From the Logbook of Kume Kunitake

Wilhelm Burger: Group portrait of Japanese people, photograph, 1869/70

Kume Kunitake, an historian at the Imperial University in Tokyo, was a member of the Japanese Iwakura Mission. In his logbook he recorded his impressions of Vienna.

Wilhelm Burger: Group portrait of Japanese people, photograph, 1869/70

After arriving in Vienna the Japanese delegation were accommodated at the Hotel Austria, which had been placed at their disposal by the Austrian government.

‘For food and drink the delegation had to provide for itself’, reads Kunitake’s terse comment on the accommodation.

There was particular praise for the cultural life of Vienna, as well as the ‘excellent firm pavage’ for which ‘the city is famous throughout Europe’. He noted painstakingly that a square metre of granite cost on average 10 gulden, that the price for cobbles in Vienna was between 39 and 43 gulden, and that the road surface lasted on average for 18 years, and on streets with heavy traffic at least 12 years.

He also included comparative character studies: ‘The Prussians live in the north, in bleak and cold regions. These adverse circumstances, however, have not discouraged them but have strengthened their stamina. In matters of war they are energetic and courageous, often inclining to great pitilessness. Little by little they subjugated their neighbours, and it seemed to us that the atmosphere in Berlin therefore projected a certain arrogance and aggressiveness. Austria, by contrast, is a land blessed with fruitful soils and a mild climate. Culture has long flourished. … This abundance has favoured the somewhat gentler nature of the Austrians.’

The tours around Vienna, the World Exhibition, the Arsenal and an arms factory yielded ambivalent assessments: the achievements of science, namely in engineering, medicine and industry, were emphasized, while at the same time unmistakable criticism of warfare and the military was expressed. ‘In respect of weaponry as in the question of constitutionalism Austrian seems, in terms of civilization, some forty years behind’, and to an ‘extent that is a scandal for a civilized country’.

The influence of Japanese culture also made itself felt in the Habsburg Monarchy: from 1868-1869, immediately before the Iwakura Mission, an Imperial and Royal Expedition Team had explored East Asia and also Japan.

In the same way Japanese influence was evident at the Vienna World Exhibition of 1873 and in Viennese cultural life. The businessman and Court supplier Singer was able to make clever use of the European craze for all things Japanese and established himself as the biggest importer of goods from the Far East into Austria-Hungary.

The heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este was in turn equally impressed by Japanese culture during his voyage round the world in 1893.

Anita Winkler