Denmark and Japan celebrate 150 years of diplomatic relations in 2017 but the history between the two countries actually dates back more than 400 years to 1616. Below you can learn more about the sailors, traders, diplomats, writers and royals that helped create and shape the Danish-Japanese relations as they are today.
Denmark and Japan
First Danish attempt to reach Japan
First Dane to reach Japan
Martin Spangberg becomes the first recorded Danish person to visit Japan. Spangberg is a part of Vitus Bering’s expeditions to explore the Far East and lands in Sendai Bay. Although Spangberg is too cautious to actually go ashore, he manages to trade with Japanese fishermen on board his ship. He describes the Japanese as very polite and quite generous as they brought both food and clothes for the sailors.
First Japanese to visit Denmark
Th e Russian ship Nadezhda lands in Copenhagen with 4 Japanese sailors on board. The Japanese sailors suffered shipwreck in Siberia in 1792 and had since tried to return to Japan with help from the Russians. When they land in Copenhagen, the Japanese sailors are finally en route home, almost 10 years after their shipwreck. These four sailors are the first recorded Japanese to visit Denmark.
First Danish attempt at negotiating trade relations in Japan
Rear Admiral Steen Bille lands in Japan on his way around the world. Bille is not supposed to visit Japan, but to negotiate trade relations in China. However once at sea, he decides to sail to Japan. He arrives to find that he is not allowed to dock his ship in Uraga harbour, let alone go ashore. The Japanese think that Bille is short-tempered and a pestilence – and Bille thinks the Japanese are rude and disrespectful. Needless to say, nothing fruitful comes of this very short encounter. Based on his travels, Bille is the first Dane to write about Japan in Danish. His books are published in 1849-51 and are very influential for future Danish accounts about Japan.
The Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation is signed
After a long negotiation process through Dutch intermediaries, Japan and Denmark sign the “Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation”. Denmark is the most interested part in signing the treaty, after unsuccessfully attempting to establish trade relations with Japan since 1616. After losing Slesvig in 1864, Denmark is committed to rebuilding its international image to the rest of the world by establishing connections to even distant countries like Japan. For Japan, the treaty is a way to gain international legitimacy as a sovereign nation and government. The treaty is the last treaty the Shogunate ratifies with a foreign nation before the Meiji Restoration in 1868.
First – and only – Dane meeting a Shogun
Edouard Suenson (son of famous admiral Edouard Suenson) is the first and only Dane ever to meet a Shogun as he accompanies French admiral Roze to an audience with Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu in Osaka. Suenson is also the first Dane to stay in Japan for a prolonged period of time, which he later describes in the book “Sketches from Japan”. Even though Rear Admiral Bille is the first to write about Japan in Danish in 1846, Suenson’s descriptions are longer and based on his observations of everyday life. Suenson also has a better impression of Japan than Bille. In 1900, Suenson accompanies Danish Prince Valdemar to an audience with the Emperor Meiji, making him the only Dane to meet both a Shogun and an Emperor.
First Danish consul in Japan
Until July 1867, Denmark has only been represented by Dutch diplomats in Japan but this change when John Henry Duus becomes the first Danish consul in Japan. He is stationed in Hakodate and mostly deals with trade disputes. In the following one and a half years, Denmark establishes consulates in Yokohama, Nagasaki, Osaka and Kobe.
First Danish diplomatic mission to Japan
Chamberlain Julius Frederik Sick arrives in Japan to negotiate terms for installing telegraphic cables from Russia to Japan by the Danish company, Great Northern Extension Telegraph Company. While officially not a diplomat, Sick’s mission can be seen as the first diplomatic mission from Denmark to Japan.
First Dane to meet a Japanese Emperor
Julius Frederik Sick is the first Dane to be granted an audience with a Japanese Emperor, Emperor Meiji. Prior to the audience, Sick has sent the Emperor a letter from the Danish King Christian IX and during the audience, the Emperor Meiji replies to this letter. Sick is very satisfied and proud that the Emperor answered – it is the first time any Emperor have answered a letter from a European king.
