Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, born in 1948, studied in Hamburg, Tokyo, and Bochum, where she completed her doctorate in Japanese Studies in 1975 and her habilitation in 1980. She held professorships at the national University of Hitotsubashi in Tokyo and at the University of Trier before in 1991 accepting an appointment as professor of Japanese studies at Freie Universität Berlin. Since 2010 she has been the director of the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies, a graduate school at Freien Universität, which is funded through the Excellence Initiative of the German federal and state governments.
Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit is highly regarded nationally and internationally for her numerous monographs and papers published in German, English, and Japanese. As a longtime board member and as president of the European Association for Japanese Studies (EAJS) from 1994 to 1997, she contributed to overcoming the division of Europe by holding the 1997 EAJS Congress in Budapest, as it was the first time that an EAJS Congress was held in an Eastern European country. The meeting in Budapest drew attention due to participation by the former Hungarian President Árpad Göncz; the president of the Berlin Academy of Arts, György Konrád; and the Japanese Nobel laureate in literature, Kenzaburō Ōe. Through various initiatives Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit also contributed to strengthening transatlantic relations in Japanese Studies. She inspired in-depth study of Japan through a book series she edited, Japanische Bibliothek, which produced 34 volumes between 1990 and 2000, as well as through the series Iaponia Insula, and through numerous literary as well as nonfiction books that she translated. She co-founded two awards for translators and has been the chairperson or member of several juries for translations between German and Japanese.
In Japan Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit has contributed to better understanding between Japan and Germany through newspaper articles and commentaries in public television broadcasts. From 1996 to 2004 she was the director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo. Recent initiatives that are highly valued in Japan are the Japanese-German dictionary, co-edited by her, and the major international conference on the author Yukio Mishima, which was held last year in the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and at Freie Universität.