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Angelo Wong received his BA (2019) from HKU with a double major in Japanese and English studies. He is currently a PhD student in Japanese literature at Columbia University, USA.


Memories of Japanese studies and HKU
In an early Japanese class at HKU, we were asked to present our individual goals for learning Japanese. I said that I wanted to watch anime without subtitles.

Behind this goal was the simple desire to connect to people. I wanted to hear the voices of people telling stories about themselves, and I wanted to hear these stories in the same language as they told them.

I found these connections studying Japanese at HKU. Courses on Japanese language, literature, history, and culture in the Department of Japanese Studies introduced me to materials telling stories about Japanese people, and gave me the tools to read them. The professors at the department opened my eyes to stories that I could never have discovered by myself.

I remember getting my first proper introduction to Japanese literature in Dr. Daniel Poch’s course on classical Japanese grammar. This was the written grammar used in Japan until roughly the mid-20th century. What I really liked was that Dr. Poch introduced this grammar with carefully-chosen textual snippets from all across Japanese history. The snippets were challenging without feeling impossible, and they made me feel confident that I could read texts from any time period. This wonderful course inspired me to start reading Japanese literature in Japanese.

I remember my excitement when I read Japanese historical documents in their original language with Dr. Daniel Trambaiolo. The documents were administrative records from the 17th–19th centuries, composed in a dense administrative language and handwritten in a difficult cursive script. Deciphering the texts character by character slowly produced a picture of the past. One document turned out to be an illegal immigrant worker’s testimony taken as part of a background check. This gave us not only an idea of his personal struggles but also wider patterns of migration and employment. I loved how the distant past felt alive when read through Dr. Trambaiolo’s primary sources.

I remember visiting parts of northeastern Japan that were recovering after having been struck by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. I joined Dr. Janet Borland’s Young Leaders Tour of Japan field trip in 2019. I vividly remember visiting the ruins of Ōkawa Primary School, which had been preserved in the memory of dozens of schoolchildren who had lost their lives in the tsunami. I also remember getting to hear stories about the tsunami and about working to redevelop disaster-stricken regions from a survivor of the disaster. Dr. Borland’s programme is a memory that I will revisit continually for a long time.

Finally, I remember conducting interviews with Japanese people in Hong Kong in Dr. Isaac Gagne’s course on Japanese popular culture. The course involved an ethnographic research project investigating an element of Japanese culture in Hong Kong. With a good friend, I went around several ramen shops, interviewing the owners on how they respectively adapted ramen for Hong Kong consumers. This was one of the first times I had actually spoken to Japanese people outside the classroom, and I came away with a very different understanding of what ramen was. I really appreciate Dr. Gagne’s research project for making me challenge my preconceived ideas about Japanese culture.

I studied for a year at Sophia University on the Japanese government’s MEXT scholarship, which I had applied for through HKU. I had a fantastic time trying out college life in Japan. I took classes on classical Japanese literature and on Latin for fun. I also joined a theatre club that performed Shakespeare, to try something I had never done before. Seeing the club members’ performances made me realise how little I actually understood of Shakespeare’s English, and how much of Shakespeare can be conveyed without using words at all.

Life beyond HKU
I decided to go to graduate school because of the great time I had at HKU. The ideas and skills to which I was exposed at HKU continue to help me in my studies and research. More than that, however, my memories of hearing stories about Japanese people in my courses at HKU gives me the motivation to keep reading and trying to learn more. I am constantly thinking of how I can use my texts to tell stories about Japanese people that are as inspiring as those my professors told me.

I still think of my professors as one of the best things about my time at HKU. Not only did they expand my intellectual horizons, but they were also immensely kind and generous. I would like to thank them for always being willing to spare their time. I would not be where I am without their wholehearted encouragement and support at every step of the way.

Japanese Studies HKU