Mid-American Guide

Trans-Pacific Viewpoints

                "Look, Mom, No (Japan) hands!"

Dr. Hajime Fujiwara is a commentator on international politics who resides in
 Palm Desert, California. Fluent in French and English, in addition to
 Japanese, Dr. Fujiwara is the author of over 30 books and a frequent
 contributor to magazines and newspapers, often covering the topic of
 Japanese-American affairs.
In the following article, Dr. Fujiwara examines the current status of the
 United States' Japan experts. This is an important matter for an era in
 which relations across the Pacific will play an increasingly important role
 in the realms of politics, trade, and global stability.

It should be noted that all opinions expressed in the article are those of
 the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Mid-America Guide.

The United States once boasted a gifted group of "China hands" - true 
experts on China, fluent in Chinese, with many years" experience living 
in that country as government officials, missionaries, scholars, or 
businessmen. There used to be a number of savvy "Japan hands" as well, 
seasoned observers of Japanese affairs with top-level personal ties with
 Japanese officials, businessmen, scholars, journalists and interest group
Harvard-educated E.H. Norman was a vintage "Japan hand." Mr. Norman combined
 his thorough knowledge of the Japanese language with extensive personal
 links to top Japanese political leaders, scholars, businessmen, and
 journalists to write many insightful studies on Japan. The generation of
 Japanologists following Norman, many of whom learned first-hand of Japan
 during the American Occupation period as military officials, contributed
 ably to the field. Sociologist Herbert Passin and historian Robert Butow are
 but two examples.
Succeeding generations of would-be "Japan hands" have been beneficiaries of
 this legacy, in addition to being amply blessed with advantages their
 predecessors lacked: five-digit foundation grants for language study in
 Japan, invitations to prestigious academic conferences, computer-based 
technology, and a mountain of information as tall as Mount Fuji. This
 cornucopia of tools, one might think, would have catapulted present-day
 Japanology to a new, loftier plateau.
Again this perspective, I looked forward with much anticipation to driving to
 San Diego to attend a September seminar on US-Japan relations sponsored by
 San Diego University and the University of New Mexico's fledgling "Japan
 Center." The conference showcased a star-studded group of vaunted Japan
 experts. While individuals' names are omitted here to avoid any impression
 of ad hominem criticism, suffice it to say that the assemblage include
 several of America's most famous Japan studies gurus and assorted other
 second-tier Japan analysts of some note. Surely, I thought, these much-
quoted and much-published Japanologists would qualify as the "Japan hands" of
 the 1990s. Just as surely, they would have some answers to- or a useful
 intellectual framework for addressing- the vexing problems facing the two

"Where's the Beef?"

  Alas, when I attended this conference, the reality of the state of 
Japanology in the United States hit me on the head like the proverbial 2 X 4.
 While the speakers' titles and institutional connections were impressive,
 their conference papers and seminar presentations were not.
  A close look at the experts' background papers raised gave questions about
 their level of scholarship. Where was the field work, the primary
 documentation, or the in-depth personal interview results one would expect
 of first-rate analysis? Where was the hypothesis - evidence - conclusions,
 approach allegedly at the heart of serious social science research in the
 United States? Were these not the best and brightest? Did they not hail from
 America's premier institutions of higher learning? Were not their books
 published by leading University presses?
  These Japan scholars' research seemed based on the notion that anything can
 be proven if only enough beans are counted. However, when I visit a four-
star restaurant, I want to savor the cuisine, not have the chef recite the
 names and amounts of each ingredient in every dish on the menu.
  Following an old personal habit of jotting personal reactions in the 
margins of the materials I read at the conference, I scrawled such comments 
as: "Get a dictionary!"; "Where's the source?"; "superficial"; "childish
 nonsense"; "Is this a joke?"; "Can't you do any better than this?" and so
 on. Deciding to assign letter grades to the papers, I was unable to award
 any better than a "C-minus" mark to any of them.

