Studies in Germany

1884-88 Mori is sent to Germany as a state-funded student to continue his studies of hygiene and military sanitation. Under the supervision of Franz Hofmann, Max von Pettenkofer, Robert Koch and other luminaries of science at the time, he enthusiastically enters the fascinating world of medical research; first publications appear in important periodicals such as Archiv für Hygiene. His altogether four years spent in Leipzig, Dresden, Munich, and Berlin prove to be formative for the science-oriented medical doctor, who places great trust in the Koch school of bacteriology. Drawing inspiration from the liberal atmosphere that he perceives at German universities at the time, he also develops a keen interest in European literature, philosophy as well as theater and art. However, as the debate with the geologist Naumann shows, the experiences in Europe also lead Mori to believe that Japan’s traditional way of life should not be hastily abandoned. Instead, he decides to examine food, clothing, and housing from the point of view of a “global science” to identify relevant elements for Japan’s transition to modernity.

Memories and Thoughts

“I had the vague hope of accomplishing great feats and was used to working hard under pressure. But suddenly here I was, standing in the middle of this most modern of European capitals. My eyes were dazzled by its brilliance, my mind was dazed by the riot of color. [...] Just visible in the clear sky between the towering buildings were fountains cascading with the sound of heavy rain. Looking into the distance, one could see the statue of the goddess on the victory column. She seemed to be floating halfway to heaven from the midst of the green trees on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate. All these myriad sights were gathered so close at hand that it was quite bewildering for the newcomer.”

Ōgai - The Dancing Girl / Maihime (1890). Transl. R. Bowring

“[...] all that time I had been a mere passive, mechanical being with no real awareness of myself. Now, however, at the age of twenty-five, perhaps because I had been exposed to the liberal ways of the university for some time, there grew within me a kind of uneasiness; it seemed as if my real self, which had been lying dormant deep down, was gradually appearing on the surface and threatening my former assumed self.”

Ōgai - The Dancing Girl / Maihime (1890). Transl. R. Bowring

“In the meantime, more than 170 European books are already lined up on my shelf. When I occasionally pick up and peruse a book, I am overwhelmed by an indescribable feeling of happiness. The serious and solemn dramas of the great Greeks Sophocles, Euripides and Aeskylos are mine. [...] Dante’s profound ‘Divine Comedy (Comedia)’ has utterly enchanted me. I find Goethe’s ‘Collected Works’ magnificent and sublime.”

Ōgai - German Diary / Doitsu nikki, 13 August 1885

“Visited the Art Gallery and the Museum of Casts. The Dresden Art Gallery has some world-famous paintings, and I was especially pleased that I was able to view Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, something I had wanted to see for a long time.”

Ōgai - German Diary / Doitsu nikki, 13 May 1885. Transl. K. Brazell

“In the evening, I was with Inoue [Sonken] in [the famous restaurant] Auerbach’s Keller. We talked about how Goethe’s Faust could be translated into Chinese verse. Finally, Sonken suggested that I give it a try. Just for the fun of it, I agreed.”

Ōgai - German Diary / Doitsu nikki, 27 December 1885

“[My new room] is furnished very nicely. On the balcony there is a large metal bowl with flowers. Ivy winds its way across the balcony. The bookshelf belongs to me. I bought it because it was so cheap and put the newly acquired books in it. Occasionally I take out one that I particularly like and read it. That’s how I get rid of boredom.”