The first telegraphic lines in Japan is built by a Danish company
The telegraph lines from Vladivostok to Nagasaki open for the first telegraphic connection between Japan and mainland Asia. The lines are built by Danish Great Northern China & Japan Extension Telegraph Company – thanks to the diplomatic negotiation skills of Julius Frederik Sick. The telegraph lines contribute to bringing Japan into the modern era of communications, and Great Northern has monopoly in the industry in Japan until 1912. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Bill Glover, www.atlantic-cable.com .
First Japanese diplomatic mission to Denmark
The first modern Japanese diplomatic delegation to the West, the Iwakura Mission, travels around the world from 1871 to 1873 to visit countries with which Japan have signed friendship and commerce treaties. The delegation’s mission is to learn more about Western societies and technologies in order to modernize Japan. In April 1873 the Iwakura Mission briefly visits Denmark where it focuses on learning about public education and naval logistics. Upon arrival, the Japanese are greeted by Julius Frederick Sick, who led the first Danish diplomatic delegation in Japan. The highlight of the visit is on April 19th where the Japanese have audiences with King Christian IX and Queen Louise, followed by a royal banquet to celebrate the good relations between the two countries.
Japanese art and craftsmanship popular in Denmark
In the latter half of the 19th century, Japanese art and craftsmanship become very popular in Europe – the trend is referred to as Japonism. Europeans are in love with the mystic and poetic world of ukiyo-e – and less interested in the actual country Japan. Japonism is introduced in Denmark by art historian Karl Madsen who writes the book “Japanese Art”. The book is popular and introduces the Danish audience to traditional Buddhist paintings, ukiyo-e and Hokusai, one of the most famous Japanese artists.
Dane inspired by Japanese art to design Royal Copenhagen porcelain
Inspired by Japonism and Karl Madsen’s book, Arnold Krog designs a collection of porcelain tableware inspired by Japanese art and especially Hokusai’s famous “36 Views of Fuji”. Krog works for The Royal Porcelain Factory, now Royal Copenhagen. His Japan-inspired designs help boost the company’s popularity both in Denmark and abroad. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Royal Copenhagen.
First Japanese royals on a longer visit in Denmark
First Japanese translation of H. C. Andersen
First Danish translation of Japanese literature
Through Johan Grove’s translation of the iconic tale of “Momotaro,” Danish readers are introduced to Japanese folk tales and literature for the first time. Grove, however, has changed a lot in the folk tale in order to make it more understandable and enjoyable for the Danish readers. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Gads Forlag.
First Lutheran Danish priest enters Japan
Danish priest Jens Winther enters Japan to work as one of the very few Lutheran missionaries in the country. Winther was originally going to China but ends up staying 66 years on-off in Japan where he works with education of Japanese priests and preaching. In 1958, Winther is awarded the Order of the Rising Sun – the highest Japanese order a foreigner can be awarded. Winther is also awarded the Order of Dannebrog and is seen wearing both Orders in the picture. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Dansk Luthersk Mission.
Increasing Danish interest in Japanese culture
Johanne Münter, wife of Balthasar Münter, publishes her first book about Japan, followed by three other books in 1901, 1902 and 1905. She is inspired to write her books after staying in Japan with her husband from 1895 to 1896. The first two books are introductions to Japanese culture, the third is translations of some of the works of the famous Lafcadio Hearn and the forth from 1905 is an account of her time and travels in Japan. Münter is the first female Danish writer to convey both Japan and Japanese culture to a Danish audience. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Gyldendal.
First Danish royal to visit Japan
Prince Valdemar of Denmark arrives in Yokohama and is the first member of the Danish Royal family to visit Japan. He is granted an audience with the Emperor Meiji and meets Prince Komatsu again – they had met 13 years earlier when the Japanese prince visited Denmark. Prince Valdemar spends a month in Japan as a guest of the Imperial family and visits several sights in Japan – including Hakone and Nikko.
