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  • Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations
  • James E. Auer (bio)
Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations. By Michael R. Auslin. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2011. ix, 315 pages. $49.95.

As a student of the late Edwin O. Reischauer at Harvard following his days as ambassador in Tokyo, I often heard him marvel at how much he appreciated the fact that two countries as different as Japan and the United States in areas such as language, culture, history and tradition could, even following a bitter war, cooperate as closely as they have done in the postwar era. When an outspoken revisionist on Japan visited Boston to promote his new book in 1989, a meeting with Reischauer was arranged but ended abruptly. The author challenged Reischauer’s status as a Japan expert, challenging the accuracy of his teaching and of his statements to the U.S. government when he served as ambassador from 1961 to 1966 to the effect that Japan was a clone of the United States which over time was growing closer and closer to U.S. culture and democracy. The author boldly stated that Reischauer knew little or nothing about Japan.

As a Reischauer student, I never heard him claim anything like Japan abandoning its cultural differences in deference to the United States; however, he reportedly reacted very calmly when challenged in the 1989 meeting and responded that his critic lived in Japan for only one-quarter of a century, too brief a time to know Japan well, stating that 25 years was only a moment of Japanese history. The author ended the session prematurely by leaving the room immediately after Reischauer responded.

Michael Auslin may not have lived 25 years in Japan, but he is an extraordinarily knowledgeable scholar of Japan and its cultural ties with the [End Page 384] United States. In the introductory chapter to Pacific Cosmopolitans: A Cultural History of U.S.-Japan Relations, Auslin tells his readers that “blatant stereotyping reflects important truths about a unique historical relationship. For much of the past 150 years, Japanese and Americans have been fascinated with each other’s culture” (p. 3). But shortly thereafter he accurately stresses that cultural exchanges between the United States and Japan have not followed a simple, linear pattern of growth from the arrival of Commodore Perry and his black ships to the post–cold war, post–September 11, 2001, and (presumably also) the post–March 11, 2011, world. To the contrary, this most carefully researched, detailed, and nuanced account makes clear that opponents of bilateral ties and exchanges existed in both countries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that relations virtually ceased when the countries clashed from 1941 to 1945, and yet that the cosmopolitans who believed two such different cultures could not only coexist but learn and grow from each other’s experiences have persevered and have reached truly astonishing levels of deep connections.

The very readable Pacific Cosmopolitans is chronologically well organized into six chapters, starting with the vague Japanese and U.S. knowledge of each other (“Shadows and Trinkets”), shrouded in mystery centuries ahead of the arrival of Commodore Perry who, Auslin informs his readers, was not the first American to land in Japan which was never “closed” completely before Perry arrived (“Noble Adventurers”) to “open” it in 1853. The post-Perry beginnings of exchange (“The Birth of Exchange”) in the latter part of the nineteenth century were followed by rapid growth in the early twentieth century, only to be followed by difficulties (“Storms on the Horizon”) that developed after several decades, inflamed by the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 in the United States, by Japan’s military incursion into Manchuria in 1931 and its walkout from the League of Nations in 1933, and by the U.S. embargo of Japanese oil in 1941. Naturally, there was a near-total lapse in ties from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, soon followed by a postwar revival (“Out of the Ashes”) which saw Tokyo and Washington go from enemies to forced and fragile competitors as well as strong and victorious allies during the cold war, only to face...


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