Ōgai - German Diary / Doitsu nikki, 1 April 1888

Biographical Events


  • June: The Army Ministry orders Mori to prepare for study in Germany to further his knowledge of hygiene and sanitation. He is released from official duties.
  • August: He leaves Tokyo (23rd) and embarks on a French steamship the following day in Yokohama en route to Europe. The journey takes him to Marseille via Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Colombo, Aden and Suez. He arrives in France about six weeks later.
  • October: Mori travels by train via Paris to Berlin where he arrives on the 11th. First entry appears in his “German Diary” (Doitsu nikki), which he keeps until May 1888. [→ Translations]
  • In Berlin, Mori visits Army Minister Ōyama Iwao (1842–1916) and Envoy  Aoki Shūzō (1844–1914). The latter advises him to keenly observe Europeans, i.e., their outlook, lifestyle, and manners.
  • Surgeon General Hashimoto Tsunatsune, who accompanies the Japanese Army Minister on his trip to Germany, informs Mori that he will first study with Franz Hofmann in Leipzig, then with Max von Pettenkofer in Munich and finally with Robert Koch in Berlin.
  • Mori moves to Leipzig to study hygiene with Franz Adolf Hofmann (1843–1920). Hofmann is a former student of Max von Pettenkofer and director of the Institute of Hygiene at the University of Leipzig. During the winter semester, he lectures on nutrition.
  • December: Meeting with Erwin Baelz who teaches medicine in Tokyo since Mori’s student days and Botho Scheube (Habilitation on disease beriberi).


September 1885: The writer and translator Tsubo’uchi Shōyō publishes the first part of “The Essence of the Novel” (Shōsetsu shinzui), which suggests a reevaluation of literary fiction.
  • January: Mori’s partial translation of the fairytale “The Caravan” by Wilhelm Hauff is published in the “Journal of Eastern Sciences and Arts” (Tōyō gakugei zasshi).
  • He immerses himself in Goethe’s Faust.
  • February: He plans publications on nutrition in the Japanese army and on Japanese residential homes.
  • April: Mori begins to read in The Treasure Trove of German Novellas. The 24 volumes edited by Paul Heyse und Hermann Kurz (München: R. Oldenbourg 1871) comprise 86 novellas, which he reads over the next four months. [His ‘German novellas’, written 1890–91, draw on Heyse’s narrative theory].
  • End of the month, he meets Wilhelm August Roth (1833–92), surgeon general of the Saxonian Army Corps and honorary professor at Dresden Polytech. Roth is one of the leading military surgeons in the German-speaking area.
  • May: Upon the invitation of Roth, Mori travels to Dresden to observe training maneuvers related to military sanitation. A report to his superior, Ishiguro Tadanori, is published in December 1888.
  • At the Fine Arts Gallery in Dresden, he is impressed by Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.
  • June: On his return to Leipzig, Mori attends a course on the cultivation of bacteria.
  • August: Moving to a new boarding house in Leipzig, Mori realizes that his collection of European books has grown to 170 volumes. Among these are the works of Dante, Goethe, and Sophocles.
  • Mori purchases a microscope for his medical studies.
  • End of August to early September, he participates in a maneuver of the Saxonian Army Corps.
  • Visit of the 13th General Assembly of the General German Women’s Association.
  • October: The philosopher Inoue Tetsujirō (1856–1944) moves from Heidelberg to Leipzig. He is preparing a study on Asian philosophy.
  • Mori sends a summary of his study “On Japanese food” to his superior Ishiguro Tadanori in Tokyo (publication in German and Japanese in 1886)
  • He relocates to Dresden, where he attends the winter course for military surgeons. In Dresden, he socializes frequently with Roth.
  • November: Mori gives a talk to the Society of Medical Officers in Dresden on military sanitation in Japan. Roth records the talk and publishes it in his periodical (Jahresbericht über die Leistungen und Fortschritte auf dem Gebiete des Militär-Sanitätswesens).
  • December: Inoue Tetsujirō and Mori meet in the famous restaurant Auerbachs Keller, once frequented by Goethe. The idea to translate Faust into Chinese verse is born (see 1913).


