World leading expert on Japanese politics and society honoured by ANU

18 December 2019

Professor Arthur Stockwin receiving Honorary Doctorate from Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC.

It was a great thrill to have Professor Arthur Stockwin attend the Graduation Ceremony of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific on 12 December to receive an Honorary Doctorate for his exceptional contribution to the understanding of Japanese politics and society and the promotion of Japanese Studies in Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe.

Professor Stockwin represents the very best of academia, where he applied his passion and intellect to become an expert in his field, but always with an eye to the human element, how it could bring people and nations together, foster cooperation, understanding and peace through helping people bridge the differences between them with knowledge and compassion.

His achievements over a lifetime are formidable. He was a founding member of the Japanese Studies Association of Australia, President of the British Association of Japanese Studies, and holds both an Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, from the Japanese Government, and an Order of the British Empire for his services to academic excellence and the promotion of UK-Japanese understanding.

Many of his publications continue to be cited, and he has been an outstanding scholarly leader in fostering cooperation and understanding about Japan in Australia, the UK and throughout Europe.

He was, and remains, firmly connected to the ANU and returns here regularly, despite his life being based in his native UK. As it says in his nomination for the Honorary Doctorate, Professor Stockwin is widely known to be an ‘ANU product’ and everywhere he goes, his reputation and contribution are seen as belonging also to our university.

In his retirement, he has been enormously active. He spends time regularly in France where he contributes to academic discussion on Japan and has been instrumental in building research collaborations between the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies.  This Honorary Doctorate links ANU firmly to this sphere of collaboration and influence and will bring future benefits to students at the College working in this field. 

One of his most generous and philanthropic scholarly acts has also occurred in retirement, with the recovery for publication of a trove of research papers by the esteemed late David Sissons, Professor Stockwin’s ANU PhD supervisor. His work on the Sissons’ papers is par excellence, in honour of David Sissons himself. Sissons was the leading historian of relations between Australia and Japan, crucial figure in Australia’s wartime and post-war engagement with Japan, and preserving his legacy is an invaluable service to ANU, Australia and future students of Australia’s relationship with Japan.

Professor Jennifer Corbett proudly led the sponsorship on behalf of the College.  Professor Stockwin’s nomination reflects his reputation as one of the most esteemed academics in the field of Japanese studies in the world and Founding Director of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies at Oxford University.

Professor Stockwin spent time with family, friends and colleagues whilst in Canberra, where a garden party was held in his honour at University House. We caught up with him there and asked him a few questions to get a closer insight into the man behind the intellect and the outstanding academic achievements.

Q: Professor Stockwin, could you share some memories of your time at ANU?

A: When my late wife and I arrived at the ANU early in 1960 to take up my PhD scholarship, the population of Canberra was less than 50,000.

We came by ship from the UK and disembarked in Melbourne, where we had relatives, then travelled by train to Yass Junction, changing trains at the Victoria/NSW border because the gauges were different. Yass junction station was in the middle of the paddocks and out of sight of the town of Yass. A mini-bus took us to Canberra, where we arrived at University House late on a Saturday afternoon, with nobody on reception but an envelope left for us with a door key.

We lived at University House for several months, before moving to university flats in Moorhouse Street, O'Connor. We lived there, and our first child was born during our stay, before we travelled by ship to Japan for my field work early in 1962. Almost the only part of the ANU that has not changed since then, so far as its main quadrangle is concerned at least, is University House. And then when I had finished my thesis, I was hired to teach in the Department of Political Science, with Professor Fin Crisp as Head of Department.

The student revolt period of the early 1970s was a memorable time. One of my colleagues was thrown into the pond. It was much more complicated than a 'students versus staff' confrontation. Conscription for the Vietnam War was the principal issue. 

Q: What advice would give your younger self and how do you define success?

A: Grab every opportunity by the ears and make it work.

Success is what you yourself consider to be success, however other people may define it. Don't pay too much attention to other people's criteria of success. Make your life and career along the lines you want to create yourself. 

Q: What do you think of the role of the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific in today’s world?

A: I studied at ANU long before the present 'colleges' existed. I was in the Department of International Relations in the Research School of Pacific Studies. Turning to the present day, I believe that the study of our Asian neighbours is absolutely vital for the future of Australia. Narrow nationalism is one of the most dangerous phenomena in the world today. Study at the ANU and learn to be an internationalist. Understand how Asia works. Go and live in Asia. In a very real sense we are part of Asia. So far as the UK and Europe is concerned, I consider Brexit a tragedy. 

Professor Stockwin has written a number of deeply personal books. The Story of Tim (1993) recounts the life of his younger son, tragically killed at 19 in a skiing accident in Austria.  As a study in grief, this remarkable book remains in circulation, especially among parents facing similar devastating loss.  Thirty-Odd Feet Below Belgium: An Affair of Letters in the Great War 1915-16 (2005) introduces and collects letters between his mother and her first love, a Royal Engineers Tunneller named Geoffrey Boothby, who was killed in a mine near Ypres.  This modest, humane book has deservedly become a widely-admired portrait of courage and bereavement in the First World War.

 

Copies of The Story of Tim, and of Thirty-Odd Feet below Belgium, are available from the author, who may be contacted on: arthur.stockwin@sant.ox.ac.uk

Professor Stockwin’s memoirs, Towards Japan: A Personal Journey, published by Folkestone, UK, Renaissance Books, are soon to be released.

 

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