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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Learning To Face The Past. Japanese Students In Malaysia

March 25, 1998

Andreas K. Riessland, School of Social Sciences, Oxford Brookes University

Twice every year, a small private initiative brings Japanese university students who learn the Malaysian language to a small fishing and farming community on the Malaysian Peninsula, to share for several weeks the work and life of its people. For students and villagers, this homestay programme is not only an encounter with a different lifestyle and culture. It also a confrontation with a past which for both sides is painful and difficult to face.

Through the example of this homestay programme, this presentation will try to show how much the experience of the past is still a part of the relations between the two peoples, and why wishes of putting the past behind and turning a new page in history are little more than pipe dreams, at least for the time being. Beginning with a look at the past relations between the two countries, it will try to highlight that Japanese involvement was a crucial factor in the developments on the Malay Peninsula already long before WWII, and how the present mixed reactions to Japan among the various ethnic groups in Malaysia are a direct result of Japans ethnic policies in occupied Malaya. Turning then to the case of the homestay programme, the presentation will show how even in this small endeavour, the past came to affect the programme in crucial ways and forced both sides to come to terms with it, and how this confrontation proved beneficial for both hosts and guests.

Andreas Riessland is a Ph.D. candidate of Oxford Brookes University,School of Social Sciences, presently working on advertising in Japan.