does not want to have completely lost faith in Japan, but he notes that "two nations that were once friendly" have "become estranged for a long time".

Publications (selection)


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Vol. 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Episode 3, vol. 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 82.
  2. ^ Herbert Worm: Was Karl Florenz an admirer of Adolf Hitler? - A German award ceremony in Tôkyô - . In: News of the Society for Nature and Ethnology of East Asia EV Volume 144 . Hamburg 1988, p. 31–56 ( uni-hamburg.de [PDF; accessed on February 20, 2014]).
  3. Peter Rodatz: Statement on Herbert Worms "Was Karl Florenz an admirer of Adolf Hitler?" In: News of the Society for Nature and Ethnology of East Asia EV Band 145-146 . Hamburg 1989 ( uni-hamburg.de [PDF; accessed on February 21, 2014]).