Ivan Hall:  portrait

Are You Being Bamboozled?

David McNeill's Account: Japanese Nationalism (2001)
Nanking resources
The Sophia University Incident
Bamboozled" and the State of Japanese Banking

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Ivan P. Hall

American scholar Ivan P. Hall is widely considered a leading expert on Japan—and one of the most controversial.

Dr. Hall has been a journalist, a diplomat promoting U.S.-Japan cultural ties, an author on Mori Arinori and a lecturer at Gakushuin University. In his 1998 book Cartels of the Mind, Dr. Hall excoriated Japan for its exclusion of foreign ideas. In 2002, he published Bamboozled: How America Loses the Intellectual Game with Japan and its Implications for Our Future in Asia (M.E. Sharpe). He argues that Tokyo has manipulated and intimidated a naive and fearful America into believing pro-Japanese propaganda ensuring Tokyo’s dominance in trade, use of the security treaty to defend its economic sphere and social exclusion. 

Dr. Hall received a B.A. in European History from Princeton University, an M.A. in International Relations from the Fletcher School and a Ph.D. in Japanese History from Harvard University. He is fluent in Japanese, German and French. 

He gave this exclusive interview to Victor Fic, a guest interviewer at JapanReview.Net. 

Interview: January 26, 2002

What was your initial attraction to Japan?
It was both personal and professional. After World War II, Northeast Asia was fascinating because its cultures were highly developed or even more sophisticated than Western ones, yet utterly different linguistically, religiously and philosophically. In India and most of the former colonies, the familiar overlay of Anglicization or Europeanization was thicker. Japan was also an interesting intellectual foil for comparisons with postwar Germany, which I knew well, and China was inaccessible. Also, I found East Asians interesting and companionable.

What kind of training do you have?
To start, a doctorate from Harvard in Japanese History, focusing on modern intellectual issues, backed by an MA in International Relations from the Fletcher School and a BA in European History from Princeton. I have fluency in Japanese, German and French, enough to have negotiated cultural agreements with Japan when I worked under Edwin O. Reischauer, the pioneer of Japan studies in America and the architect of the so-called "special relationship" with Tokyo. I have given lecture courses and upper-division seminars at Japanese universities, and appeared on Japanese television, all in Japanese. 

What does "bamboozlement" mean? 
It is the central concept in my book, and so I develop it at length. Basically, it refers to Japan promoting its preferred self-image to Americans, and Americans believing it. It starts with active bamboozlement by Tokyo, but occurs as much through our own self-deception, and so my book is much tougher on the Americans. The next step is co-bamboozlement by Americans collaborating in maintaining those positive images. When this happens long enough, auto-bamboozlement, or reinforcement of the delusion by the deluded themselves, ensues thanks to our own intellectual proclivities and liberal nostrums. 

Why did a Harvard scholar use such a facetious or offhand term as "bamboozlement" to describe Japan's alleged propaganda offensive and America's complicity?
"Bamboozled" is a delightful 19th century, Mark Twain-like term that puts the onus for the deception on the party being deceived for being so gullible. Also, it is funny, and so fits the silliness of the intellectual game Tokyo plays.

Reischauer was famous for predicting in the 60's that closed Japan would converge with open America, and until he died in 1990, he was optimistic in public. Do you recall him voicing any doubts in private? 
I have no knowledge of any off the record statement by him doubting Japan's convergence. My purely personal impression was that by the mid-1970s, Ed was increasingly disappointed by the pace at which Japan was opening up to the rest of the world.

That brings us to today's Japan. What are its essential features in public policy?
Japan's trade policy will remain mercantilist. The New Old Right, as I call them, will push for a stronger defense, perhaps even nuclear weapons, and the abolition of Article 9. Americans will largely support this, being too narrowly focused on greater military cooperation, while remaining ignorant of the gradual erosion of postwar liberal values in Japan. Educational exchanges from America to Japan will remain very superficial, with no dramatic opening of the Japanese academy to either the Western or Asian world. Anti-discrimination suits will continue both in Japan and abroad. Be prepared for more of the same—lots of it—to put it colloquially. No Third Great Opening of Japan. 

