12 June 1999
Aoyama University
Annual Conference of Australian Studies
Association of Japan

Why Australian Studies?


Nagoya University of Commerce and
Business Administration

It is a great honour to be given an opportunity to talk at the 10th anniversary of the Australian Studies Association of Japan. I must admit that I feel tense to talk about 'Australian Studies in Japan' in front of the founders and the experts in the field. Maybe I was asked to talk at this symposium, because I am a product of the first generation academics of Australian Studies in Japan, and also a product of Australian Studies that the Australian government heavily invested in. Today I do not intend to systematically review the field, because it is beyond my capability. Rather I would like to review Australian Studies in Japan through my personal experience as a student in the field.

I have kept asking myself, as a student of Australian Studies, why I am studying about a particular area of the world, 'Australia'. My answer is very simple: A chance factor turned out to be a necessity of my life. I happened to choose Australia as my field of study when I was a student of the Department of International and Cultural Studies, because at that time, American Studies was the major subject in Area Studies of English speaking countries, and I preferred to select a less populated field. Then I was given an opportunity to study in Australia, and liked to continue studying. Now I cannot live without it. I was fortunate that my interest in Australia occurred coincident with the Australian government's commitment to develop Australian Studies in Japan. Perhaps, it was not a coincidence, but my interest was framed in the social context. And my interests and the topics were a reflection of the interests of the societies of both Australia and Japan.

My first contact with Australian Studies was a course in the university delivered by Professor Matthews whose 'mission', directed by the Australian government, was to provide courses of Australian Studies in Japanese universities. As far as I understood, there were neither many courses of Australian Studies, nor lecturers specialised in the field at the time. When I decided to select Australia as my field of study, I approached various institutions to learn about Australia, such as, Hachioji Seminar, the libraries of the Australian Embassy and the Australia-Japan Foundation in Aoyama, and Nichi-Go Chosa Iinkai (Japan-Australia Research Committee). And I also approached specialists of Australia who were foundation members of this association,. These 'access points' of Australian Studies were also closely related to the Australian government's commitment to establish Australian Studies in Japan.

The first question I asked myself was: Had White-Australia Policy really come to an end? It was around 1978. I remember that at one of the seminars I attended, great concern was expressed that 'white Australia policy' was mentioned as still existing in geography textbooks for Japanese schools. (I must point out, though, people of my generation who studied the textbooks still believe so.) Since then, the core question of my study has been 'how the Australian nation has been built'. I looked into Australia's immigration policy towards Asian migrants particularly Indo-Chinese refugees, multiculturalism in Australia, Australia-Asia relations, Asian Studies in Australia, and indigenous politics. It seems that my interests and questions were not only drawn from topical issues in Australian society, but also from images of Australia that the Australian government tried to present and campaigned for.

I have found three types of roles for myself, as a student of Australian Studies. Firstly, I must learn about Australia, secondly, learn from Australia, and thirdly, I must play a role as an 'access point' in constructing networks of people interested in and related to Australia.

I must firstly acquire knowledge of many aspects of Australian society and my interpretation should be projecting the society as closely as possible to the reality. The focus of the study often reflects (perhaps unconsciously) interests of my conceptional framework as a Japanese and sometimes of Japanese audiences in general. At the same time, the appropriateness of the focus needs to be interpreted in Australian perspectives. For instance, I once looked into Asian Studies in Australia, in order to investigate how Australian perspectives of Asia had changed. This research made me realise how much my 'Japanese' perspective framed the presuppositions of the research. I originally planned to analyse how Asia related issues were explained in the textbooks used in Australian schools. I presumed that there were strict curricula and syllabi of subjects drawn up by the governments, and textbooks written according to them (like in Japan). I expected Asian Studies to be studying about Asia, rather than studying Asian languages. In both cases, I was wrong. My aim in the research was partly successfully achieved in the end, but I had to change my research strategies drastically. Instead of looking at 'textbooks', I looked into State and Federal government policies on Asian Studies, and some syllabi written by State Education Departments. Through the process of learning about Australia, I always hope to shed light on the various threads that make up Australian society without ignoring too much the pattern of the whole fabric. A good student of Australian Studies should be familiar with the society as a whole and be able to focus on appropriate phenomena of the society and provide relevant interpretations to audiences.

Learning from Australia cannot be, in practice, distinguished from learning about Australia. The learning process involves extracting universal problems and questions. Please let me again talk about my subject of interest. Studying about the 'reconciliation' process between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians made me think what sort of rights of indigenous people should be recognised as a general concept, then with specific reference to Australia, and how the rights should be ensured by changing existing systems. There is much to be criticised in the policies and systems in Australia, but I also appreciate the attempts at reform and the changes that have been made. The attempts to construct political institutions for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to live together in Australia can be examined as one of the models of 'self-determination' or autonomy of indigenous peoples. I personally hope the reform will lead Australian society to embody an Australian nation built on diversity of values, and a new principle of a nation free from ethnic-nationalism. Perhaps it is easier for a non-Australian to assess the process and make a positive evaluation of the attempts of the Australian people.

Thirdly, as a student of Australian Studies, I hope I can participate in constructing knowledge related to Australia and networking among people in the society in which I belong. The first generation of Australian Studies in Japan established channels of communication among specialists in both countries, and contributed their expertise to decision making in political and economic arenas. They also provided us (students) with knowledge and access points to Australia. In the last few decades, the number of specialists in the field of Australian Studies with different disciplines has grown. Furthermore, the number of Japanese visiting Australia has increased immensely and interest in Australia has expanded. Today, a variety of people are interested in and related to Australia for diverse reasons. In this situation, networking among people interested in Australia does not necessarily require highly specialised expertise, but experts in Australian Studies with wider knowledge about Australian society should play important roles in providing appropriate 'access points' both in Japan and in Australia. I expect that networks have been formed beyond professional interests such as in the arts, sport, nature, and so on; and extend to groups of diverse concerns such as the environment, human rights, economics and crime and so on, of not only the two countries, but in the Asia-Pacific region.

Through the first decade of its life, the Australian Studies Association of Japan has provided a place to exchange understandings of Australia among specialists, and has organised an important network among experts on Australia. I expect this will continue to be so, and will be a powerful engine to create diverse networks of people interested in Australia, and to enrich Australian Studies in Japan.