Many performances by Hermann Hansen and the Tokushima orchestra for Japanese audience were given inside of the camp as well as outside. (Courtesy of Naruto German House)
Many performances by Hermann Hansen and the Tokushima orchestra for Japanese audience were given inside of the camp as well as outside. (Courtesy of Naruto German House)


If you visit any major city in Japan in December, you will probably hear the melody of “Ode to Joy,” the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The symphony, usually performed with chorus and orchestra, is popular in Japan for end-of-year celebrations.

When I was growing up in Tokyo, I thought this annual celebration of singing “Ode to Joy” was brought from somewhere in Europe. Some people believe it followed a German custom. There is a city, Leipzig, that does a Ninth Symphony performance on Dec. 31 to celebrate the end of the year and the new year to come. This tradition in Leipzig has no connection with the end-of-year performances in Japan.

I was surprised to learn that it is a purely Japanese tradition that started after World War II and became more significant in the 1980s. Some theories suggest it was most likely promoted by an orchestra wanting to sell more tickets. But there is another story about how it became so popular in Japan.

The song was sung for young student soldiers of the Tokyo Ongaku School, known today as Tokyo Gakugei University, when they left Japan to fight at the end of World War II. It was also played on Dec. 30 of the year the war ended to honor those young soldiers who died in the war and couldn’t come home. Some people think this requiem-like performance made the symphony an annual remembrance and helped to spread the Ninth all over Japan.

The program of first Beethoven 9th concert in Japan, printed by German POWs. (Courtesy of Naruto German House)
The program of first Beethoven 9th concert in Japan, printed by German POWs. (Courtesy of Naruto German House)

There are now choral groups in cities all over Japan that take part in the annual performances. “Daiku o Utau Kai” means “Group that Sings the Ninth,” and there are more than 200,000 singers who sing the Ninth in Japan. L.A. Daiku is the first such group outside of Japan,

After a concert produced by the Japanese Business Association (JBA) in 2009, some of the singers, including myself, decided to form the L.A. Daiku choral group. During the years I have been singing with this group, I have found some fascinating stories about Beethoven’s Ninth, Japan and Germany.

The first time the symphony was played in Japan was by German soldiers. These soldiers were World War I POWs, and theirs was the first-ever performance of the symphony in Japan as well as in Asia.

As a result of a battle in Qingdao, China, about 4,700 German soldiers were sent to several camps in Japan as POWs. About 1,000 of those were assigned to the Bandoh camp, located in Ooasa-cho Hinoki, Naruto, Tokushima. The truce in 1918 helped establish an open atmosphere and the captain of the camp, Toyohisa Matsue, treated the prisoners generously based upon samurai spirit: “They must be treated right, because those soldiers fought for their own country just as we did.”

Most of the soldiers were regular people before they joined the marines and many of them had professional skills in different fields: music, sports, cooking, etc. So they developed a German lifestyle at the POW camp in Japan. They even had a high-quality newspaper and built a photo studio. They operated restaurants, a butcher shop, a cake shop, a clock shop, and the list goes on and on.

As a result, they introduced their skills and knowledge of Germany to the people in the area, while they learned Japanese culture. Naturally there were many concerts and festivities led by the soldiers at the camp. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed by a Tokushima orchestra of 40 musicians, four soloists and 80 singers, arranged and conducted by Hermann Hansen. The details of this story can be seen in a Japanese movie, “Bart no Gakuen,” released in 2006. (“Bart” is German for “beard.”)

These activities happened not only at Bandoh camp but at some other POW camps as well. At least one orchestra was at each of the camps in Kurume, Narashino, Ninoshima, and Osaka. There are even some stories that the orchestra in Narashino played the 9th Symphony at that time. Although the first performance of the symphony was at Bandoh camp, it was a performance for the German soldiers, not for Japanese people in the surrounding town, as described in the movie’s climax.

But there are some records that exist regarding a German POW orchestra that played for Japanese high school students in Kurume, Fukuoka. They were invited to play some music at Kurume Women’s High School, now named Meizen High School, and the symphony’s second and third movements were played among other tunes. So this performance in Kurume was the first time for Japanese people to hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Japan. You may have already noticed that this performance did not include the forth movement of the symphony, “Ode to Joy,” which has soloists and a chorus.

While searching for information on the introduction of Ninth Symphony in Japan and its first performance in Japan, I came across many interesting life stories of the German soldiers who were POWs at that time. Even now, you can see some great gifts left for Japanese culture by the German soldiers and their families. Some of those solders became more familiar to Japanese as they established themselves in their professions.

I remember my mother often bought liverwurst from a butcher called Lohmeyer near the house where I was born. It was in Tokyo, just a block from Dai Ichi Keihin in Shinagawa. Lohmeyer was famous in Japan for selling high-quality meat products. Even when I was a little kid, I thought it was strange to have this kind of butcher shop in my neighborhood, because those Western-style meat products were not so popular at that time (the 1950s) in Japan.

My sister told me that she remembers the inside of the Lohmeyer shop was covered by white tiles and was basically all white. She felt it was unusual, and the shop name on the entrance, written in German, felt very foreign. She also mentioned there was a Caucasian guy who was often serving customers. In my memory, there were few customers there, so it felt quiet and empty. Upon my research, I found out the shop we went to was a part of their factory.

The soldiers enjoy the bar that they built in the Bandoh camp. (Courtesy of Naruto German House)
German soldiers enjoy the bar that they built in the Ninoshima camp. (Courtesy of City of Hiroshima)

The founder, August Lohmeyer, was a German POW captured in Qingdao. He worked for a food processor for the soldiers at the camp. After he was released, he became a meat processor for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and had a very good reputation, and he was able to open a shop in Ginza.

