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Helmut Morsbach

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Something Helmut Morsbach has been dreaming of for many years is about to become reality.

Nine years ago, he was appointed professor of intercultural communication in the Faculty of Economics, Shiga University. He and his wife, Kazue, moved there, to Hikone on Lake Biwa. Their daughter, Erika, was not yet born. “Now, at the age of 63, I am retiring from Shiga, and going to settle in my wife’s hometown of Akishima, near Tachikawa. I am initiating ‘Seminars for Intellectual Enjoyment,’ that I have been dreaming of for a long time,” he said.

Morsbach is a German who was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He was still a baby when his father, a doctor, decided to take his family to Germany, where he would acquire further specialization. “We were stuck in wartime Germany until 1947,” Morsbach said. “Then we returned to Cape Town, and I went to the trilingual German School. The same teacher would give one class in German, the next in English and the next in Afrikaans.” Completely fluent in these three languages, Morsbach was also proficient in Dutch.

His father, he said, talked him out of medicine. From university in South Africa, he graduated in biology and psychology. At Hamburg University in Germany, he studied social psychology, then completed his doctorate in the same field at the University of Cape Town in 1965. His theme then was achievement motivation in young South Africans.

Morsbach has two major passions. One is hitchhiking, which has allowed him to travel over 160,000 km with friendly and talkative people. The other is the sport of gliding, alluring to him because of “the silence of flight, one’s dependence on natural forces, and the comradeships formed.” On one memorable occasion he soared 6,000 meters above Table Mountain in Cape Town, and right above the house in which he was born. He likens life to gliding, and has aimed always to soar.

After two years of lecturing at a South African university, he decided it was time for him to soar again. “I was interested in cultural comparison, and wanted to get outside the Western world,” he said. Through correspondence he received a two-year appointment at International Christian University in Tokyo. His application was helped by his having named as his favorite book “Wind, Sand and Stars” by Antoine de Saint Exupery. Later he learned that was also the favorite book of the senior professor on the appointments committee.

Morsbach arrived in Japan when student rebellion was rampant. He wondered what he had come to. “It was meetings, meetings, meetings every day,” he said. “The riots were so severe that regular lectures were often impossible. I fled to Glasgow University in Scotland.”

He was appointed associate professor in social psychology there. During 18 years of life in Scotland, he received many awards, and was able to build on his links with Japan. He came here frequently on research trips and visiting professorships, whilst developing his interest in comparing social psychology in Japanese and Western cultures. His research covered a range of topics: the psychological factors underlying Japanese economic achievement, mother-child interactions, national stereotypes, attitudes toward the future, achievement motivation, gift-exchange rituals, nonverbal communication, the concept of persistence, and the concept of dreams in the fantasies of adolescents. He published, and made his name as a speaker. From Scotland he came to Shiga.

Now he is making Tokyo his home, and setting up his seminars. He said: “I am fond of intellectual discussions in friendly small-group surroundings. I hope to meet mature and intelligent Japanese who enjoy speaking English or German, and who would like to join in discussions. The groups will be at various language levels, and each group will have no more than 10 members, of similar language skills. Topics of common interest will be chosen during the first few meetings, and to encourage advance preparation, members will be informed in advance of the next discussion topic.”

Morsbach puts forward topic suggestions of his own, such as comparisons between Japanese and Western societies, aspects of German, British and South African societies, intercultural marriage, traveling, poetry and short stories. The first visit to a seminar group is free, and subsequent visits cost 2,000 yen per 90-minute meeting. Meetings will be once a month.