Our Japanese program started in 1936 in the Department of Oriental Studies.  The department itself was a new one, which started in the same year.

In 1942, Japanese language, as well as Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, and Sanskrit, was offered for undergraduate students for the first time.

The Oriental Studies Dept. changed its name to the Dept. of Indic and Far Eastern Languages and Literatures in 1947. The present name, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, has been used since 1971.


Surprisingly enough, Japanese language was offered in the nineteenth century as well.  Addison Van Name, a librarian and linguist, taught a Japanese class from 1871.  Famous historian Asakawa Kan’ichi also held a Japanese language class for about 15 years since coming to Yale in 1907.


The very first Japanese textbook used in 1870s is probably A Grammar of the Japanese Written Language if Van Name used something. (This book has a Van Name’s signature on top!)  The picture is a preservation photocopy version made by the Preservation Department, Yale University Library.

ヴァンネームに関してはほとんど記録がなく、まして、どんな日本語の授業をしていたのかとなると、全く分かりません。図書館にある古い教科書で1870年代に出版されていたものはこれしかありませんし、ヴァンネームのサイン(写真右上)があることから推しても、これを使っていた、もしくは参考にしていた可能性は大きいと思います。ただし、履修要項(University Catalogue)には、日本語の授業は「週に1度か2度」と書いてあるので、それほど体系的には教えられていなかったと考えています。

Textbooks used in 1936 (above) and in 42 (below) by Prof. G. A. Kennedy.

1936 Department of Oriental Studies

1947 Dept. of Indic and Far Eastern Languages and Literatures.
(Institute of Far Eastern Languages taught only Chinese in 46 and Japanese and Korean were added from 47.)

1964 Dept. of East and South Asian Languages and Literatures

1971 Dept. of East Asian Languages and Literatures


文責:村田道明 2019.5.31編集




Extra reading…

Below is an essay I wrote for The Interpreter, which is a newsletter of Archives, University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. In the essay I omitted the historical background, which the readers of The Interpreter know well, and only summarized what had happened at Yale.


Early days of Japanese language education at Yale

This article explores how the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was conducted at Yale University, who was directing the program, why was it successful and so on by going through the vast amount of correspondence of Bernard Bloch and George A. Kennedy from the 1930s and 1940s.

In January 1942 at Yale University, George Kennedy was making Japanese recording materials with the help of Takahashi, a student of the Divinity School in preparation for the spring semester. Until the previous semester, Japanese students could be counted on your fingers, but now 40 students said they would like to take Japanese. This is the first impact on university classes after the Pearl Harbor attack.  Due to the lack of teaching staff, Kennedy selected 25 students out of the 40, mainly those who would graduate that year. The recordings made by Takahashi are for use in the Japanese classroom.  (New Haven Evening Register: January 15, 1942)

Kennedy was a Sinologist who received his PhD in Germany. When Kennedy returned to the United States, he decided to teach Chinese to Americans. He wrote a proposal to several places and it was Yale University that accepted it. Upon hiring Kennedy, Yale created the Department of Oriental Studies by integrating several related subjects that had already existed at the university.  Chinese and Japanese were included in the department as well as Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Iranian, Hebrew, Arabic and so on.  (Correspondence from Furniss to Field: November 5, 1935.)

Since Kennedy was certified as an interpreter both in Chinese and Japanese while he was in Germany, he offered not only Chinese but also Japanese classes at Yale.  It was five years before the outbreak of the Pacific War.  The courses were for graduate students, as they only appeared in the course book of the graduate school.

The number of students in the 1930’s is actually unknown, but it should have been quite small. At Harvard, they had less than 10 students in Japanese classes before 1942 (E. O. Reischauer 1987, My Life Between Japan and America).  At that time only students who studied Japanese literature (or those who might have been considered odd) studied Japanese.  However, the outbreak of the Pacific War changed the situation overnight. The 40 students at the beginning were the first ones who responded to the change.

In January 1943, Yale University was preparing for a six-month intensive Chinese course upon the request of the Army.  As Kennedy had to concentrate on the Chinese classes, he could no longer teach Japanese. At this time, the chair of the Department of Oriental Studies invited a linguist, Bernard Bloch from Brown University to Yale. (Correspondence FE to BB: December 16, 1942). In fact, Bloch had already drove back and forth between Brown and Yale many times because his co-researchers were there and gatherings of linguists met at Yale from time to time.  At that time Yale was the center of structural linguistics.

Bernard Bloch had a life completely unrelated to Japanese language until the opening of the Pacific war. In the spring and summer semesters of 1942, he took sabbatical leave from Brown University and began to study spoken Japanese intensively with informants*.  The first informant was Shunsuke Tsurumi, who was designated by Elisseeff and Reischauer at Harvard. But it seems that Motoaki Yamamoto was the first one who actually taught Japanese to Bloch.

Yamamoto was studying at Amherst College and thought that he would go back to Japan soon after the war broke out.  He quit college study and tried to get on a ship from the west coast. However, it turned out that there was no ship to Japan and he returned to the east coast and landed in Tsurumi’s apartment. (Tsurumi, et al. 2006 Nichibei Koukansen.)

It seems that Tsurumi and Yamamoto are the ones that Bloch says in his letter “I would like to get travel permission for two Japanese guys in Cambridge.” Japanese people during the war were unable to travel freely on the east coast.  Even when they just came to New Haven from New York City to take an interview, they had to obtain travel permission first.  Bloch himself was traveling to Cambridge semiweekly to learn Japanese in February and March (BB to FE: March 7, 1942).

* ‘Informant’ means a person who supplies social or cultural data in answer to the questions of an investigator.  Here, an investigator is a linguist and data is Japanese language.  Nisei who were leading drill sessions was also called informant at that time.


