Hush-hush: Japanese studies in wartime Britain and Bletchley Park

Helen Macnaughtan's picture
October 2, 2019
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
British History / Studies, East Asian History / Studies, Japanese History / Studies
SOAS Japan Research Centre invites you to our Meiji Jingu Autumn Lecture 2019:Guest Speaker:  Professor Peter Kornicki (Robinson College, Cambridge)"Hush-hush: Japanese studies in wartime Britain and Bletchley Park"

Date:  Wednesday 2nd October 2019

Time: 6:15 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery, SOAS University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG

 Room: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture


From 1939 onwards, SOAS had tried to alert the British government to the need for Japanese courses in case war should break out, but the government wasn’t listening. The attack on Malaya and then Pearl Harbor in December 1941 caught Britain linguistically unprepared for war and there was an urgent need to make good the deficiency. Early in 1942 SOAS began a series of Japanese courses designed to produce interpreters, translators, interrogators and radio eavesdroppers, but this was no secret: advertisements for the courses even appeared in the newspapers. At the same time, however, a much more secret course was launched in Bedford to train men and women for intelligence work at Bletchley Park. They could not even tell their parents what they were doing, for they all had to sign the Official Secrets Act and were only released from that obligation in 1978. After finishing their courses most went to Bletchley Park but subsequently many were sent to India, Kenya, Ceylon, Australia and Mauritius to monitor, decode and translate Japanese wireless communications. GCHQ has not yet released all the records but some are available in the USA and elsewhere, and a handful of those intrepid men and women are still alive and eager to be interviewed: their story deserves to be told, for their contribution to the war effort may have been hidden but it was highly esteemed at the time. In particular, their work on the Japanese diplomatic codes provided access to the messages sent from the Japanese embassy in Berlin: since the ambassador had a good relationship with Hitler, these messages provided invaluable intelligence about the war in Europe.

Speaker Biography

The son of a Polish wartime Spitfire pilot, Professor Peter Kornicki was educated at Oxford and then taught at the University of Tasmania and Kyoto University before taking up a lectureship in Japanese at the University of Cambridge in 1985. In 2001 he became a professor at Cambridge; he took early retirement in 2014, but continued in his other role as Deputy Warden of Robinson College, Cambridge, until 2016. He was President of the European Association for European Studies from 1997 to 2000, was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 2000, received the Yamagata Banto Prize in 2013 and was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon in 2017. His most recent publications are: Languages, scripts, and Chinese texts in East Asia (2018),  British Royal and Japanese Imperial relations, 1868-2018: 150 years of association, engagement and celebration, (2019, with the late Sir Hugh Cortazzi and Antony Best) and  Captain Oswald Tuck and the Bedford Japanese School, 1942-1945 (2019).


If you would like to attend the event please register. Online registration

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4893/2

Sponsor: Meiji Jingu Intercultural Resarch Institute