Bath in southwestern England, his birthplace and home for his first 18 years, played its part in the makeup of Christopher Hughes. Several generations of his family have lived in that beautiful town of squares, crescents and terraces. Set in a bend of the River Avon and famed since Roman times, Bath is distinguished by its ancient stone buildings, its history as a market town and cloth-weaving center, and its literary associations. Hughes’ parents and sister still live there. His father, a businessman, follows a keen interest in local history.
With this background, it is small wonder that Hughes’ first study was of medieval history. That turned to modern history, in which he earned his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees at Oxford University. He earned another M.A. in history from the University of Rochester, in New York. Then he thought again.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “At that time Japan was increasingly being recognized as a world power. It looked different from the other world powers.” That difference intrigued him. He joined a JET language-teaching program, which brought him to Japan, where he was posted to a village in Gifu Prefecture.
“It was beautiful, in an unspoiled part of Japan,” he said. “It was a good place for me to learn Japanese and experience a different culture. I had a lot of spare time. It was cold in the evenings, and I needed a useful hobby, so I made learning Japanese my hobby. I taught myself, really. It seemed to work.”
On his return to the U.K., Hughes enrolled at the University of Sheffield, which has an acclaimed program in Japanese studies. In a year he earned an MA with distinction. As a research student, he went briefly to Finland, then still as a research student came to the graduate School of Law and Politics at the University of Tokyo. He received his Ph.D. in international relations from Sheffield University in 1997. For a year at Hiroshima University, he was appointed research associate at the Institute for Peace Science.
Hughes had the benefit of many scholarships and grants to help him on his broad-based way. He is now senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Globalization and Regionalization, at the University of Warwick. It seems that the River Avon is the tide in his affairs. At Warwick as at Bath, he is in surroundings of natural and man-made riverside beauty and of ancient histories. Warwick Castle, standing on a rock rising steeply out of the river, dates from the 10th century.
Hughes is concurrently associate fellow at the Asia Program of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He spends time at both centers. Currently for six months he is in Japan as a fellow at the International Center for Law and Politics at the University of Tokyo.
In England with his family he makes his home in Kenilworth, an ancient town on a tributary of the Avon. Kenilworth is another scenic and romantic place, its centerpiece a 12th century ruined castle. Sir Walter Scott in his novel of the same name describes the castle in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Hughes met his wife, a native of Hiroshima, at Sheffield University, where she is a Japanese-language teacher. They came to Japan to be married in 1998. They have a small daughter.
Hughes thinks the world of academia suits him well. He enjoys research, and writes, translates and publishes prolifically. He is associate editor of The Pacific Review, and a member of many associations relevant to his work. He is concerned also with administration and teaching. In Japan he is teaching, in Japanese, an international relations course to a graduate class at Tokyo University. He no longer has the spare time to follow a hobby. “I used to be a big fan of sumo, and things like that,” he said. “I am still very interested.”
In recent years Hughes has made himself a specialist in the relationship between Japan and North Korea. His titles include “The North Korean Nuclear Crisis and Japanese Security,” “Japanese Policy and the North Korean ‘Soft Landing,’ ” “Japan’s Strategy-less North Korean Strategy” and the book-length “Japanese Economic Power and Security: Japan and North Korea.” Although he lists a dozen subjects as his research interests, he said: “I keep coming back to North Korea and Japan. They will not go away. The issues are extremely important for both countries.”