Japanese translation of H. C. Andersen becomes popular
When working in Germany, Ōgai Mori reads “The Improvisator” by H. C. Andersen and is so fascinated he decides to translate it into Japanese. Unlike previous translation of Andersen and most translations in general at the time, Mori “japanises” the book’s Western logic and imagery to make it easier and more enjoyable for Japanese readers. It works – the book is a success and inspires many great novelists of the time.
Japanese fascination of Danish philosophy
Author Kanzo Uchimura holds a lecture about Denmark and how the country spiritually recovered after the loss of Slesvig and Holstein in 1864. He celebrates Denmark as a country of peace and praises Enrico Dalgas for saying; “What was lost outward, shall be gained inwards”. The quote and Danish spirit of rebuilding a nation from the inside rather by conquest is very inspirational to Uchimura and other educational pioneers of the period like Shigeyoshi Matsumae and Kuniyoshi Obara. Uchimura’s speech makes Dalgas famous in Japan. It is only recently that it has become clear that Dalgas in fact is not the source of the famous quote, but the Danish poet H.P. Holst is.
The Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation is ratified again
Japan and Denmark ratify the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation in 1912, abandoning the 1867-treaty, which unequally favoured Denmark. The new treaty is important for Japan, as it gains control over the tariff rate. Further, Danish extraterritoriality is terminated and Danes could be judged by Japanese law and vice versa. The ratification is part of a bigger context of Japan and Western countries ratifying their treaties and strengthening Japan’s position internationally.
First Japanese to receive the Order of Dannebrog
Hideyo Noguchi receives the Order of Dannebrog as the first non-royal Japanese. Noguchi is a professor of bacteriology and researches to find cures for yellow fever and syphilis. During his research, he worked at the State Serum Institute in Copenhagen in 1903. While professor Noguchi’s research and work might not be widely known in Japan, his face definitely is – he is on the 1000 yen bills.
First Maersk ship to Japan
The general cargo vessel Leise Mærsk calls Yokohama with a cargo of asphalt in barrels. Four years later, incidentally that same vessel inaugurates Maersk Line’s service from USA with calls to Yokohama, Kobe and Moji. Maersk Line has served Japan since 1928. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Maersk.
The first flight from Europe to Japan and back is performed by a Dane
Anders Peter Botved takes off on his journey from Copenhagen to Tokyo by airplane. Several pilots have flown to Asia before but no one has taken the journey back. Botved wants to prove that the journey is possible and promote Danish aviation skills. Botved flies to Tokyo via the Middle East and China and after various delays he arrives on July 1 st . His journey back is much quicker – it takes around 20 days. Botved is honoured for his efforts with the Royal Medal of Merit by King Christian X. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Gyldendal and Yoichi Nagashima.
Japan-Denmark Society forms
The society’s purpose is to foster and promote friendly relations between the peoples of Japan and Denmark, which it still does today. The society is based in Japan and has the honour of having Prince Masahito Hitachi as their patron. Japan-Denmark Society is a co-organiser of the 150 years anniversary. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Japan-Denmark Society.
Japanese interest in Danish gymnastics
World famous Danish gymnast Niels Bukh arrives in Tokyo to present Danish gymnastics. He is invited by educator Kuniyoshi Obara, who is very inspired by Kanzo Uchimura’s view of Denmark and the thoughts of Danish philosopher N. F. S. Grundtvig. Obara wants to include non-competitive physical education into the Japanese school system to improve national health and sees Bukh as a potential role model. During their tour in Japan, Bukh and his company of gymnasts even perform in the residence of the Japanese Prime Minister. Gymnastics have already been gaining popularity in Japan since 1928 when NHK started broadcasting radio gymnastics. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Gymnastik Galleriet.
Japanese interest in the Danish system of folk high schools
Shigeyoshi Matsumae arrives in Denmark, where he visits several folk high schools. Matsumae is very inspired by Kanzo Uchimura and Grundtvig, and visits Denmark to study the spiritual and public education of folk high schools. Matsumae uses his time in Denmark as inspiration for establishing Tokai University in Japan in 1942, which is based on the same ideals of promoting spiritual strength in the students and the nation. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Tokai University.