Tsurumi was detained in late March 1942, and, about one month later, Yamamoto was also detained.  There were two more people who taught Bloch Japanese language as informants — Lincolna McKinnon and Rene Mayer — around the time when Yamamoto did.

Bloch started to teach Japanese at Brown in the fall semester of 1942.  Then he left Brown for a new position at Yale in January. The primary purpose was to take over the Japanese language classes taught by Kennedy and to do Japanese related jobs.

He had been extremely busy since he came to Yale.

Bloch says in his letter (BB to HK: March 9, 1943):

My Japanese course has been going very well, but it has, as you might expect, taken up a lot of time; and in addition, I am supposed to be turning out self-teaching manuals in ten different languages that the Army expects to distribute among soldiers for off-duty study. And now, on top of that, I find myself involved with Walt Disney illustrators and movie technicians, supervising the script and eventual production of a ten-minute animated films to illustrate some of the difficulties of Japanese pronunciation and some of the possible uses to which a smattering of Japanese could be put by a soldier.  This last chore means that I must spend my weekends in New York conferring with the technicians and illustrators – a waste of time if ever there was one.

Bloch was also an editor of Language, journal of the Linguistic Society of America, was working on the Linguistic Atlas of New England, which he had started under the direction of Kurath in the 30s and was also preparing for the publication of Spoken Japanese, which was one of the war efforts the War Department made.

Another letter tells us about the informants, their status, enrollment in Japanese courses, what kind of permission Japanese people needed in order to teach their own (parents’) language and what Bloch was doing.

Letter from BB to MC: July 4, 1943

(1) …snip… I now have the following four informants:

Lincolna McKinnon, to not as assistant & overseer of informants; Rene Mayer, to not as informant merely, but without supervision; Kentaro Ikeda, appointed for 3 months with prospect of renewal; Jiro Arakawa, ditto.


Note that none of these four comes from a Relocation Center.  All but Ikeda are American citizens; Ikeda has just got his A.B. from Princeton, where he has been for the last three years.  Therefore I cannot understand your red-penciled statement, “Incidentally some of these people you have may be there illegally.” I should add that Ikeda has been cleared by the FBI, the US Attorney, and the Immigration Authorities; the University has satisfied itself that he is reliable and legal.

(2) Classes begin Wednesday, July 7th. I need five informants in all but I can get along for a week or so, if I have to, with four.  …snip… Ikeda has a wife, a Nisei, who can at least fill in temporarily and may even be able to take on the job permanently; and he also has a younger brother, just graduated from Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, whom we can get if we want him.  …snip…

(3) For the past two weeks I have been as busy as a one-armed paper-hanger with the itch.  I’ve been making out the schedule for the entire Foreign Area & Language Group of the ASTP,  and have been directing the interviews that all the men have been put through to determine their allocation to the five languages involved.  In-between-times I have been lecturing them, once daily, on Linguistic Orientation.  Our allocations now stand as follows: Japanese 88;  Malay 48; Chinese 32; Burmese 34; Russian 55 — total 250.  To date, however, only 219 men have arrived … snip …

Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) started in October 1943 in earnest. The number of Japanese students at Yale increased from 88 to 310 in that month. It’s not hard to imagine that the paper-hanger had started sneezing and blowing his nose.  There were 25 staff members (and probably more in the next year), judging from his letter of November 15, 1943.

Yale’s ASTP continued until July 1946. While most ASTPs were terminated due to the lack of preparation and teachers, why was it successful at Yale?  From his letters, I can see the cooperation with other universities, such as University of Michigan and University of Chicago.  They exchanged ideas and teaching materials and teachers/informants also moved among the universities. In addition to that, I assume that it might not have been possible to continue the ASTP without the foundation of Kennedy’s Japanese language education.  Bloch had taken over the foundation of language program, as well as the personal connections.

The Department of Oriental Studies was divided into a few departments in 1947, and Japanese was taught in the Dept. of Indic and Far Eastern Languages ​​and Literatures. In the fall of the same year, Bloch had succeeded the L. Bloomfield’s linguistic courses.

Bloch did not work on Japanese language actively after his students — Gardner, Jorden, Martin, Yokoyama — had graduated by the early 50s.  The last Japanese course Bloch taught was Japanese 25  Elementary Japanese, which appeared in the Undergraduate Courses of Study 1950-51.

Why did he stop working on Japanese Language?  From the Bloch Papers, which is considered to include almost all of his job-related correspondences from 30s to 60s, he really had lots of things to do in the field of linguistics and he may have considered that his duties in the Japanese education were over.  I think that he also had felt satisfied with the letter he received from Yamamoto, who was the first informant in Cambridge, MA.  And it is a curious coincidence that Bloch received the letter, which was forwarded from Brown to Yale, exactly 7 years later after Pearl Harbor.

Yamamoto, who then was in Japan, says in his letter:

I remember very well the day when we, I and another Japanese student, Tsurumi, had received your request of service and discussed in my attic room in Cambridge whether we should render you a service of teaching Japanese language at the time our country was in the war with yours.  After long hours of discussion, we came to the conclusion that our service will some day in the long run serve our country in making your people understand Japan greatly through your teaching of her language, even though it would surely benefit our enemy country for the time being. 

As Yamamoto said, the Japanese language education that the army and the navy worked with all efforts produced many Japanologists. There is no doubt that that was the greatest outcome of wartime Japanese education.


All correspondences of Bloch and Kennedy are part of Bernard Bloch Papers and George A. Kennedy Papers at Manuscripts and Special Archives, Sterling Memorial Library,  Yale University.



“Early days of Japanese Language Education at Yale”, The Interpreter, No. 256 (June 1, 2019), p.3-4.

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