The Malta Independent 23 May 2024, Thursday
View E-Paper

Maltese community found in Japan dates back more than 100 years

Tuesday, 9 June 2015, 10:20 Last update: about 10 years ago

A crew from Japanese national television was in Malta this week to make a documentary about a small Maltese community in Japan that dates back to the 1890s.

Directed by Teppei Okuso from the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation, and with the help of interpreter Mayuko Vassallo, the team has interviewed a few people, foremost among them Professor Henry Frendo, who coordinates the unit on emigration and migrant settlement at the University's Institute of Maltese Studies.

From manuscript sources at Cospicua parish church, the National Archives and the University's Melitensia section, it transpires that the founder of this community was a Ruggiero Inglott, who was born in the harbour town of 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 the hands of the Axis, as can be seen from their graves in the naval cemetery in Kalkara. Some Maltese ethnic inter-mixing with the sailors is also known to have occurred locally.

The then Crown Prince of Japan Hirohito visited Malta in April 1921 as part of his first European tour. He was present for the opening of the new Parliament, where Chev. Joseph Howard became Malta's Prime Minister under the first self-government Constitution. Hirohito visited Kalkara cemetery, planted a tree at Sant' Anton and was lavishly entertained at the Casino Maltese. As it happened, Professor Frendo noted, Chev. Joseph 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 began studying at the 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, and he seemed destined to further his studies at University. Soon afterwards, however, he decided to venture further 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, according to Professor Frendo, it appears that Ruggiero was somewhat 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 stayed for some time in Algeria before embarking for the Far East, almost certainly from Valletta.

According to Professor Frendo, he 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 second-class fare to Japan was £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, starting at a Japanese naval school in the harbour town of Kagoshima. His children have now all passed away but some of his Maltese-Japanese grand-children still know of their ancestry and cherish the memory.

Unrelated to any organised emigration like that to the Caribbean or Australia, Professor Frendo judged Inglott's to be a sui generis trans-oceanic case, comparable to that of F.X. Grima of Birkirkara in New Orleans in 1870 or Antonio Azzopardi in Williamstown, Victoria, as early as the 1830s or, indeed, an explorer and trader such as Andrea Debono of Senglea in Egypt and the Sudan, in the mid-1800s. Maltese migrant settlement during the 19th century was largely limited to the Mediterranean littoral from Algeria to Turkey, but there were some exceptions all the way from the Americas to Australasia and, of course, Japan. 

The Malta-Japan documentary, one in a series on family histories, will be broadcast on Japanese national TV shortly. 

  • don't miss