- Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan
On 15 April 2010, the Edwin O. Reischauer Center at SAIS hosted a reception to launch the recently published Edwin O. Reischauer and the American Discovery of Japan. The author, George Packard, served as the Dean of SAIS from 1979 to 1993. The Kenney Auditorium was filled with hundreds of renowned guests from academia, U.S. and foreign governments, media agencies as well as the business and legal sectors. The evening looked like a reunion of the people who shared a connection with either Reischauer or Packard. It was interesting to see firsthand the enduring legacy of Reischauer. While all these people who gathered were familiar with many of Reischauer’s great achievements, they might be surprised to learn from this book about his struggles in his academic and political careers as well as in his personal life. Packard’s book provides an impressive testimony about an American scholar and policymaker who devoted his life to building mutual understanding between the United States and Asia.
Edwin Oldfather Reischauer (1910–1990) was born and raised in Tokyo as the son of a missionary of the Northern Presbyterian Church. At Harvard University, he studied East Asian history and then taught there as one of the prominent pioneers of East Asian studies in the United States. President John Kennedy appointed Reischauer ambassador to Japan, where he served from 1961 to 1966, and helped forge a new alliance between the former enemies.
George R. Packard received his PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University with a dissertation on Japan’s domestic debates and protests on the renegotiation of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty in 1960. He became special assistant to Ambassador Reischauer at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Upon returning to the United States in 1966, he became a journalist, first with Newsweek, then with the Philadelphia Bulletin. While he was at SAIS in 1984, Packard established the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies. With the eyes of a scholar and journalist, as well as a colleague and friend, Packard analyzes Reischauer’s life in the context of American policies toward East Asia since the 1940s and the development of regional studies programs in U.S. academia. This biography is exceptional in that the author depicts Reischauer’s life within the context of the fierce competition to influence U.S. foreign affairs. [End Page 189] In this political competition, Reischauer attempted to change American policy toward Asia policies through his lectures, essays and dialogues in the free “marketplace of ideas,” rather than through “the dirty work of political action and persuasion.”1
The author vividly describes Reischauer’s “academic entrepreneurship”2 as a scholar, educator and policymaker. Reischauer was one of the pioneers of the development of Asian studies in the West. Unlike many other scholars, he viewed Asia’s history, especially that of Japan and China, as worthy of serious study. American indifference toward and ignorance of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s might surprise readers living in the 21st century when Asian countries, especially China, are growing rapidly and are counted among the world’s major economic powers. However, in academia, as in other sectors, there is an ebb and flow, and scholars tend to flock to the popular fields such as Japanese studies in the 1980s and Chinese studies in the 21st century. Such “hot” fields promise more research funds, academic positions and people’s attention. Despite these fluctuating trends, Reischauer engaged in Asian studies like a missionary, and his passion lasted his entire life.
Returning to Harvard in 1946 from the State Department, Reischauer, together with the well-known China scholar John Fairbank, established a new curriculum in East Asian studies.3 They co-taught a course, the so-called “Rice Paddies,” which became extremely popular. As a prominent Japanese specialist, Reischauer was appointed as American ambassador to Japan in 1961 at a time when the country was just reemerging as an important member of the Western bloc.