The international conglomerate, Lotte Company, was founded in 1948 by Shin Kyuk-Ho, a young South Korean businessman with a fondness for Goethe’s novel, Die Leiden des jungen Werthers. Lotte Company is one of the most important manufacturers of sweets in Japan; it also runs a fast-food chain, called Lotteria and the professional baseball team, the Chiba Lotte Marines. While the Lotte company began selling chewing gum in postwar Japan, today it is a multinational corporation with property and products in 50 businesses with over 38, 000 employees across East Asia, Europe, and the United States. In every room of its Korean hotels, guests can find a copy of Goethe’s novel at the bed stand. The corporate website makes clear that company philosophy is to be loved by everyone around the world just like Goethe’s eternal love of Charlotte.
From the founding myth of this vast corporation, Global Goethe scholarship quickly moves into the history of translations from German into Japanese. Globalization has a history that precedes the emergence of multinational corporations. In Japan the connections with Germany were initially fostered through relations with the Prussian military, an unlikely transmitter of Goethe’s writing. While Mori Ogai, the military doctor and novelist, who studied for four years in Germany, was drawn initially to Goethe’sWilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, the first Japanese version of Werther appeared in 1889, composed by the Confucian scholar Nakai Kinjo. Twelve more translations were published by 1938. Goethe’s novel acquired connotations as it moved across cultures. For many readers such as the critic, Takayama Chogyû, the novel’s conclusion resonated with the anguished youth of the late Meiji period.
Hans Müller, “Goethe in Japan,” Monumenta Nipponica 2.2 (1939): 466-478.
William Ridgeway, Gender, the Body, and Desire in the Novels of Natsume Sôseki (1867-1916), Focusing in Meian, (Dissertation University of Honolulu, 2002)