Niels Bohr works in Japan
Danish Nobel Prize laureate in physics, Niels Bohr, visits Japan to help fellow physicist and close friend Yoshio Nishina develop the cyclotron, a particle accelerator. Although Nishina himself never wins the Nobel Prize he mentors Hideki Yukawa, the first Japanese ever to do so. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Emilio Segre Visual Archives.
Maersk Line Limited opens office in Japan
Mitsubishi Soko Kaisha had been acting as Maersk Line’s agent since the start in 1928, but to support the rebuilding of Japan, the Maersk Line Limited, Japan Branch, opens on 1 December 1947. The image shows the preparation of a shipment of train cars on Herta Mærsk from Japan to Thailand in the 1950’s. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Maersk.
Danish commercial interest in Japan leads to the formation of the Danish Chamber of Commerce Japan
The post-war economic growth in Japan leads to renewed Danish commercial interest. In the late 1950s, a small group of Scandinavian companies located in Japan start meeting on a regular basis. The group serves as a forum to exchange experience and knowledge of business opportunities in Japan, and works as an advisory board for new companies entering the Japanese market. By the mid 1960s, increased interest leads to the companies splitting up nationally, and the Danish Businessman Club is formed. Changing its name to Danish Chamber of Commerce Japan in 1990, the organization still works to promote Danish business opportunities in Japan. The Danish Chamber of Commerce Japan is a co-organiser of the 150 years anniversary. Image kindly provided by courtesy of the Danish Chamber of Commerce Japan.
Danish missionary in Japan
Danish sailor drowns trying to save Japanese sailor
On his way from Nagoya to Kobe, Johannes Knudsen, chief engineer on the ship Ellen Maersk, spots a Japanese ship on fire near Wakayama. Knudsen goes into the water in an attempt to save a shipwrecked sailor, but sadly, both Knudsen and the Japanese sailor drowned. Knudsen has become a local hero in Wakayama for his sacrifice – already in 1958, the local government opens a memorial site in his honour and his actions are still celebrated till this day. The images show the memorial of Johannes Knudsen in Wakayama and the Danish ambassador, Freddy Svane showing his respect. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Wakayma Prefecture.
First direct flight between Denmark and Japan
SAS opens a new route from Copenhagen to Tokyo. The route is the first direct flight from Europe to Japan. By flying over Alaska, SAS manages to decrease the travel time between Scandinavian and Japan from 50 to 32 hours. The maiden voyage transports distinguished guests – Japanese Prince Mikasa and Danish Prime Minister H.C. Hansen are on board. Images kindly provided by courtesy of SAS.
The Denmark-Japan Society is formed
The Society works to promote knowledge about Japan in Denmark and to strengthen the cultural ties and connections between the countries. The Society hosts several cultural events each year. Unlike the Japan-Denmark Society, the Denmark-Japan Society is based in Denmark and has the honour of having Princess Elisabeth as protector.
Makoto Shimazaki introduces Japan to Danish design
Makoto Shimazaki enters Denmark to study furniture design at the The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts under Professor Ole Wanscher. During his time in Denmark, he meets with great Danish furniture designers such as Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen and Poul Kjærholm. Later, Shimazaki introduces Danish furniture design to the Japanese market and has helped bring about the popularity Danish design enjoys in Japan even to this day. Even at age 84, Shimazaki is still active and promotes the good design relation between the two countries. The photo shows his visa from 1958.
Danish Danfoss starts up in Japan
Danish energy company Danfoss enters a joint venture with Japanese company OTP and establishes a factory in Kodaira, Tokyo. Danfoss is still present in Japan today, currently in a joint venture called Daikin-Sauer-Danfoss which employs 275 people in Japan. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Danfoss.
Shunsuke Takaki introduces Japan to Danish pastries
Japanese baker Shunsuke Takaki visits Denmark in 1959 and has his first encounter with Danish pastry which impresses him so much that he in 1962 is the first to introduce Danish pastry to Japan. He opened the first store of the retail bakery ‘Andersen’ in 1967 to sell authentic breads and cakes, and has since expanded the business throughout Japan. The photo shows the first bakery in Hiroshima and is kindly provided by courtesy of Andersen Group.