You can find a description of Lohmeyer Restaurant in Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel “The Makioka Sisters.” The restaurant became popular and was one of the trendy spots at that time.

Another POW, Karl Joseph Wilheim Juchheim, became the owner of a well-known cake shop in Japan. Before World War I, he had a cafe in Qingdao. Although he wasn’t a soldier, he was captured and transferred to Ninoshima camp near Hiroshima. While there, he made and introduced Baumkuchen, a delicately rolled German-style pound cake, at the “German Soldiers’ Product Exhibition” in Hiroshima in 1919. That was the first Baumkuchen made in Japan.

The exhibition was held at the world-famous building now known as the “Genbaku Dome.” Its iconic dome was damaged when the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima in 1945.

 "German Soldiers' Product Exhibition" flyer in Hiroshima in 1919 (Johanna Metzger, Metzger family archive)

“German Soldiers’ Product Exhibition” flyer in Hiroshima in 1919 (Johanna Metzger, Metzger family archive)

Based on his good reputation as a baker, Karl was hired at Meijiya’s Cafe Europe in Ginza as the cake department director. His family moved to Japan from Qingdao to join him. Then, the great Kantoh earthquake of 1923 destroyed Cafe Europe and his contract with Meijiya expired. So they moved to Kobe and opened their own sweets shop.

This is how the famous Juchheim was opened by Karl and his wife, Elese Juchheim. They sold not only cakes and sweets but also some other dishes, and their shop became very popular.

After a little more than a decade, Karl suffered from mental illness and Elese decided to take him to Germany for treatment. Karl came back a few years later, but he was a changed man. He couldn’t work as before. The bakery also suffered when it became very difficult to get ingredients for cakes because World War II had started.

The family closed the shop and just baked bread at a factory. They moved to the Rokkoh Hotel in Kobe and lived there until Karl died, just one day before World War II ended. On his deathbed, he said to Elese, “The war will be over soon. Peace will come back soon.” There was no coffin big enough to fit Karl, so his body was placed in a bag made out of cloth used for sailing ships, and was cremated.

Heinrich Freundlieb, a German POW from the camp in Nagoya, became the first production director for Shikishima Flour Company. He started baking bread and the company changed its name to Shikishima Seipan (Bakery). Their brand, Pasco, is still well known in Japan.

He worked for a while at Nadaman in Osaka after he quit Shikishima Seipan, and Heinrich opened his own shop, German Home Bakery, in Kobe. The bakery was welcomed by foreigners living in the city, and the bakery expanded to have more than 10 shops. Unfortunately, all the shops were bombed in World War II.

After his son came back from Germany, where he studied bread-making, they opened once again. Now, the business is called Freundlieb and several shops are well-known in Kobe.

Franz Carl Metzger from Altendorf, Essen was taken to three camps after he was captured in Quingdao, from Kurume to Osaka to Ninoshima, where he was held until his release in 1919. He was a camera engineer before the war and he assembled a laser at the German Soldiers’ Product Exhibition. Franz worked for a Japanese camera company, Konica, now Konica-Minolta, as an engineer. Later he opened a restaurant in Yokohama.

The captain of the camp, Toyohisa Matsue. Courtesy of Naruto German House
The captain of the camp, Toyohisa Matsue. (Courtesy of Naruto German House)

He married a Japanese woman, Tatsu, and survived until 1960. He is buried with Tatsu in the Yuki-no-shita church graveyard in Kamakura. While I was writing this story, I met Johanna Metzger, Franz’s granddaughter. Coincidentally, her son goes to school with the daughter of Jeffrey Bernstein, the music director and conductor of L.A. Daiku.

On the first Sunday of June, Naruto City in Japan has a celebration concert called “Naruto no Daiku.” Every year the conductor and the four soloists change, and chorale groups from all over Japan get together to sing Beethoven’s Ninth. Jeffrey Bernstein was assigned to conduct in 2013, so most of L.A. Daiku’s members and some members from Pasadena Master Chorale attended and performed. The largest number of singers ever, 646, joined the performance.

Using some time between rehearsals, I visited Ooasa-hiko Shrine, very close to the place where the Bandoh camp stood. It has now become a memorial park, and exists to show what the German soldiers left as their gift for the people in the area. There are two bridges in the big garden of the shrine. One is called Deutsch Bridge, which now is a monument, and the other, over a little koi pond, is called Megane-bashi or Eyeglass Bridge.

While I looked at those bridges, one line of the Ninth Symphony’s lyrics came to my mind:

“Deine Zauber binden wieder, Was die Mode streng geteilt. Alle Menschen werden Brüder, Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.” (Your magic reunites what custom sternly separated. All men shall be brothers.)

Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

Megane-bashi or Eyeglass Bridge over a koi pond at Ooasa-hiko Shrine garden. (ICHIRO SHIMIZU/Rafu Shimpo)
Megane-bashi or Eyeglass Bridge over a koi pond at Ooasa-hiko Shrine garden. (ICHIRO SHIMIZU/Rafu Shimpo)

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  1. as part of the California Philharmonic choir set to perform the Beethoven 9th on July 10th, I am pleased to learn more about the history of the Daiku group which has joined our ranks for several years now – demonstrating that joining together by the magic of the music. Thank you for your posting!
    Vielen Dank, Arigato (sp?)

    Jo Nelsen