Japan and the Ottoman Empire in the Eye of the European Beholder. A Comparison

Japan and the Ottoman Empire in the Eye of the European Beholder. A Comparison

Arno Strohmeyer, Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Salzburg; Haruka OBA, Kurume University
Vom - Bis
01.06.2019 - 02.06.2019
Doris Gruber / Marion Romberg, Institut für Neuzeit und Zeitgeschichtsforschung, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien

The interdisciplinary joint seminar compared perceptions of Japan and the Ottoman Empire in the Holy Roman Empire during the Early Modern Period. By doing so, the seminar responded to a researched desideratum: While perceptions of the Ottoman Empire have been the focus of research for decades, interest in the perception of Japan is recent and research has focused mostly on Jesuit missions and the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Comparisons of Japan and the Ottoman Empire, however, are lacking.[1] Organised by Haruka Oba (Kurume University, Japan), Arno Strohmeyer (ÖAW, INZ, Vienna and University of Salzburg), and Marion Romberg and Doris Gruber (ÖAW, INZ, Vienna)[2], the seminar brought together specialists from Europe and Japan as well as their broad material base, ranging from diplomatic correspondence to travelogues, plays, and sculptural and pictorial sources.

YOSHIHISA HATTORI (Kyoto) inaugurated the seminar with an introduction. In light of this year’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Austria and Japan, he presented insights into his academic and personal experiences in both countries and highlighted the mutual benefits of cooperation and exchange. This was followed by ARNO STROHMEYER (Salzburg/Vienna) who laid the theoretical and methodological groundwork by discussing “otherness” as a category of research and posing the questions: What does “otherness” mean? How can “otherness” be further analysed? Why should we analyse the images of the Ottoman Empire and Japan in the Holy Roman Empire in the 21st century? He characterised “otherness” as an elementary anthropological phenomenon that can be found in all historical contexts and fruitfully explored throughout all epochs. While he emphasised that “otherness” is a social construct and inseparably connected with individual or collective self-images he suggested two cognitive dimensions that allow further analysis: difference and distance. He also pointed out that the analysis of “otherness” today can allow us to gain deeper understanding of how identities are constructed as well as the process of understanding that can cause the “foreign” to dissolve into the “familiar”. Research on the Early Modern Period, he accentuated, can offer orientation on these highly topical processes.

The first session focused on the Jesuits and their world missions. TOBIAS WINNERLING (Düsseldorf) compared perceptions of foreign political and religious systems and showed that analogies to European systems played a major role but developed in different ways. Concerning Japan, starting with Francisco de Javier SJ in his first letter from Kagoshima in 1549, Jesuit missionaries were thought to have identified a religious leader like the pope in the tennō and a secular ruler like the Holy Roman Emperor in the shogun. Although the Jesuit order itself soon refrained from comparing Japan politically to the Holy Roman Empire, the concept still proliferated, especially in German language tracts from the late 16th century onwards. This concept was also employed to the Ottoman Sultan and Mufti. This way, an analogy between the Ottoman Empire and Japan was established and resulted in a likening of Japanese Buddhism to Islam. Winnerling argued that this perception changed in respect to the Ottoman Empire in the early 18th century as the religious establishment was no longer likened to the Roman Church or the pope. In the case of Japan, Winnerling proclaimed a different development as, despite new evidence, the topical comparison of tennō to pope and shogun to Holy Roman Emperor continued to be visible in the works, for example, of Engelbert Kaempfer. However, the exact nature of this process, as Winnerling pointed out, needs further investigation.

