Japan in Düsseldorf and NRW
For Japan, Düsseldorf is the number one city in Germany. Traders were the trailblazers for this development that has taken place over the last six decades. The traders were followed by their families and gradually a typical infrastructure grew up: retail trade, banks, doctors, bookshops, forwarding agents, insurers, a Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a Consulate-General. A Japanese school and Japanese kindergartens were established. Since 2014 the Japanese airline ANA has been offering a direct flight connection between Düsseldorf and Tokyo. All of this allows one to speak of “Japan’s capital” on the Rhine when the subject of Düsseldorf comes up.
The Ruhr’s writing desk
In the 1920s it was initially the international port of Hamburg and then Berlin that were the most important places in Germany for Japan. After the Second World War there was huge demand in Japan for machinery and heavy industry products. Düsseldorf – then known as the “Ruhr’s writing desk”– was the ideal place to acquire this sought-after technology, in particular the know-how for steel and machine construction. Düsseldorf also benefited from its central location in Europe’s most important conurbation, thus proving to be the ideal place for the Japanese for all sales and acquisition matters.
380 Japanese companies based in Düsseldorf
After isolated Japanese “scouts” started coming to Düsseldorf as of 1952, the trading firm of Mitsubishi was listed in the local Commercial Register in 1954. The trading house of Okura & Co. followed in 1957. The Japanese community grew – slowly at first, but then very quickly – keeping time with Japan’s international commercial success. Today the Japanese community in Düsseldorf is the third-largest in Europe after London and Paris. Around 7,000 Japanese nationals live in the Düsseldorf city area alone, with some 14,000 in North Rhine-Westphalia as a whole. Almost 600 Japanese companies are operating in NRW, around 380 of them in the state capital itself. Japanese companies in North Rhine-Westphalia employ more than 32,000 people (as at 24th March 2016).
One-quarter of Japanese in Germany live in Düsseldorf
Japanese activities have long since expanded beyond the city’s borders. Companies have settled all around Düsseldorf, especially space-intensive ones. Thus more than one-quarter of the Japanese people in Germany live in the Düsseldorf region. Other cities such as Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich – which are of interest to certain sectors – lag far behind.
The Japanese Club which has more than 5,000 members and is one of the biggest such organisations in the city, was founded in 1964. One year later a Japanese Consulate opened, and was soon upgraded to a Consulate-General. Finally, in 1966, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Düsseldorf was founded. It started off with 60 corporate members and now has over 500 ordinary and extraordinary members.
The Japanese International School was founded in Düsseldorf in 1971. After some time in temporary premises, it finally found its home in a new building on the left bank of the Rhine in Oberkassel. At the time, parents formed the “Japanische International Schule e.V.” association, while the City of Düsseldorf provided the construction site. This school is modelled on the Japanese education system and is divided into 6 years of primary and 3 years of intermediary education. Almost 650 girls and boys are taught there, mainly by teachers posted from Japan. The first Japanese kindergarten was founded in 1983, and there are meanwhile four such facilities.
EKŌ House and the German-Japanese Centre
The "EKŌ House of Japanese Culture" further emphasises how at home our fellow residents from the Far East feel in Düsseldorf. It comprises a large, Japanese landscaped garden with an event and study centre, and a Buddhist temple. The German-Japanese Centre, which also adds an architectural touch of the Far East to the cityscape, was built on Immermannstrasse in 1978. This complex – then the biggest Japanese investment in Düsseldorf at a cost of around 180 million Deutschmarks – provides work for employees of around a dozen companies and institutions. It is home to the Japanese Consulate-General, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Düsseldorf, a travel agency, and a 600-bed hotel with Japanese restaurants.
The Japanese are part of life in Düsseldorf
Understanding, congeniality and mutual helpfulness characterise the relationship between Japanese and German citizens, encouraged by the German-Japanese Association founded in 1964, as well as by the ongoing dialogue between the City and the Japanese community. Despite the reserve that is typical of the country, Japan’s sons and daughters are a natural part of the picture at traditional Rhineland festivals, and their presence helps to enrich the city’s artistic and musical life.
Rhenish meetup for Japanese pop culture
Düsseldorf is also host to the biggest anime fan event in Germany – the DoKomi. This popular Japan Convention with a diverse exhibition and stage programme will be held at the Congress Center Düsseldorf on 23 – 24 May 2015. The focus will be on Japanese pop culture including anime, manga, games, cosplay, music, fashion and the latest trends. The DoKomi is all about innovative ideas and last year attracted over 17,000 happy visitors. More on the DoKomi at www.dokomi.de
The Japanese and the people of Düsseldorf are growing ever closer, and a friendship has long since developed. As a token of thanks for the hospitality shown, the Japanese community created a Japanese Garden for the local people as early as 1975. This 5,000 square meter area in the Nordpark, which cost 1.8 million Deutschmarks at the time, has been a favourite spot for Düsseldorf locals for many years. To mark the city’s 700th anniversary in 1988, the Japanese community set up the “Düsseldorf-Japan Study Fund” which every year allows a few specialists in the region to undertake a study trip to Japan. The close contacts maintained on many levels and the wealth of events where Japanese and Germans come together are the expression of the efforts both sides are making towards mutual understanding.
Japan Day Düsseldorf/NRW
The first Japan Week in 1983 set the benchmark. Another project in this series was the Japan Year 1999/2000 which involved around 100 individual events in the City of Düsseldorf alone. The programme was planned, designed and financed by the Japanese community and the Consulate-General on the Japanese side, and by the State of North Rhine Westphalia and the City of Düsseldorf on the German side.
Since 2002, a Japan Day has been a regular event in the state capital in either May or June. It has developed into one of the most popular Düsseldorf events. Designed as a festival to bring Germans and Japanese together, the Japanese people living in Düsseldorf use the occasion to present their country’s culture. Kimono fittings, calligraphy, samurai warriors and musical groups are amongst the regular highlights. The grand finale is traditionally the huge Japanese fireworks display for which a pyrotechnician travels in from Japan with special fireworks.
The two communities have certainly grown closer over the decades of increasing collaboration. The term “Japan’s capital on the Rhine” has long since been more than just a turn of phrase.