Historian Birgit Tremml-Werner at Linnaeus University has studied letters, agreements and licenses between the Spanish Empire and Japan in the 17th century. She investigated how the word “friendship” was used and translated. The result: the Spaniards often spoke of friendship in their trade documents, while the Japanese neither used nor translated the word.

In both Japanese original documents and in early Japanese translations, the word “friendship” is missing. Birgit Tremml-Werner, a researcher at the Department of Cultural Studies, believes the reason for this was that “friendship” was not used in the same way in Japanese and was difficult to translate. There were words for friendship between people, but not between states.

In addition, Japan saw itself as superior to the Spanish Empire, while the Spaniards looked at it more as a mutual relationship.

However, when Japan, in the early 20th century, had new translations of the 17th-century Spanish originals made, it had a different sound to it. Great emphasis was made on describing how Japan and Spain had a friendly relationship for several hundred years.

– These new translations focused a lot on the historical friendship. It was thought to show hundreds of years of good relations with European trading partners. It was a kind of national propaganda that influenced the interpretation of the 17th century documents. The translations gained a great deal of influence. They became a way to position themselves and to strengthen their position, explains Birgit Tremml-Werner,

The texts were widely disseminated and used both by politicians, in the media and in education. Birgit believes that the use of the new translations from the 20th century is an example of when history is used and interpret to one’s own advantage, history is used and interpreted to its own advantage, to benefit a particular purpose.

– There are examples even in our time, such as China, which believes that Taiwan has long been part of China, which is not true. It is an abuse of historical facts, which can lead to myth-making and fake news and have far-reaching effects.


Birgit Tremml-Werner, researcher 0470-70 83 59, birgit.tremmlwerner@lnu.se

Ulrika Bergström, pressansvarig, 070-259 36 29, ulrika.bergstrom@lnu.se