Ye Olde Language Barrier

  At best, a few papers suggested their authors' ability to read Japanese
 daily newspapers - hardly the touchstone of accuracy, objectivity, or
 reliability - but little else.
  Another warning light flashed at the conference reception, when I tried to
 open conversations with participants in Japanese. My Japanese-language 
conversational gambits met only blank expressions or tortured, primary-school
 level responses. Could these "experts" - armed with rudimentary-level
 Japanese language skills at best - actually carry out serious academic
  The problem extended beyond verbal skills, or lack of the same. Over the
 years, as a sort of "field research," I have checked Japanese language books
 in several major university libraries to see which books and how often
 certain books are checked out. I have found that a great many standard works
 by Japanese scholars have just sat upon the shelves gathering dust - their
 insights ignored by American Japanologists.
  Admittedly, Japanese is a tough language to learn. But should not so-called
 Japan experts be fluent in Japanese? Should not their work reflect a
 familiarity with leading Japanese authors? To the extent that Japanese
 writers are referred to at all, they are well-known sensationalist popular
 authors like Ken'ichi Ohmae, Missing entirely are references to untranslated
 Japanese scholarship by such figures renowned in Japan as Yonosuke Nagai and
 Masao Maruyama.
  What special contribution do these "experts" make without these basic, 
essential linguistic skills? Many of their works, translated into Japanese
and published in Japan, have become best sellers. Without Japanese
 translators to do the job, could these would-be Japan hands write anything
 publishable in the Japanese language?

Japanologists or Dogmatists?

  Most troubling was the atmosphere of the conference. Part of the price of
 admission seemed to be acceptance of a pseudo-macho crusader's creed
 including these key tenets; Japan is a "free rider" on defense; Japan's
 markets are closed to foreign goods; Japan has a calculated global economic
 strategy; and Japan poses a grave threat to American national interests.
 Participants seemed buoyed by the idea they had unmasked Japan's nefarious
 intentions and policies. This chest-thumping, self-righteous tone was
 chillingly McCarthy-esque. One of the yuppie Japanologists' harsh
 denunciations of Japan reminded me of one of Japan's own Turks of another
 era - the demagogic firebrand of the militarists 1930s, Yosuke Matuoka. The
 seminar itself seemed reminiscent of the Chinese Communist party cadres
 reciting from Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book" during the Cultural
  This mindset was reflected in the conference papers. Always sensitive to
 footnotes, I noticed how much American Japanologists (especially
 revisionists) like to base their accounts on quotations from each other's
 books and articles. After one Japan hand cites one of his colleagues, the
 second Japanologist will return the favor by later quoting the first as his
 own reference, and so on. If this conference is indicative of a trend, as
 sadly it seems to be, Japanology generally and "revisionist" Japanology in
 particular seem almost Marxist-Leninist and cult-like in character, with
 closed-minded, stereotypical thinking the rule rather than the exception.
 Dr. Norman's generation of Japan "hands" were inquisitive. The current breed
 seems part of a mindless anti-Japanese inquisition.

A Few Recommendations

  What lessons can be drawn from all of this? Japanese corporations,
 foundations, and government agencies have funded many programs over the 
years to aid American Japanology. While the sums expended have been huge, the
 results have not. Therefore, the ball, this time, is really on the American
 side of the court. What can be done? First, American universities ought to
 undertake a serious review of their resident Japanologists' qualifications.
 Second, publishing houses, especially university presses, should closely
 scrutinize the "scholarship" underpinning works submitted by Japanologists.
 Finally, and most important of al, the Japan hands themselves should take a
 close-up look at themselves in the mirror and remember the old adage, "if
 you point a finger of blame at someone else, three fingers point back at
 you." If progress is made on these three fronts, perhaps American scholars
 on Japan can contribute to the challenges facing the US and US-Japan
 relations in the coming era.

Dr. Hajime Fujiwara 


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