Sunday, June 27, 2010

Eddie O.

How interesting to find that there is a new biography out about Edwin Reischauer, the Japan and Asia scholar, who later became U.S. ambassador to Japan. Some cynical s.o.b.s have been known to claim that he forget which country he represented.

The new bio, written by George R. Packard---a fellow whose name rang a bell, but I had to google to be sure---is president of the US-Japan Foundation and a former Reischauer assistant. The US-Japan Foundation may also ring a bell. Especially to those foolish, mistaken revisionists who were so sacrilegious as to challenge the Reischauer view of Japan.

In Jeff King's Japan Times review, he points out that Reischauer remains a controversial figure among scholars. I ain't no scholar, but what surprises me about is that Reischauer is still relevant enough to be controversial.

According to King, Reischauer (and apparently Packard) dismisses most of the "revisionist's" because they were closer to correct than him and Reischauer as far as trade, economic issues and Hirohito are concerned because they were "opportunistic journalists out to take advantage of trade issues." (Anyone remember any of the explanations Reischauer originally gave us about 1980s era Japanese trade policies? He later admitted that maybe, just maybe, there could have been something to US complaints other than cultural misunderstandings.)

When I was in university in the late 80s, Reischauer was still very influential in the field. I especially recall his book The Japanese since it is the one which later solidified my opinion of him as a sugar-coater. I understand his reasons---he was trying to repair the WW2 damage to the US-Japan relationship, and introduce Japan to the US (mainly) as something other than a weird country and people that cannot be understood. Reading through that book, one cannot often say that he is entirely wrong or misleading on most points, but something isn't right. Everything was given what appeared to me to be a heavy coat of sugar to play down any less than attractive aspects of Japan. Even though I had had some professors who very aggressively questioned Reischauer's view of Japan, I didn't really grasp it until I first lived and worked here in the early nineties. To accept what Reischauer wrote, and then to come to Japan and see what it really was without a change of mind would require one to assume that yes, Japan is inscrutable, it is something that foreigners can never grasp; it must be some sort of Zen koan, for it seems almost nothing like Eddie wrote in his book.

Despite that, I have a fascination with the man. I have probably read most of his books and I will spend 33 plus bucks on a book about him which I am guessing will be a sugar-coating of Reischauer. If I can escape the Google disease and actually read the whole book in less than a month, I am kinda curious to see what difference having spent the last 10-plus consecutive years in Japan might make in my opinion.

Related: Reviewing Revisionism: Judging a Legacy of an era of U.S.-Japan Acrimony. The Asia Foundation. Had it not been for the revisionists that Reischauer (and Packard) dismissed, would things have been better? From 2000.

Edited: Removed reference to Reischauer and US aiding LDP until I verify my memory and find links. He was influential in ultimately ending the US subsidy for the LDP.

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