AKIHIKO WATANABE (Tokyo) focused on Jesuit school literature by analysing two literary works written in classicizing neo-Latin, both performed in the Munich Jesuit Gymnasium in 1665 (BSB CLM 1554 195r–222r). The first one focused on the Battle of Saint Gotthard and Franz Graf von Fugger-Weißenhorn-Nordendorf (1612–1664), and the second on the martyrdom of Nagasaki in 1597 and one of the Japanese Christian converts, Ginsei Ogasawara. Watanabe showed that the two works are in many ways similar as both texts are thematically linked by the idea of Christian victory, part of the same distinctly European tradition of classical neo-Latin literature, produced in close temporal proximity to each other and written for the same audience/readership. Watanabe showed that both works feature numerous echoes of Greco-Roman tradition but adapted it in different ways. While the first play presented the Ottomans as overwhelmingly negative and barbaric, the second one on Japan contains a somewhat greater amount of specific information regarding pagan Japan, and the Japanese characters themselves are modelled more on Greco-Roman stock types than the actual historical figures reported in Jesuit sources.

Expanding this comparison, the second panel focused on exoticism in theatre. MICHAEL HÜTTLER (Vienna) provided broad insights into perceptions of the Ottomans in European (Music) Theatre from the 17th to the 19th century. These images, he argued, continue to influence European perceptions of the Ottoman Empire up to the present day. Referring to a wide range of plays, Hüttler showed that the cultural transfer between the Habsburg Empire and the Ottoman Empire (and vice versa) in music and theatre had a twofold dimension. It was, on the one hand, connected with actual travelling diplomats and artists while on the other hand, many “products” of Western artists, such as paintings, “Singspiele” and dramatic texts were pure orientalist fantasies. In diachronic perspective, he showed that the image of the Ottomans was dichotomous as well, changing from cruel and barbaric to exotic and noble. This process, as Hüttler demonstrated, was closely connected to sociocultural and military events, resembling the military thread of the Ottomans and the failed siege of Vienna in 1683 or the rise of the Enlightenment.

HARUKA OBA (Kurume) scrutinised the depiction of Japanese villains in the 17th century Jesuit drama. Starting from a painting in the Jesuit church in Innsbruck, which shows three Japanese Jesuits crucified by a fellow kinsman in Nagasaki in 1597, she pointed out that European artists distinguished between “bad” and “good” Japanese, at least at times, by drawing on specific images of otherness. She showed that martyrs and their supporters were partly depicted as similar to Europeans, for example, with white skin, while “bad” (read: pagan) people were portrayed as Turks. This method of portraying opposition between parties of different religions can also be found in theatre plays. By drawing on familiar concepts of otherness, the playwrights and artists were able to explain the hostility between Christians and pagans in Japan to the European audience. But, as Oba emphasised, more images and plays need to be collected and analysed to gain a deeper insight into this aspect.

In the next panel DORIS GRUBER (Vienna) assumed that travelogues are, like any media, strongly interconnected. To map these interconnections Gruber introduced a new concept of intermediality that builds on the theories of Gérard Genette, Irina O. Rajewsky and Werner Wolf, and aims to unite all relations between (different) media and allow semi-automatic analysis. In this concept, intermediality has five main subcategories linked to the coding of the information: intertextuality, interpictoriality, intermusicality, intermateriality, and intercontextuality. Each of them has several subcategories. The digital humanities project “Travelogues: Perceptions of the Other 1500–1876 – A Computerized Analysis” is currently testing the practical application of this concept on German language travelogues stored in the Austrian National Library. By doing so the project team wants to answer the question of which travelogues were the most influential, why this was the case and what this tells us today about perceptions of otherness in general, especially about transformations of (certain) stereotypes and prejudices in the German speaking world.

Following her talk, MICHAEL HARBSMEIER (Roskilde) took a different approach on the same source type. He focused on the concept of hospitality (Jacques Derrida & René Schérer) and presented it as a key to a better understanding of the ways in which travellers have been treated and received as guests by the hosts representing the countries, societies or empires they visited. Focusing more precisely on accounts of early modern travellers to Japan and the Ottoman Empire, Harbsmeier argued that any generalisation across the different experiences of pilgrims, merchants, soldiers, diplomats, scholars, tourists or any combination of these roles seem impossible, as all have been hosted and treated as strangers and guests in so many different ways. For the purpose of comparison, however, Harbsmeier singled out three broad categories of travellers represented in accounts on Japan as well as the Ottoman Empire: merchants/traders, diplomats and captives. In respect of the Japanese hosts, Harbsmeier identified one common pattern: they invariably identified and interrogated their guests intensively before serving food, shelter and entertainment.

