While a two-year cultural exchange with Russia just ended, Berlin is looking to put its best foot forward in Japan with a "Germany in Japan Year." Getting young people interested in Germany has been especially difficult.
Government officials hope to portray Germany in a hipper light
"With the help of numerous and varied events we hope people in Japan will get a closer look at the German people," said Andreas Göbel, a spokesman for the Japanese embassy in Berlin of the "Germany in Japan Year," which begins April 4 and lasts until spring 2006.
There is reason for concern about the Japanese view of Germany and German culture. Older people tend to have a sentimental view of Germany as the home of castles, sauerkraut and Mercedes, and younger generations have a weak picture of Germany if they have one at all, said Harald Conrad, director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo.
Germany needs boost with youth
A photo exhibition of Berlin's Love Parade was one way Germany got Russian youths' attention
Getting younger people curious about Germany is a reoccurring theme in German cultural exchanges and was also emphasized during the German-Russian cultural exchange, which took place in 2003 and 2004.
"We wanted to get people interested in Germany," Cord Meier-Klodt, spokesman for the German embassy in Moscow, said of the rock concerts and other events targeted at sparking the youth's awareness of Germany. A photo exhibition of Berlin's Love Parade was one way of stimulating rural Russians' interest in Germany, he added.
In a similar style, Tokyo and other Japanese cities will host events designed to showcase German lifestyle using soccer, music, fashion and consumer goods to broaden the Japanese view of Germany.
Businesses stand to gain
Often heralded as a way to bring people together and have them share their cultures, there is also money to be made and corporate images to tend to for businesses that take part in the international exchanges. Keeping up business relations with the world’s third largest economy is another aim of this year's cultural exchange.
Most German business in Japan takes place in the investment industry
"There will be positive effects for the companies that do business here if the year helps improve Germany's overall image in Japan," Conrad said. "Most German business in Japan is in the investment sector and therefore not visible to the Japanese public."
German companies hope to replicate the successes of Italy and France, who enhanced their commercial images in Japan after sponsoring past culture exchanges.
It is the corporate influence that turns some people off the exchanges in favor of other forms of international dialog.
"I understand that governments have limited ways of promoting international relations, but the series of national events does not seem to be working," said Andreas Johannes Wiesand of Germany's Center for Cultural Research. "We need to commit ourselves on a more European level."
Too much of a good thing?
In 2005, Germany will have cultural exchanges with Japan, Norway, Poland and the Asia-Pacific region. The European Union is also holding a year-long exchange with Japan in 2005. To keep the public from being overwhelmed by the number of exchanges, they are all targeted at different groups, according to Germany's foreign ministry.
Japan and Germany will keep using sports to bring people closer together
The limited financial resources and common goals many Western European nations have for a region should bring politicians to work together, according to Peter Theiner, director of one of the Robert Bosch Foundation's departments of international understanding.
"I do not think there can be enough exchanges," Theiner said, adding that bilateral relationships can often be made more effective when they are part of a larger, multilateral effort.
Work goes on
The diplomatic work of presenting Germany's contemporary face to the world does not stop after the exchanges officially end. The German embassy in Moscow plans to build culture and information centers for interested Russian communities, and participants of this year's cultural exchange with Japan also hope their work will have long-term results."Japan and Germany have historically had a close relationship," said Göbel of the Japanese embassy. "We hope the 'Germany in Japan Year' creates an opportunity to bring people in both countries closer."