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SU Japan Centre hosts inaugural JICA Chair lecture
Author: Sue Segars
Published: 04/12/2023

SU Japan Centre hosts inaugural JICA Chair lecture

Marking another milestone in its longstanding collaboration with Japan, Stellenbosch University (SU) hosted the first Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Chair lecture in October. The event was facilitated through SU's Japan Centre.

The lecture was delivered by Dr Shinichi Kitaoka, a former president of, and now special advisor to, JICA, which, according to Japan Centre director Prof Scarlett Cornelissen, is one of the world's largest providers of bilateral development assistance. The theme of the seminar, hosted at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), was Japan's modernisation and global development cooperation.

Lots to learn from Japan's transition

Titled “The making of modern Japan", Dr Kitaoka's talk focused particularly on the Meiji era from 1868 to 1912, which ushered in a period of economic, social and political reforms. The catalyst for Japan's modernisation was the 1868 political revolution, or Meiji Restoration, which ended shogunate reign under feudalism and restored imperial rule.

Dr Kitaoka highlighted some of the “dividends" Japan enjoyed during this transition, such as commercial growth, high levels of literacy, and the preservation of its unique culture. While Japan had made many mistakes, he said, its successful transition to democracy provided many lessons for developing countries.

Cherishing ties with Japan

Prof Hester Klopper, SU's Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Strategy, Global and Corporate Affairs, says SU was honoured to host the lecture just a year after the launch of the University's Japan Centre as a hub of academic, research and cultural exchange between the two countries. In 2024, SU will also host the sixth South Africa–Japan University Forum in Stellenbosch as part of its ongoing collaboration with Japan.

The JICA Chair series helps SU realise its vision of being Africa's leading research-intensive university, notes Klopper. “As a university, we are responsible not only for the academic training of our students, but also for preparing our students to make a difference and contribute to a sustainable future," she says. “Initiatives like this help us build bridges and create a social justice space across the globe for the future."

Klopper adds that SU has a long history of cultural exchange with Japan. Records from the SU Archives document visits dating back to 1935, when the consul of Japan was invited to present films about Japan to the SU community. “SU wishes to build on this work that was initiated years ago," Klopper says. In 2018, the University also collaborated with the embassy of Japan to host a seminar in joint celebration of SU's Centenary and the centenary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.