SYDNEY – From 2017 to 2019, the University of Melbourne, in Australia’s southeastern state of Victoria, is celebrating 100 years of Japanese language education.
Although Japanese is the most widely taught foreign language in Australian schools today, the university is only one of two post-secondary institutions in the country with such long-running Japanese programs.
In 1917, Senkichi “Moshi” Inagaki began teaching Japanese to private students — including high-profile individuals such as the then-director of military intelligence — at the university’s Trinity College.
In 1919, Inagaki, who arrived in Australia in 1897, and the Rev. Thomas Jollie Smith officially began teaching at the university, pioneering Japanese studies.
The centenary will be celebrated over three years to acknowledge these consecutive milestones.
World War II brought Japanese instruction to a temporary halt at the university, and by 1942 Inagaki was placed in an internment camp, along with other Japanese nationals living in Australia. After the war, in 1946, Inagaki returned to Japan.
Mariko Kubota, a former lecturer at the university and author of “Moshi and Rose,” a novel based on the life of Inagaki and his Australian wife, said she was grateful to Inagaki for introducing Japanese education to the university when he did.
“Inagaki worked hard, struggling against dominant teaching ideologies,” Kubota said. “But it’s because someone was working so hard that the program has been able to continue for 100 years.”
Since its inception, Japanese has been the most popular language taught at the university, with a record 1,634 students currently enrolled.
According to Akihiro Ogawa, a professor of Japanese studies in the university’s Asia Institute, international students, particularly from China, make up a large percentage of the student body.
“With the increase of international students, the goals of Japanese language education have changed,” Ogawa said.
Looking to the future of the university’s Japanese program, Ogawa said it is important for Japanese education to evolve with students’ needs, just as it has for the past 100 years.
“At the very least, Japanese studies are an entry to further learning,” he said.