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MIT, Kochi announce chair, cultural exchange program

MIT and Kochi Prefecture (state) of Japan have announced the formation of the Kochi-MIT Joint International Exchange Program in Communication, continuing a 150-year-old cultural link between Kochi and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In the 1840s, John Manjiro, a native of Kochi, was shipwrecked and rescued at sea by a whaling ship and brought to Fairhaven, MA. He stayed six years, studying English and the culture and technology of America before returning to Japan, where he served as an interpreter of English and of American culture as Japan opened its doors to the West in the mid-1850s.

Mr. Manjiro's efforts to build closer ties between America and Japan through language and culture have been commemorated through a $2.3 million donation to MIT by the government and citizens of Kochi. The gift establishes at MIT the Kochi Prefecture-John Manjiro Professorship in Japanese Language and Culture, and a six-year international exchange program. Japanese is the most popular foreign language studied at MIT. An announcement regarding who will hold the professorship is expected to be made shortly.

The agreement was signed by Kochi Governor Daijiro Hashimoto and MIT President Charles M. Vest in a "good evening/good morning" interactive televised ceremony held at MIT and Kochi Monday night/Tuesday morning. Also attending the MIT television studio ceremony were Professor Philip Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science, and Dr. Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics and Japanese, who served as interpreter.

President Vest said, "The generous support from Kochi will make it possible to expand the Japanese language and culture program at MIT so that we can teach Japanese to many more students. In addition, the agreement enables the development and application of advanced education and research techniques in the teaching of Japanese and English. In many ways, we are using modern technology-and this video broadcast is a good example-to fulfill the dreams of John Manjiro. Manjiro clearly understood the benefits and importance of international cooperation, collaboration and communication."

President Vest noted that the Foreign Language and Literatures section in the Department of Humanities is home to the world's most technologically advanced Japanese language and culture studies. Through the medium of computers, it uses interactive television to give students the sense that they are in Japan, ordering supper in a restaurant or touring a city.

"Programs developed at MIT make it possible for the learner to study natural and spontaneous Japanese language in culturally authentic situations. MIT is able to put on-line these language and culture materials developed at MIT, and acquired from a variety of sources, for people studying Japanese all over the world," Dr. Vest said.

One of the sources of new material will be language specialists in Kochi, who will learn English and help produce Japanese language instructional materials for use by MIT. In addition, MIT will host up to five visiting scholars per year from Kochi for a six-year period.

The Kochi Institute of Technology, now under construction, will enroll its first students in the spring of 1997. MIT will establish an institutional relationship with the 500-undergraduate college, which is headed by a former president of the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Kochi Prefecture, about 600 kilometers west-southwest of Tokyo, is a mountainous region facing the Pacific Ocean on the island of Shikoku. Geographically, it is the 17th largest of the 47 Japanese prefectures and has a population of 820,000.

Dean Khoury expressed delight with the agreement, which was first proposed by MIT in 1993. "This is the first endowed professorial chair in foreign languages for the School of Humanities and Social Science. The fact that it is in international media studies, establishes an international exchange program and is with a state government of another nation enhances the unique advantages it will bring to MIT and to Kochi."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 17, 1995.

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