Saturday, March 17, 2007

Asakawa Conference at Yale

On the occasion of the centennial of Asakawa Kan'ichi's appointment to the Yale faculty, the Council on East Asian Studies sponsored Japan and the World: Domestic Politics and How the World Looks to Japan [pdf] on March 9-10, 2007. Jun Saito, Naomi's husband, read a paper on "Japan's New Nationalism" (co-authored with Frances Rosenbluth and Annalisa Zinn) dicussing recent trends in text book revisionism, state visits to Yasakuni war shrine, growing popular support for revising article IX of the Japanese Constitution ("the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation ..." ), and other indicators of Japan's "cool nationalism".

S. Yabuki delivered a paper entitled: "K. Askawa's View on History: Science Prefers the White Light of Truth". He begins by recounting the "legend of the Asakawa Cherry Tree" as reported by Dartmouth 1899 classmate G. G. Clark: "K would memorize two pages of the English-English dictionary daily, then literally 'devour' the pages, a practice in those days not uncommon. When the last pages were gone and only the covers were left they were buried by K at the foot of a cherry tree on the school campus. The tree was known as the Asakawa Cherry Tree." In the first section of the paper, Yabuki maintains that Asakawa's research on the village of Iriki "debunked the concept of serf and serfdom in medieval Japan". [What does the term 'medieval' even mean in a country like Japan? Doesn't it come from the European experience of losing Greco-Roman civilization and then recovering it with the Reformation and Renaissance?]. In the second section, Yabuki explores Asakawa's role in negotiations following the Russo-Japanese war in 1905. The upshot of these negotiations was the Portsmouth Peace Treaty, (for his contributions to which Theodore Roosevelt would received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906). Asakawa was teaching (nearby?) at Dartmouth at the time, and was able to observed the entire conference at the Wentworth Hotel.
Yale was involved in the negotiations even though Asakawa hadn't yet joined the faculty (though he'd already been a graduate student there). Barnaba Tokutaro Sakai, sent to the U.S. on a public relations mission, had written a letter to his friend Anson Phelps Stokes , Secretrary of Yale University ,on Oct. 3, 1904, asking "What is the feeling or sentiment among the learned scholars in New Haven as to what terms of peace Japan should make, etc.?" Stokes in turn consulted Yale's international law professor Theodore Woolsey and oriental history professor Frederic W. Williams (son of Commodore Perry's interpreter Samuel Wells Williams), and provided a set of recommendations. Asakawa had already published his book the Russia-Japan Conflict and a highly-regarded pieced in the May 1904 issue of the Yale Review, and was therefore well-known and respected at Yale, and a major influence on their recommendations.

Naoyuki Agawa spoke on "Asakawa Kan'ichi's American Journey: Its Time and Place in the History of Japan-U.S. Relations". Some highlights: Asakawa was born into a samurai family that had been loyal to the Shogun. For this reason, he was among the disenfranchised after the civil war of 1868-69 and the Meiji restoration. The winners of that struggle were disproportionately Satsuma, Choshu, and other samurai provinces that lost to Tokugawas in Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Those on losing side this time around had special incentive to travel to U.S.

Asakawa came to U.S. in 1895, same year as China ceded Taiwan following Sino-Japanese war, and 3 years before Spain handed Philippines to U.S. following Spanish-American War. "As a result of these respective territorial acquisitions," Naoyuki notes, "Japan and the United States suddenly found themselves physically facing each other across a relatively narrow strait, a reality that transformed the nature of the bilateral relationship."

In 1905 Asakawa married Mirriam. This was the same year as Japan's victory in Russo-Japanese war, and two years before he returned to Yale as an instructor. In 1921 Asakawa wrote letter to Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Masanao Haniwara and U.K. ambassasor Gonsuke Hayashi, that widespread anti-Japanese feeling in West was largely due to a vast Jewish conspiracy. He cited the Protocols, which he acknowledged were fake, but still somehow illuminating.

In November 1941 he drafted a concilliatory letter for FDR to send to Hirohito; it arrived too late to do any good.

Asakawa died in 1947, 2 years after WWII ended and 4 years before Japan regained independence.

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