You are the only analyst to highlight how deconstructionism supposedly leads to bamboozlement. 
I mention this as one of the recent intellectual fads found in American academe, as opposed to the general public's thinking. Along with rational choice theory, they have deflected the energy, attention, and perceptions of America's coming generation of Japan scholars away from a genuine mastery of Japanese language, history, and culture - area studies - toward more epiphenomenal theoretical concerns. Even scholars, let alone graduate students, have only so many hours for study per day. Better to get into the substance of Japanese literature, for example, first and mine the wealth of insights it provides into Japanese values, emotions, psychology, and social arrangements, rather than fritter away time on the application of Western theoretical frameworks. Those have their place, but only at a very advanced stage. 

What happened with Sophia University? 
While I was still in Hawaii, I accepted an invitation to speak about my book at the Ichigaya campus of Sophia University, agreeing to a date that would fit both my busy Japan schedule and the crowded Bonenkai season at Sophia. The American dean of the Faculty of Comparative Culture at Ichigaya then persuaded the Japanese director of the Institute of Comparative Culture to withdraw his sponsorship of my talk, in effect canceling the invitation, on the grounds that the title of my talk ("Why Do Americans Not Understand Japan?") was, of all things, "racist." As part of this Orwellian exercise in political correctness, I was never contacted for a possible change in title. The point of this caper, obviously, was to keep me out altogether. I wrote to the university president asking him to look into this egregious violation of academic freedom at the Ichigaya campus, but I never got a reply. Perhaps, in retrospect, it was all a blessing in disguise. The incident, covered by the press, became the laughing stock of Tokyo, and doubtless helped sell a lot more books. No, I did not plan it that way from the start!

Critics say that you come across as a disgruntled "gaijin" because of bad professional experiences like your lawsuit against Gakushuin.
The "disgruntled gaijin" ploy is a red herring, typical of the ad hominem charges that skeptical analysts of things Japanese are subjected to when their critics can't handle the substantive argument. My analysis of the closed nature of Japanese academe goes back to March 1986 in Gendai no Koto Kyoiku, and July 1987 in the Wall Street Journal, long before my time at the Gakushuin University in the early 1990s, or the foreign teachers' protest at mid-decade. So this question has the cart before the horse. The charge that a critic writes because he or she is angry is a certified Japanese defensive stratagem. Actually, whether angry or not, it doesn't change the rightness or wrongness of the argument. The charge is essentially irrelevant, and the question itself suggests that the questioner, without contrary proof or argumentation, simply assumes there is nothing to be angry about.

But you seemed to defend so-called dead wood scholars and active ones alike. 
This sounds like pot shots from the peanut gallery. I'd like to know who the foreign scholars were who denigrated other foreign scholars as being "deadwood." People should name names in both cases. In Cartels of the Mind (1997) I focused on foreign scholars who had been fired at national universities, especially the new "internationalized" campus at Tsukuba, who held doctorates in their respective disciplines, were widely published, and I'll wager would put their anonymous foreign detractors in the scholarly shade. Look among the large numbers of Japanese faculty, tenured from the day of their appointment, if you are collecting deadwood, or insist that permanent staffers should not exploit easy working conditions.

The problem here is the system, politically dictated and consciously maintained by the Japanese; personal pique should not shift the focus. Rather, the professional commitment and courage of those foreign scholars who had the guts to protest is what should be applauded. 

On the economic front, what led you to the conclusion that Tokyo is scheming to carve a closed economic glacis in East Asia? Japan refused to support the East Asian Economic Caucus because it knew America opposes it as a trade block.
I emphasize the vigorous personal networking, the ongoing regional integration, and the extent of Asia's economic and technological dependence on Japan as propounded by recent scholarship. Of course, Tokyo would not be so foolish as to squander its political and strategic capital with the U.S. to make a largely symbolic statement in promoting the EAEC when so much cooperation already is going on at the practical level. The phrase "Japan still plans to carve out" sounds too deliberate and conspiratorial—if not outdated—since much of it already has been done. The Japanese are only doing what makes economic sense to them, and their ends and means are not our own ideologues' formula for an increasingly open and globalizing economy along American lines.

The Asian Wall Street Journal panned your book, accusing you of non-scholarly methodology when you said that many Japanese called City Hall to defend Mayor Shintaro Ishihara after he called Asians "sankokujin." Reviewer Michael Alan Hamlin noted just because extremists voice support, they do not dominate.
Hamlin is ignorant about Japan. The evidence is seen in the dates he gave for the great Kanto earthquake—1937 when it should have been 1923—and for the recent Kobe earthquake of 2000 when we all know it was 1995. That's like asserting the London blitz was 1954, not 1940, or having the Berlin Wall coming down in 1994! As for whoever called in to City Hall when Gov. Ishihara's used "sankokujin," it was not just the high proportion who approved, but more importantly, the low proportion who disapproved, that was alarming. If the moderates are indeed numerous, why didn't more of them call in to be counted when they heard Ishihara's provocation? The real point here is that Ishihara had the temerity to say the slur, indicating a permissiveness that shows how Japan's political ground has shifted to the right. One cannot imagine earlier governors of Tokyo even thinking about making such a crude xenophobic remark. It is as if Mayor Bloomberg of New York had publicly uttered the term, "Japs" knowing that the social climate considered it safe. 

