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Making Japan ‘borderless’

by Donald Richie

JAPAN AND ITS WORLDS: Marius B. Jansen and the Internationalization of Japanese Studies, edited by Martin Collcutt, Kato Mikio and Ronald P. Toby. I-House Press, 2007, 300 pp., ¥2,858 (cloth)

The late Marius Jansen was America’s most eminent historian of modern Japan. Admired in Japan and Europe, he not only contributed to the study of Japanese history but also connected that history to the worlds outside this archipelago.

As he said in a 1994 lecture at the Kyoto Conference on Japanese Studies: “Japan studied the rest of the world, but until recently that world studied Japan very little.” Indeed, it was only with the generation that Jansen represents that “new awareness throughout the world [realized] that Japanese culture and civilizations deserve and indeed demand serious attention as an important part of the world’s cultural heritage.”

It is this that is celebrated in the present volume, contributions by old friends and former students forming a tribute, which is also an extension of the major themes and concerns in his work. Evolved from the Marius Jansen Memorial Conference held at the International House of Japan in December 2001, this collection of essays and tributes form not only a deserved festschrift but also a continuation of Jansen’s findings, interests, and methods.

As one of the contributors, Tom Havens, writes: “Marius Jansen exemplified the virtuoso scholarly life . . . . He produced more books, chapters, and articles after age sixty than most historians do in a lifetime.” And all were influential. The Japanese historian Hiroshi Mitani credits him with being the first to generate a synergy between Japanese and American researchers. Before then, “the relationship between research on Japanese history in Japan and the United States had been rather like two puppies chasing each other’s tails.”

This collection centers on the major themes running through work: historiography; the changing frameworks for interpreting Japan’s modernization; the rapid transition from feudal order to industrial power, and the relationships between Japan and its various worlds.

“Becoming borderless” was a major ambition in Jansen’s work and this theme is discussed in papers by Patricia Steinhoff, and M. William Steele, as well as Havens and Mitani. Jansen’s interest in the differences between “local and national” is reflected in essays by Patricia Sippel and Henry D. Smith II. The latter’s paper is about Jansen’s interest in the historical figure about which he wrote one of his finest works, “Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration.” Of it Smith writes of “the continuing regard of Ryoma’s courage, ambition, and self-reliance — precisely the qualities that attracted [Jansen] to Ryoma from the start.”

One of the most interesting sections of the book concerns “Japan and its worlds,” the way in which the two react to each other. There are essays by Ronald P. Toby, F.G. Notehelfer, Martin Collcutt, Tao De-min, and Ben-Ami Shillony. The latter’s paper is a fascinating account of changes in the way that the Showa Emperor has been viewed. It discusses the way in which revisionist groups in the United States and in Japan have seen him and his role in the Pacific War.

Fittingly, the collection includes Jansen’s own Kyoto conference paper, and ends with tributes by friends, students and colleagues — offerings by Homma Nagayo, George R. Packard, Toru Haga, and a touching essay by Mikio Kato about Jansen and his beloved home away from home, the International House of Japan.

Jansen was, as Notehelfer writes in his contribution, “a consummate historian and his work was multidimensional. In some ways he was one of he last of the Japanologues.” This book is both a fitting memorial and also a reminder of his continuing and vital influence.