First Toyota in Europe on display in Copenhagen
Crown de Luxe, the first Toyota car imported to Europe, is on display at the annual car exhibition in Bella Center, Copenhagen. SAS’s direct flight route connecting Copenhagen and Tokyo has played a big role in making Denmark the first European market for Japanese cars. Photograph: “Exhibit by Erla Auto Import A/S, Denmark (1963)” © Toyota Motor Corporation
First university program in Danish in Japan
Osaka University of Foreign Studies (now Osaka University) is the first university in Japan to offer a degree in Danish Studies. The university celebrates the 50 years anniversary of Danish Studies in 2016. The photograph shows some of the first students and teachers at the Danish program and is kindly provided by Osaka University.
First Little Mermaid-statue in Japan
The first copy of sculpter Edvard Eriksens world-famous statue of the Little Mermaid is installed in Japan, in an aquarium in Oita. Currently 12 copies are installed in Japan, making it possible to see the mermaid princess from Kyushu to Hokkaido. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Edvard Eriksen’s heirs. www.mermaidsculpture.dk
First university program in Japanese in Denmark
Copenhagen University is the first university in Denmark to offer a degree in Japanese Studies. Students have been able to study Japanese at the University since 1968, however a degree is only offered after 1971. Currently, Danes can study Japanese at both Copenhagen University and Aarhus University.
The Royal Danish Embassy moves to its current position in Daikanyama
Academic interest in the Danish-Japanese relations
Japanese boarding school opens in Denmark
Matsumae Shigeyoshi opens Tokai University Boarding School in Præstø. At the time, many Japanese are stationed in Europe for business and there is a need for a school where they can send their children to get a Japanese education. The school exists until 2008. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Tokai University.
Japanese foundation donates 50 cherry trees to Queen Margrethe II
Queen Margrethe II and Aarhus Municipality are given 50 cherry trees from the Japanese Sakura Foundation to celebrate the Queen’s 25th wedding anniversary and the relations between Japan and Denmark. The trees are planted in 1992 at the Queen’s summer residence, Marselisborg Palace, in Aarhus and are a local attraction every spring during their bloom.
First Japanese-Danish sister cities
Odense and Funabashi become the first Danish-Japanese sister cities. The two cities have a strong relationship to this day – in 2014, several representatives from Denmark travel to Funabashi to celebrate the cities’ 25 years anniversary. In 2000, Gladsaxe and Taito become sister cities and later, Kolding and Anjou, Faaborg and Noboribetzu, and Lolland and Higashi-Matsushima.
Japanese interest in the Danish welfare system
Japanese bakery named after Danish baker
Japanese Tetsuya Wada travels to Copenhagen to receive his certificate of apprenticeship as a baker and be come member of Københavns Bagerlaug, the Copenhagen bakers’ guild. He returns to Japan and opens his own bakery named after his mentor, Stockholm Jensen. Bager Jensen is still selling delicious Danish pastry and baked goods in Tokyo with the taste of Danish “hygge”.
H. C. Andersen theme-park opens in Japan
Funabashi Andersen Park opens. The park is a combined Hans Christian Andersen-theme park and playground and is home to several replicas of Danish houses built in Andersen’s lifetime. The interest in Andersen comes from Funabashi’s sister city relationship with Odense, Andersen’s hometown. The park celebrated its 20 years anniversary in 2016 and is hugely popular – according to Tripadvisor, it is Japan’s third most popular theme park.
First Japanese royals to visit Greenland
Japanese Prince and Princess Takamado are the first members of the Japanese Imperial family to visit Greenland. The Royal couple travels from Uummannaq to Qaqortoq and experience both traditional and modern Greenlandic lifestyle. Prince Takamado is rewarded with the Greenlandic Medal of Merit and the couple are given a number of Tupilaqs (totems) as a gift. Princess Takamado later lends the Tupilaqs to the Royal Danish Embassy where they will be on display.