Many observers insist that Ishihara draws the protest vote from Japanese fed up with the system - ironically, he indicates a desire for reform.
Ishihara best articulates, and most openly espouses, the ideological nostrums of Japan's renascent right. In earlier decades the communists often drew a protest vote, too, but that fact that non-communists voted for them did not change the nature or ideological commitments of the Japan Communist Party. The main difference now is that today's forces on the Japanese right are in a far better position to drag Japan's center in their direction -- as happened before World War II. The JCP never had the same power to swing society radically.

You recount the story of Dr. David McNeill, an Irish research scholar at Tokyo University who also runs a Japanese-language radio program with his Japanese wife, Keiko, on FM Sagamihara. Japanese right-wing protestors took umbrage with their on-air comments about the Nanking Massacre, raising issues about media intimidation in Japan. You state “McNeill settled the uproar with a ‘deep apology’ for having insulted the right-wingers.” 

According to McNeill, he and his wife never apologized. Why the discrepancy? Do you think the McNeills’s stated refused to apologize weakens your argument that “dissenters” are truly banished from the debate? 
I think from what David told me when I ran my initial draft paragraph past him on the phone was that he had apologized to the right wing group who was angry because he lumped them together in the same breath with the yakuza. Also, he did so to protect his Japanese station owner or manager from further harassment and possible physical damages to premises. This was an entirely understandable tactical apology to save his Japanese friends more trouble. Whether the McNeills apologized or not, the right wing does go after people whose views they don't like, at times to the point of threatening of actually committing violence. This doesn't banish dissent in Japan, it just makes it harder.

Why do you insist that the Japanese economy is not in danger? 
The Japanese economy has its problems including lack of entrepreneurial spirit and a huge debt crisis, but it is not collapsing. There's a world of difference between the two, but the more precarious the image, the more convenient for fending off market opening pressures.

You argue that Japan is still intent on creating an economic sphere in East Asia. How can Tokyo defend itself?
By the Security Treaty with the U.S., the best geo-strategic deal the Japanese ever made, far outpacing the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902-1922. It also saves Tokyo lots of money, husbands precious political capital in Japan's immediate region, and assures access to the world's largest market. As such, it gives the U.S. more leverage, say in market-opening issues, than we have been willing to acknowledge. We are too easily frightened by the bogey, variously orchestrated by Tokyo, of anti-Americanism that would threaten our bases in Japan.

At the start of the book, you warn that America's poor understanding of Japan could portend a similar failure to grasp non-Western societies, as in the mid-east. How so?
I put in three years' service with the U.S.I.S. in Afghanistan and Pakistan some forty years ago, so recent events have jogged old memories. In the Islamic world, as toward Japan, we have scraped along for decades giving minimum intellectual attention to the region: the same sort of broad public ignorance, the same on-and-off media attention, the same support for reactionary regimes as long as they remain pro-American, and the same conflating of important cultural differences - Arab versus Iranian, Chinese versus Japanese - within regions. And above all, there is the same risk of the assumption that American values and ways of doing things will take root if only given a foothold - Don Rumsfeld as the Macarthur of Iraq.

What are the best and worst books on Japan?
Two of the books I most admire on Japan are William J. Holstein's The Japanese Power Game: What It Means for America (1991) and Laurie Freeman's Closing the Shop (2000). On the negative side of the ledger, Milton Ezrati's Kawari: How Japan’s Economic and Cultural Transformation Will Alter the Balance of Power Among Nations. (2000).

Related Articles

Asian Wall Street Journal reviewer Michael Alan Hamlin replies to Ivan Hall.


Victor Fic is a Canadian freelance writer and broadcaster specializing on Japan and W.W. II, and U.S.- East Asian diplomatic affairs. He lived in Japan between 1991 and 1995, and now broadcasts for C.B.S. News Radio, the Media Corporation of Singapore and others in Seoul. He has published in some 35 newspapers and journals worldwide.


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