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Army specialist’s take on Japanese studies

by Paul Mccarthy

AMERICA’S JAPAN: The First Year 1945-1946, by Grant K. Goodman, translated by Barry D. Steben. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005, 155 pp., $24.95 (cloth).

Grant K. Goodman is a professional historian of Japan, specializing in the relations between the Dutch and the Japanese in the Edo Period, and the development of Dutch Studies (Rangaku) in Japan. But here he writes on the basis of his personal experiences as a translator/ interpreter/interrogator in the U.S. Army in the last stages of the war and the first year of the Occupation.

He begins with a chapter detailing his initial fascination with Japan, through news articles, stamps, and matchbook covers of the 1930s.

The outbreak of the Pacific War coincided with Goodman’s last year of high school and first at Princeton University. He was determined to enter the training program for Japanese language intelligence specialists and was sent to the famed Army Japanese Language School at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, which, together with its sister Navy Japanese Language School in Boulder, Colorado, trained so many of the specialists who not only served the United States during the war and occupation, but went on to lay the foundations of postwar Japanese studies in the United States. (The author Yukio Mishima allegedly remarked at a banquet that since U.S.-Japanese studies had made such unprecedented strides during the Pacific War, he thought perhaps it was time for another one. The foreign minister, also present, demurred.)

Goodman pays honor to his teachers at Ann Arbor (many of whom had come from internment camps set up after Pearl Harbor), but particularly to Joseph Yamagiwa, the Japanese- American Shakespeare scholar who was head of the program.

Goodman was fortunate enough not to see actual warfare, but he saw its effects, first in the Philippines, and later in Japan itself. He also had experience interrogating Japanese POWs, and his account of how easy they were to obtain information from bears out what has been said about how unprepared the Japanese soldiers were for the experience of capture. He comments also on the tremendous loss of life that would have resulted from an invasion of the main Japanese islands, by way of mitigating the U.S. decision to use “weapons of mass destruction” for the first time in history.

Accounts of encounters with Japanese civilians and the inevitable cultural misunderstandings make for interesting and entertaining reading. Perhaps most amusing of all are the contents of some of the letters that were sent to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and which it was Gooodman’s duty to translate.

More seriously, the author characterizes the general as a quintessential “colonial ruler,” whose attitudes and policies in Japan were much influenced by his early experiences in the Philippines. Goodman recounts how the now much-discussed Constitution came into being, suggesting it was a well-meant liberal document imposed upon the Japanese by New Dealers in the Occupation, with the approval of MacArthur himself. This suggests that those Japanese who want to keep it unrevised should focus on the (in my view, admirable) contents of the document, rather than on its somewhat problematic genesis.

Among other significant topics described with insight and concision are the leftwing demonstrations and general strikes that gave the Occupation authorities such pause, and the debate over Romanization and kanji-kana simplification. “Emperor” Kumazawa makes an intriguing appearance, as does “Emperor” Puyi, Emperor Showa, and even Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado.”

In all, an enlightening and entertaining account of, if not perhaps “America’s Japan,” then certainly this seasoned American Japanologist’s Japan.