I will introduce the facet of present Vietnam through the history of
the Nangaku Japanese Language Class and circumstances of the students,
after having finished two years of studying there.
The comparison of children of today to people of the new generation among
the students symbolises the social change of the present time.
"I could finally let my children go to school in my youngest
Cities are flooded with a stream of bicycles and street corners are
brimming over with things.
Such scene reflects on the rapid penetration of consumer culture into
urban areas of Vietnam in recent years.
Vietnam is in the "rapid economic growth period" now, 20
years after the Doi Moi policy and 15 years after the Cambodian issue.
Although it seems to enjoy the abundance superficially, it has finally
emerged from the past hardship.
It is also present Vietnam that engenders youngsters who work their
ways through to educate themselves in the new generation.
The words that I mentioned above were spoken to me by my friend's father
some time ago.
I studied abroad in Ho Chi Minh City, southern Vietnam (formerly known
as Saigon) for two years from April 2005 to March 2007.
In my essay, I will take a subject matter from the Nangaku Japanese
language class (abbreviated to Nangaku) that was the centre of my friendship
during the study there.
I will introduce the aspect of "Vietnam nowadays" by relating
to the history of the Nangaku and the situations of students from my
What the "Nangaku Japanese Language Class" is
The school was opened in October 1991 at the General University in
the Ho Chi Minh city (Presently University of Social Sciences and
Humanities in the same city) and was the first public Japanese language
The old boys of the Nanyo Gakuin, a technical college under the old
system that existed during the Second World War in Saigon, established
and supported it.
Firstly, I will make a brief introduction of the Nanyou Gakuin.
The school existed for three years from 1943 to 1945 under the control
of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
About 110 students learned such subjects as southern economics, and
the tropical agriculture besides French language and Vietnamese language,
and most returned to Japan after the war.
45 years after the war in 1990, these people agreed to establish the
Japanese school in the alumni meeting, in the land of Vietnam where
they spent their youth.
(NB: About the Nanyou Gakuin, please refer to the memoirs by the old
boy like "Nanyou Gakuin" (the South Seas School) by Tetsuzou
Kameyama (Fuyou Shobou, 1996), and "Aikoku Shounen Hyoryuki" (Diary
of wandering patriotic boys) by Osamu Miyawaki (Shinchousha, 2003)
and research essays such as "Saigon Nanyou Gakuin ni Tsuite "(On
the South Seas School in Saigon) by Masaya Shiraishi and "Nihongunsei
to Asia no Minzoku Undo"(Japanese Military Rule and Asian National
Movement) by Hiroshi Tanaka (Asia Keizai Kenkyusho, 1983)
The Nangaku, which was founded so, is a full-time and two- year Japanese
language school; above all it was special because the school fee was
absolutely free of charge.
Just then, at that time, the Doi Moi policy was put on the track, the
international relationship with the countries in the West was improving.
It was the first public Japanese language school to be open against
the background of the time, and besides its school fee was free.
More than 2000 people were believed to apply for the success limits
The then Japanese newspaper also picked this news up and reported the
"If they can solve the Cambodian issue with the good prospects
for the future, the economic sanctions imposed by the United States
will be lifted, so that Japan can cultivate the relationship with Vietnam
openly. As they expect such future, they have got enthusiasm for the
Japanese language." (Tokyo Shimbun, (Tokyo Newspaper) 2 October,
They welcomed the Nangaku enthusiastically, but the activity was facing
hardship gradually due to the aging of the boosters and the difficulty
They halted the application of students temporarily in 1998, and then
had to close the Japanese language class in Hue, a city in the central
region, that was opened two years later.
Since then, they continued the activity by conveying the administration
to other non-political organisations; the school ended its fifteen
years in August 2006, having had the applications in 2004 for the last
"Youth of today" and "People of the new generation"
I visited the Nangaku for the first time in one afternoon at the late
April 2005, shortly after I started my studies there.
I remember approximately ten students were lively in the library of
the Nangaku that allotted the room of the school building.
I started keeping company with the students for over a span of two
years from that day when their invitation for playing table tennis
Most of them were so-called "the Youth of today". In other
words, they are children from wealthy families in the urban area. Having
been blessed with the present economic growth, they are such youths
who possess motor bicycles and mobile phones, enjoy chatting with friends
at coffee shops and go on holidays at mountains or sea sides.
They had already finished the higher education such as universities
and other, specialised in English and IT, on top of that they were
learning Japanese language.
Therefore, I gathered that they were recognising the Nangaku as the
elite institution and the place to make a second speciality.
On the other hand, there were also few who seemed to be plain but
noticeably fluent in Japanese; they made me see that they had strong
As I started learning about their family backgrounds and careers, I
started thinking they were "the People of the new generation".
That is to say, they were born to not so wealthy families in the rural
areas and had parents and siblings who could not go to school even
if they wanted to.
However, they belonged to the generation of youths who were allowed
by their families to study.
My friend, Diep was born in a small town by the canal in the Kien
Giang province in the Mekong delta, and grew up as a youngest child
of nine children in the family starting from the firstborn who was
22 years older than he was, under his father, a farmer who fought against
the United States.
After graduating from the local high schoolAhe studied at the Trade
College in the Ho Chi Minh City.
From then, while working at the plastic manufacturing company, he began
studying Japanese language and Japanese culture in the evening class
at the university.
By taking this opportunity, he confirmed his eagerness to learn Japanese
When he heard that the Nangaku was recruiting the last students, he
decided to apply and passed perfectly.
"I want to change the way Japanese imagine Vietnamese."
Keeping this feeling to himself, he strived to master Japanese language;
he graduates as a member of the last grade of the Nangaku.
Moreover, he was going to take a charge of administrating Vietnamese
workers in Japan from May 2007. He came to Japan in November 2007 and
is currently working as an interpreter at an automobile parts manufacturing
company in Aichi prefecture.
I would like to remind you of the words at the beginning of my essay.
When I visited his parents' home, his father over seventies mentioned
them to me.
Upon hearing these words, I was reminded suddenly.
He is the only person in the siblings to receive higher education and
let alone go to the Japanese language school.
It was not because all except him disliked studying but the era did
not allow them to.
He is a youth who is living in the new generation where an opportunity
is given when there is a will to learn.
What is Vietnam nowadays?
The closure of the Nangaku may symbolise one of social changes in
"There is no Nangaku before Nangaku, there is no Nangaku after
This is what one of the founders said.
Besides the aging of the boosters and the difficulty of getting hold
of funds, rivalry among Japanese language schools intensified in Vietnam
together with the economic development.
As a result, the Nangaku was turned into the brand and the original
functions of the school had already been lost.
Yet, I see "Vietnam nowadays" from the point of view that
it is in transition of the social changes that generates not only "the
Youth of today" who are children of the economic development but
also "the People of the new generation" who threw off the
And, to take those who can not still afford and cultivate human resources
to take charge of the future Japanese-Vietnamese relationship, out
of some of them who have strong ambition, I can say that Japanese language
schools like the Nangaku will be necessary henceforth.
When I think of the Nangaku that played a part in the Japanese-Vietnamese
relationship until now, I can not help but regret its premature demise.