Documentary on Maltese community in Japan

Documentary on Maltese community in Japan

A three man crew from Japanese national TV was in Malta to shoot a documentary on a small Maltese community in Japan, which dates back to the 1890s.

Directed by Teppei Okuso from the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation and with the help of an interpreter Mayuko Vassallo, the team has interviewed a number of Maltese people, among them Henry Frendo.

Frendo coordinates the unit on emigration and migrant settlement at the University’s Institute of Maltese Studies.

From manuscript sources at the Cospicua parish church, the National Archives and the University’s Melitensia section, it transpires that the founder of this community was Ruggiero Inglott, who was born in Cospicua in 1871 and died in Yamugucci, Japan, in 1950 at the age of 79.

He married a Japanese lady, Nakayama, whom he very probably met in a Christian mission school context; she later converted to Catholicism. They had three sons and a daughter, who changed their ‘British’ surnames during World War II when Britain and Japan were enemies.

During World War I, by contrast, Britain and Japan were on excellent terms and a Japanese naval squadron was based in Grand Harbour.

The Japanese navy rescued several Maltese sailors at sea and suffered scores of casualties at Axis hands, as may be seen from their graves at the naval cemetery in Kalkara.

Some Maltese ethnic inter-mixing with the sailors is also known to have occurred locally.

The Crown Prince of Japan Hirohito visited Malta in April 1921 as part of his first European tour.

The documentary will be broadcast as part of a series on family histories on Japanese national TV

He was present for the opening of the new parliament, where Joseph Howard became prime minister under the first self-government constitution.

Hirohito visited the Kalkara cemetery, planted a tree at San Anton and was lavishly hosted at the Casino Maltese.

As it happened, Frendo noted, Malta’s first prime minister, Howard, an industrialist and president of the La Valette Band Club, was also the consul for Japan in Malta. Ruggiero, aka Roger Inglott, attended the Lyceum from 1884 and then University, as did other members of his family, notably Emmanuel and Joseph.

He opted for modern languages having studied English and Italian, which were standard subjects at the time. He seemed destined to further his studies at University. Soon afterwards, however, he decided to venture afield.

He was the 12th child of a medical doctor, Pietro Paolo, married to Antonia née Rosso and the nephew of another, Gian Felic Inglott, who was better known.

Another relative was Sir Ferdinando Inglott. This, therefore, was a well-established and reputable Cospicua family. But, Frendo said, it appears Ruggiero was something of an adventurer and wanted to see the world. At the age of 21 he had a numbered passport, 1446, issued in 1892, and he possibly sojourned for some time in Algeria before embarking for the Far East.

According to Frendo, Inglott probably sailed on a P&O steamer, which made regular trips to India, Australia, Japan and China. One of these steamships, the first to have electric light in 1889, was named Valletta.

In the 1890s, he added, the fare to Japan, second class, cost £42. The Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Navigation Company had an ongoing trade with Japan, sometimes selling or scrapping steamers there. In Japan, Inglott settled down and spent a lifetime teaching English.

His children have passed away but some of his Maltese-Japanese grandchildren still know of their ancestry and cherish the memory.

The Malta-Japan documentary will be broadcast as part of a series on family histories on Japanese national TV.

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