Prof. Dr. Naoji Kimura
Germanist, Researcher on Goethe
DAAD Scholarship 1959–1961
Although a few decades have now passed, Naoji Kimura can still remember his DAAD Scholarship in Munich very well: "Without wishing to flatter anyone, it was the most wonderful time of my life," he reminisces. "I still belong to the last generation of scholarship holders who were able to sail by French passenger ship from Yokohama to Marseille and back, through the Suez Canal. On board, I was already somehow able to feel universal in the Goethe sense." The scholarship had, he said, made it possible for him to "make acquaintance with the spirit of German philology." Moreover, he was pleased to still have been able to get to know the old German university based on Wilhelm von Humboldt's educational ideal. The thirst for knowledge of the German fellow students, some of whom were much older and had been away in the war, impressed the Japanese student greatly at the time.
Above all I was taken with Goethe's universality.
Kimura was born in 1934 in Sapporo, capital of the Japanese northern island of Hokkaido. He came to read German studies via a small diversion: "In April 1955, when I began to study at the Sophia University in Tokyo, which German Jesuits founded, my major was philosophy. Students of this subject either had to learn Latin or German as a foreign language. I wanted to learn German from the outset, because it was traditionally considered the language of science and research in Japan." After two years of studying German he decided to specialise in German studies, because he could learn German much better with a German married couple, who both happened to be DAAD lecturers. "I not only read German literature with them, but also philosophy and theology," explains Kimura. "Above all, I was taken with Goethe's universality." Kimura soon knew that he wanted to become a professor of German. And he remained true to his preoccupation with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe throughout his academic life. The German poet was and is his core research area, namely "Goethe as poet, philosopher and natural scientist," as the Japanese professor stresses.
Professor Kimura has received numerous prizes and awards for his services to German language and literature, as well as to cultural exchange between Germany and Japan. 1982 saw him receive the Philipp Franz von Siebold Prize of the Federal Republic of Germany, in 1992 the Cross 1st Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was awarded the Goethe Medal by the Goethe-Institut in 1996. In June 2003 the DAAD awarded him the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Prize. Also in June 2003 he received the Golden Goethe Medal from the Goethe Society in Weimar. Kimura considered it a special honour to be made a Corresponding Member of the German Academy for Language and Poetry in 1997. He was Vice-President of the German-Japanese Society in Regensburg, which was founded on 1 February 2005. Furthermore, he has been Vice-President of INST, a cultural studies institute based in Vienna, since 2003. After gaining emeritus status at the Sophia University, Tokyo, in 2000, Kimura has repeatedly felt drawn back to Germany. He taught Japanese language and literature at Regensburg University until 2006. Naoji Kimura now lives in Tokyo.