Jack Seward, leading expert on Japan, dies

Jack Seward, a U.S. Army veteran and Japan expert who served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff command during the Allied Occupation, died Nov. 10 in Houston. He was 86.

Born in Houston on Oct. 11, 1924, Seward grew up in Dallas and attended the University of Oklahoma. An act of chance during his early years introduced him to his life-long connection with Japan: While working several summers on a ranch in Oklahoma, two Japanese hands there started to teach him some of the language.

At 18 he volunteered for active duty in the U.S. Army. With his knowledge of Japanese, the army enrolled him in a special military intelligence training unit on Japan at the University of Michigan. As a commissioned officer in military intelligence, Seward served under MacArthur during the Occupation and thereafter in the CIA as part of its Asian operations.

Seward subsequently moved into the private sector, where he worked in Tokyo and overseas for several U.S. and Japanese companies. Over the 25 years that he lived in Japan, he built a reputation as a linguist and leading expert on the nation.

In the 1970s, Seward returned to Texas and taught courses on Japanese culture and language at the University of Texas at Dallas. He lectured frequently throughout the U.S. and Japan.

Seward wrote 45 books covering a broad spectrum of fiction and nonfiction. His first published work was “The Cave of the Chinese Skeletons” in 1965, a partial reflection of his storied years as an intelligence officer in Japan. His best known work was “The Japanese,” published in 1972. Selected by the Readers Digest Book Club, it sold millions of copies and was the most widely read book on Japanese culture at the time.

His longest-selling book was “Japanese in Action,” a commentary on the language and how to study it, originally published in 1969. He wrote numerous supplementary textbooks for Japanese studying English, as well as books in the Japanese language, including “Tekisasu no Koinobori” (“Carp Streamers from Texas”), on aspects of American culture.

In 1986, Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa, awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasure for his widely recognized contributions to mutual understanding and strengthening of U.S.-Japanese relations.

He is survived by his wife, Aiko “Jean” Morimoto; son John Neil Seward III and daughter-in-law Ligia; son William Kenneth Seward and daughter-in-law Leydi; brother Robert Uema Seward and sister-in-law Madeleine; and grandchildren.