March 1886: The “Ordinance on the Imperial University” (Teikoku daigaku rei) renames the University of Tokyo. The objective of Tokyo Imperial University is to teach science and technol­ogy according to the needs of the state and to conduct fundamental research.
June 1886: Japan joins the 1864 Geneva Convention that led to the establishment of the Red Cross.
  • January: Mori attends the New Year reception of the Saxonian royal court.
  • End of the month, he gives a talk on Japanese residential homes to the Geographical Society in Dresden. [An extended version is published in 1888.]
  • February: Mori attends a Faust performance at the Royal Theater in Dresden.
  • March: Annual celebration of the Geographical Society in Dresden. Geologist Edmund Naumann, who was teaching in Japan from 1875 to 1880, delivers the keynote lecture on the topic of Japan. Mori is infuriated by Naumann’s description of Japanese ‘progress’. Beginning of the Naumann debate.
  • He relocates to Munich and continues his studies under the supervision of Max von Pettenkofer (1818–1901). The chemist and public health expert also serves as chancellor of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.
  • Pettenkofer introduces Mori to the physiologist Carl von Voit (1831–1908) who is considered to be the “father” of modern dietetics.
  • Mori meets the western-style painter Harada Naojirō (1863–99) who studies historal painting with Gabriel von Max (1840–1905). Until Harada’s untimely death, they maintain friendly relations.
  • News of the death of Bavarian King Ludwig II and his physician at Lake Starnberg become known. End of the month, Mori und Japanese friends make an excursion to the lake to express their grief.
  • September: During another stay at Lake Starnberg, he works on a study on Japanese residential homes and drafts a reply to Naumann’s Japan talk.
  • November: End of the month, Karl Bernhard Lehmann (1858–1940) presents Mori’s experiments on the diuretic effects of beer to the Munich Society for Morphology and Physiology.
  • December: Supported by Pettenkofer, Mori sends a reply to Naumann’s talk (see March) and to his article on Japan to the Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily. “The Truth about Nipon” appears on 29 December. [Bayerische Staatsbibliothek]


February 1887: The journalist Tokutomi Sohō (1863–1957) establishes the publishing house Minyū Sha (“Society of the Friends of the People”); the first issue of the general news magazine Kokumin no tomo (“The Nation’s friend”) appears (until 1898). Some of Mori’s early works are published in this periodical.
July 1887: Futabatei Shimei (1864–1909) publishes the first part of his work Ukigumo (“The Drifting Cloud”). The unfinished work is considered to be the first modern novel in the history of Japanese literature.
October 1887: Following a suggestion by Chancellor Bismarck, the Seminar for Oriental Languages is established at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. Japanese is taught by native speakers and German lecturers. Inoue Tetsujirō is appointed as first Japanese lecturer.
  • January: The Allgemeine Zeitung features Naumann’s detailed reply to Mori’s criticism. The following reaction by Mori is published early in February. [Bayerische Staatsbibliothek]
  • April: Mori bids farewell to Pettenkofer and asks him to publish the results of his experiments.
  • He relocates to Berlin where he intends to further his knowledge of bacteriology at the Institute of Hygiene under the supervision of Robert Koch.
  • Mori moves to a room in the student district of central Berlin. The building (former Marienstr. 32) is extant and home of the Mori Ogai Memorial Center of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, since 1984.
  • Acquaintance with General Major Nogi Maresuke (1849–1912) who resides in Berlin to study military strategy (until June 1888). His friendship with Nogi, who commands the siege of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), lasts until the latter commits suicide, in 1912.
  • Kitasato Shibasaburō (1853–1931), a former fellow student, introduces Mori to Robert Koch. Kitasato is ten years his senior and has entered the Home Ministry’s Bureau of Hygiene (Naimushō Eisei Kyoku), after graduating. Supported by the ministry, he studies with Koch since early 1886.
  • May: The introductory course at the Institute of Hygiene begins. Later in the month, Mori joins Koch’s laboratory and is assigned a research topic (i.e. pathogenic bacteria in sewage water).
  • First visit to the Yamato Club where local Japanese socialize once per month.
  • A Japanese version of his article “The truth about Japan”, translated by Koike Masanao, is published in the Tokyo daily Nichinichi shinbun.
  • June: Middle of the month, Mori moves to a modern and quiet room in the vicinity of the institute (Klosterstraße).
  • July: Mori’s superior Ishiguro Tadanori comes to Berlin. As Deputy Commander of the Army Medical Headquarters (Rikugun Gun’i Honbu) and as Deputy Head of the Home Ministry’s Bureau of Hygiene (Naimushō Eisei Kyoku), he contributes significantly to the establishment of Japanese army sanitation. During his one-year stay in Europe, Ishiguro intends to study Prussian Army sanitation. Mori serves as interpreter for his superior who comes to appreciate the young officer’s excellent command of German.
  • Mori translates a manuscript by Ishiguro on the history of army sanitation in Japan, to be presented during the International Red Cross Conference in Carlsruhe, the following month.
  • September: Middle of the month, Ishiguro Tadanori, Taniguchi Ken, and Mori leave Berlin for Carlsruhe. They travel via Würzburg where Surgeon General Hashimoto’s son studies. Mori also visits the monument for Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866), the physician and scholar of Japanese flora and fauna, from Würzburg.
  • During the conference in Carlsruhe, representatives of European Red Cross societies discuss whether the Geneva Convention should also apply to military conflicts outside of Europe. As interpreter of the Japanese delegation Mori replies and demonstrates the Eurocentric nature of this discussion. He emphasizes – accompanied by applause – that Japan would certainly offer assistance in the case of a war outside of Asia.
  • End of the month, Ishiguro, Taniguchi and Mori travel to Vienna, where Ishiguro represents the government in the Sixth International Hygiene and Demography Congress. Mori who participates privately, contributes a short text on the issue of food to the reading room of the event.
  • October: After his return to Berlin, he begins to conduct experiments at Koch’s laboratory.
  • At the Royal Theater, he attends a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
  • November: In reply to a report by the British physician D. B. Simmons, Mori publishes a short text on beriberi and cholera in Japan in the Deutsche Medicinische Wochenschrift (German Medical Weekly).
  • Although his interest in science is pronounced, the young officer consents, when he is asked by his superiors to serve as surgeon in a Prussian army unit.
  • Later in the month, Mori gives a talk to the Yamato Club and argues that the main goal of the club should be the promotion of national spirit.
  • December: He meets Inoue Tetsujirō and Karl Florenz (1865–1939). The young scholar plans to publish his translations of Asian poems. [After teaching at Tokyo Imperial University since 1889, Florenz will be appointed professor of Japanology in Hamburg, in 1914.]