In the fourth panel the focus laid on images and goods. SUSANNE FRIEDRICH (Munich/Erfurt) highlighted the role of merchandise in Early Modern European perceptions of Japan. She pointed out that during the 17th and early 18th centuries most Europeans more likely came into touch with Japanese goods or by reading learned tracts about Japan rather than with people who had been there. Adopting the material culture approach of historians such as Anne Gerritsen or Giorgo Riello, she analysed the role of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in these processes. Since 1639, the VOC was the only European trading company allowed to trade with Japan. It exported a broad range of products from Japan, yet only a handful of luxury items were explicitly called “Japanese” on reaching the European market. Using lacquer work and tea as examples Friedrich showed which notions about their country of origin were transmitted by, or alongside, these products. She concluded that one cannot speak of a single and coherent image of Japan in Early Modern Europe, but rather of a conglomerate of different aspects, accentuated unequally by various actors, of which the VOC was just one.

MARION ROMBERG (Vienna) shifted the focus to rural culture by analysing mural paintings in parish churches and especially the iconographic tradition of personifications of Asia. She pointed out that mural paintings play a special role among pictorial sources due to their stabilitas loci and accessibility. She showed that the iconography of the four continents was very popular in South Germany during the 18th century. Based on the source corpus freely accessible in the database “Continent Allegories in the Baroque Age”[3] Romberg identified two iconographic traditions of personification of Asia: It was linked either to a white European with an exotic headdress or to an Ottoman sultan. Romberg concluded that personifications of Asia transported a culturally religiously image, formed by stereotypes and not geopolitical realities. The dominant criteria remained the denominational belonging. The main message of the Continent Allegories, Romberg argued, was the world united in faith and the triumphant church. Asia, as the other, was defined by a Europe that saw itself as the defender and source of Christian faith and which needed to be converted or was already part of the Catholic world community. Romberg concluded by referring to previous talks in the JS on how the image of the Japanese and the Turk was intermixed. The determination of the contemporaries’ identification of the Asia personification with a special ethnographical group such as the Turk or Japanese depended on the active knowledge of the spectator (e.g. artist, clergy, patron, parish), which needs further analysis in respect to the diffusion of knowledge about Japan.

For the last panel, the speakers switched to the perception of Japan and the Ottoman Empire beyond the Holy Roman Empire. HITOMI OMATA RAPPO’s (Tokyo) highlighted a European catholic perspective. She showed that since the Middle Ages, in Europe, and especially in France, Islam was often described as “idolatry”, in the sense of the “wrong religion of others”. This continued until the Modern Period, but in the 17th century, as European perceptions of Islam gradually shifted towards the idea of an independent and different religion, another country gradually replaced it as the symbol of idolatry: Japan. Rappo pointed out that this process had many facets. While French humanists such as Jean Bodin, Blaise Pascal or Voltaire were relatively fast to recognise Islam as an acceptable other, and even as another religion, early 17th century sources, especially missionary works, tended to blend both Japan, Islam and even Protestants in the same, negative category and found themselves, for a brief period, on the crossroads of a series of originally distinct narratives portraying them as two related variations of “otherness”.

GENJI YASUHIRA (Tokyo) took up this line of argument while switching to the Lands of the Dutch Republic and perceptions of Japan by Reformed Protestants. He argued his case based on Johannes Hoornbeeck’s book De Conversione Indorum et Gentilium (1669) which painted the Japanese in the darkest possible colours: as idolatrous pagans without intelligence. By applying the concept of material religion, Yasuhira demonstrated that Hoornbeeck’s negative image of the Japanese was determined by two interrelated factors: his disdain for Japanese Buddhism and bonzes and his understanding of the causes and effects of Christian persecution in Japan. Hoornbeeck condemned Japanese Buddhism as the worst form of idolatry, tacitly comparing it with Catholicism. To Yasuhira, this construction of “otherness” seems typical of the early modern confessional age and he highlighted that the image of Japan depicted in Hoornbeeck’s De conversion notifies us of the necessity of more studies on Early Modern protestant perceptions of Japan.

