As is well known, Japan was one of the three major signatories of the Tripartite Pact that formed the basis of the Axis alliance during World War II. The pact between Japan, Nazi Germany and fascist Italy was signed with much fanfare in Berlin on September 27, 1940.
Four years earlier, on November 25, 1936, Germany and Japan became the first signatories of the Anti-Comintern Pact, an agreement directed against the Communist International (Comintern). A secret additional protocol in the pact called for a joint German-Japanese stance specifically aimed against the Soviet Union.
Following the holding of the 11th Olympiad in Berlin in August 1936, Germany supported Tokyo's bid to host the next Summer Olympics in 1940. This set the stage for more people-to-people exchanges, one of which was a 90-day goodwill visit to Japan by 30 members of the Hitler Youth.
Although a major news story at the time, the story has largely been forgotten today; but the May issue of Jitsuwa Knuckles serves up a reminder, with text accompanied by 10 black-and-white photographs.
The Hitlerjungend, by the end of the 1930s, was the sole youth movement to which Germans between the ages of 10 to 18 years were permitted to belong. It eventually boasted a membership of 7.7 million.
By special invitation, an all-male contingent of 30 members of the flower of Aryan youth arrived at Yokohama Port on August 16, 1938, for an official three-month sojourn. The group was headed by Fuehrer der Fahrt (chief guide) Reinhold Schulze and Stellvertretender Fahrtfuerer (deputy leader) Rolf Redeker.
The group's first official act, on August 17, was to pay respects at Yasukuni Shrine, where members appeared decked out in military-style uniforms that included navy blue rider's pants, black riding boots and white leather Sam Browne belts. The same day they paid courtesy calls to the Minister of Education, Army Minister and the German Embassy, which at the time was located at the present site of the National Diet Library in Chiyoda Ward.
The group spent the evening of the 20th camping in the foothills of Mt Fuji, where they sang songs around the campfire. The next day they climbed Japan's highest mountain to its summit.
During their stay, the group was welcomed by members of the imperial family, leading government figures, high-ranking members of the Japanese military, priests at temples and shrines, sumo wrestlers, sword makers, students and others.
Among the photos in Jitsuwa Knuckles is a scene of two smiling Hitler Youth marching down the street in Karuizawa, as they exchanged stiff-armed Hitlergrussen (Nazi salutes) with local inhabitants lining the roadside.
Perhaps the most bizarre photo of all, also taken at Karuizawa, shows a grinning Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoue joining hands with two uniformed Hitlerjungend in a ring-a-ring-o-rosies circle dance.
After visiting Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, the group spent about a week in Hokkaido, and on the return leg visited Aomori, Iwate, Sendai City and Akita. Back in Tokyo, they made a courtesy call to an Army hospital, saw demonstrations of traditional martial arts and visited the Dewanoumi sumo stable, where they posed for a photo with grand champion Musashiyama and two attendants. In honor of the visit, noted composer Hakushu Kitahara wrote a rousing musical piece titled "Banzai Hitlerjugend," which was recorded and put on sale under the Japan Victor label.
On November 12, a sendoff party was held at Kobe's Oriental Hotel, at which the young Germans and their Japanese hosts posed in a group photo, flanked by huge national flags bearing the Hinomaru (sun) and Hackenkreuz (swastika). The next day they boarded a vessel for their return voyage.
Less than 10 months after the group's departure, Germany invaded Poland. It is uncertain how many of them survived the next six years of war.
Today, that 1938 visit by the Hitler Youth has largely faded from Japan's collective memory. Was it because it had been a reminder of the ways in which nationalistic bureaucrats in the Japanese and German governments devoted much of their time and effort to an ultimately meaningless endeavor? Even if so, Jitsuwa Knuckles concludes, it was something that needs to be remembered.© Japan Today