10 March 1888: Emperor William I passes away; his son Frederick III, who suffers from larynx cancer, follows to the throne.
  • January: During the New Year’s Celebration of the Yamato Club, Mori gives another talk and argues again that the protection and elevation of Japanese national identity should be the actual goal of the club.
  • Mori privately lectures on Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) and his main work On War (Vom Kriege). Introducing the ideas of Clausewitz in Japan becomes a long-term project.
  • February: Mori finishes the translation of a text by Koike Masanao on medical affairs in contemporary Korea. Koike is also a graduate from the Medical Faculty of Tokyo Imperial University.
  • March: His family sends a letter and asks for his consent to the marriage of his younger sister. Kimiko is supposed to marry the physician Koganei Yoshikiyo who teaches at Tokyo Imperial University, since his return from Germany. Mori wires his consent; the wedding takes place in April.
  • Service in the 2nd Foot Guards, Berlin, begins (until July). His experiences are recorded in the “Service Diary” (Taimu nikki).
  • April: Mori moves to a room that is closer to the barracks (Große Präsidentenstraße).
  • The results of his experiments on bacteria in sewage water are published in Zeitschrift für Hygiene (Journal of Hygiene), which is coedited by Robert Koch.
  • May: Mori asks the renowned physician and pathologist Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902) to publish his study on Japanese residential homes. End of the month, it appears in the periodical of the Berlin Anthropological Society.
  • Meeting with Adolf Bastian, the director of the Royal Ethnological Museum in Berlin, about the publication of Koike’s text on medicine in Korea (published in 1891).
  • July: Return to Japan with Ishiguro Tadanori via London, Paris, and Marseille.


  • Bowring, Richard John: Mori Ōgai and the Modernization of Japanese Culture, Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press 1979.
  • Kobori Kei’ichirō: Mori Ōgai: Nihon wa mada fushinchū da (Mori Ōgai: Japan is still under construction), Minerva Shobō 2013.
  • “Nenpu” (Chronicle), Ōgai zenshū, vol. 38, Iwanami Shoten 1975: 545–58.
  • Rimer, J. Thomas: Mori Ōgai, Boston: Twayne Publishers 1975.
  • Schamoni, Wolfgang: Mori Ōgai: Vom Münchener Medizinstudenten zum klassischen Autor der modernen japanischen Literatur, München: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek 1987.
  • Yamasaki Kuninori: Hyōden Mori Ōgai (A critical biography of Mori Ōgai), Taishūkan Shoten 2007.