A final and lively discussion headed by Haruka Oba and Arno Strohmeyer concluded the workshop. It became obvious that perceptions of both Japan and the Ottoman Empire were manifold during the Early Modern Period and any comparison needs to keep this plurality in mind. In some papers, however, patterns emerged that united or separated the perceptions of both empires. In respect to specific actors and audiences it seems likely that, at least for a brief period during the 16th and 17th centuries, people in the Holy Roman Empire perceived Japan and the Ottoman Empire – representing Islam – as two related variations of “otherness”. Up to the 18th century, this changed, and both empires were more likely perceived as distinct entities with specific attributes. However, the necessity for a systematic and comparative study of the mechanisms of perceptions of "otherness" and its representations in the Holy Roman Empire in Early Modern times became obvious. This lack especially concerns Japan. [4]

Conference Overview:

Welcome (Haruka OBA, Kurume University; Marion ROMBERG, Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Historiography in Japan and Austria (Yoshihisa HATTORI, Kyoto University)

"Otherness” as a Category for the Historical Research of Interculturality in Early Modern Times (Arno STROHMEYER, Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Salzburg)

Panel I: Jesuits and their World Mission
Chair: Michael HARBSMEIER, Roskilde University

Perceiving Religion and Politics as Interrelated Strands of Encountering Non-European Others (Tobias WINNERLING, University Düsseldorf)

Implacable Tyrants and Cold Scythians: Japanese and Turkish Antagonists in Jesuit School Literature (Akihiko WATANABE, Otsuma Women‘s University, Tokyo)

Panel II: Exotism in Theatre
Chair: Hitomi Omata RAPPO, Sophia University (PD), Tokyo

The Ottoman Empire as Presented by European (Music) Theatre (Michael HÜTTLER, Don Juan Archive, Vienna)

The Depiction of Japanese Villains in Jesuit Drama (Haruka OBA, Kurume University)

Panel III: Otherness in Travelogues
Chair: Michael HÜTTLER, Don Juan Archive, Vienna

Japan and the Ottoman Empire in Travelogues. New Possibilities of Semi-Automatized Text Analysis (Doris GRUBER, Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Comparing Hospitality: Early Modern European Travellers as Guests among their Japanese and Ottoman hosts (Michael HARBSMEIER, Roskilde University)

Panel IV: Circulating Knowledge by Images and Goods
Chair: Tobias WINNERLING, University Düsseldorf

Curious Goods and Merchant’s Stories: On the Role of Merchandise in Early Modern European Perceptions of Japan (Susanne FRIEDRICH, LMU Munich)

The ‚East‘ in South German Parish Churches in the 18th Century (Marion ROMBERG, Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Panel V: Beyond the German Speaking Lands
Chair: Doris GRUBER, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Narrating the Lands of Idolatry: Japan and the Ottoman Empire in Early Modern France (Hitomi Omata RAPPO, Sophia University (PD), Tokyo)

Material Religion in the Dutch Reformed Protestantism: Japanese Image of Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617–1666) (Genji YASUHIRA, Musashi University (PD), Tokyo)

Conclusion (Arno STROHMEYER, Austrian Academy of Sciences and University of Salzburg; Haruka OBA, Kurume University)

[1] The Joint Project ‘Japan on the Jesuit Stage: German-speaking Areas and Beyond’ (2017–2019, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, Innsbruck) shows the added value of such projects as well as their necessity.
[2] The organisators would like to thank Christoph Völker (Student at LMU, Munich/Kyushu Univ.) for his assistance in the conference's realisation at the University of Kyoto.
[3] Vgl. https://continentallegories.univie.ac.at (08.08.2019)
[4] A summary of each talk can be found on the Travelogues website: http://www.travelogues-project.info/kyoto/