First manga (Japanese comic) published in Denmark
Katsuhiro Otomo’s legendary manga “Akira” is the first manga to be published in Danish. The Japanese comics, however, only begins to gain momentum and popularity with the publication of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball in 2000. Dragon Ball is hugely popular and the animated series are shown on TV from 2003. Image kindly provided by courtesy of Forlaget Carlsen.
Haruki Murakami’s books gain popularity in Denmark
Haruki Murakami’s “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” is published in Danish. While it is not the first of Murakami’s books to be translated into Danish, it is the first time his works are translated directly from Japanese. Translator Mette Holm goes on to translate many other Murakami books, making the author accessible to Danish readers and extremely popular. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Forlaget Klim.
Cherry tree donation and Copenhagen Sakura Festival
Seiichi Takaki, honorary consul in Hiroshima and President of Andersen Institute of Bread & Life, and son of Shunsuke Takaki, donates 200 cherry trees to Copenhagen municipality to celebrate the 200 years birthday of H. C. Andersen. The trees are planted at Langelinie in Copenhagen and bloom for the first time in 2007. Since then the trees and their bloom have served as the scene for Copenhagen Sakura Festival.
Japanese interest in Danish happiness and lifestyle
In relations with Denmark being praised as the happiest country in the world, Chiba Tadao publishes “Denmark, the World’s Happiest Country”. Chiba has lived in Denmark for decades and works on Nordfyn’s folk high school. In the book, he introduces a Japanese audience to his take on what makes Danish lifestyle pleasant and Danes happy. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Chiba Tadao.
Folk high school with Japan as speciality opens in Denmark
The folk high school Bosei opens in Præstø in the buildings that used to house the Tokai University Boarding School. The buildings are donated by Tokai University in the honour of its founder, Shigeyoshi Matsumae’s, admiration and respect for the Danish folk high school traditions. The school specializes in teaching Japanese language, as well as karate and judo.
Crown Prince Frederik visits areas affected by nuclear disaster
A replica of designer Finn Juhl’s house is built in Japan
House of Finn Juhl – a copy of the designer’s house in Denmark – opens in Takayama, Gifu, marking the 100 th anniversary of the designer’s birth. The Japanese furniture production company Kitani is behind the reconstruction of the house. Originally, Kitani repaired furniture including several from Danish designers and since mastered the craftsmanship to such an extent that they today produce parts for Danish furniture designs, which is sent to and assembled in Denmark. Among this furniture are designs of Finn Juhl. Images kindly provided by courtesy of Kitani.
Strategic Partnership Agreement between Denmark and Japan
Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt visits Japan and attends political meetings with Japanese Prime Minister, Abe Shinzo. The two countries agree upon a Strategic Partnership Agreement to promote collaboration in series of areas including foods, sustainable energy & green-tech and health & welfare technology. See the partnership agreement here .
Increased Japanese interest in Greenland
Increased Japanese interest in Greenland and the Arctic leads to a Greenlandic visit in Tokyo with attendance of the Danish Crown Prince couple, Princess Takamado and Greenlandic Premier Kim Kielsen. Kielsen is the first Greenlandic Prime Minister to visit Japan. The mission of the visit is to promote Greenlandic culture and products and to showcase investment opportunities in Greenland for Japanese companies. The photograph depicts Greenlandic Minister of Culture, Education and Equality, Nick Nielsen, showing Princess Takamado around at the National Museum of Ethology in Osaka.
Japanese-Danish research partnership on art
Rasmus Klump Café opens in Chiba
Rasmus Klump is a popular Danish children’s book character created by Carla and Vilhelm Hansen in 1951. In Denmark, most children know the character and his appetite for adventure and pancakes. Of course the café in Chiba serves pancakes. Images kindly provided by courtesy of the Rasmus Klump Café in Chiba.
Haruki Murakami wins H. C. Andersen Literature Award
As this timeline shows, Denmark and Japan celebrate a long history. But it does not stop here! The two countries will continue to build on the good relations and make the next 150 years as exciting as the previous – starting from 2017. You can read more about the events celebrating the anniversary on our Event Calendar page.