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Edwin Oldfather Reischauer (October 15, 1910 –
September 1, 1990) was the leading U.S. educator and noted scholar
of the history and culture of Japan, and of East Asia. From 1961–66, he was the U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Education and academic
Growing up in Tokyo, Reischauer attended the American School in Japan. He
graduated with a B.A. from Oberlin in 1931. On his 75th birthday,
he recalled publicly that his life aim in 1931 was to draw
attention to Asia.
He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard
University in 1939. He was a student of Prof. Serge
Elisséeff, who had been the first Western graduate of the University
His doctoral dissertation was "Nittō guhō junrei gyōki: Ennin's Diary of His Travels in
T'ang China, 838-847." The
work demonstrates the level of sinological scholarship a student of
Japanese was expected to demonstrate at that time.
Most of his teaching career was spent at Harvard. During 40
years in Cambridge classrooms, he also became the director of the
and chairman of the Department of Far Eastern Languages. In a
Farewell Lecture at the Yenching Institute in 1981, students had to
compete for seats with faculty colleagues, university officials and
a television crew from Japan. In this crowded context, he said, "As
I remember, there were only two graduate students interested in
East Asian studies when I first came here: myself and my
In 1956, Professor Reischauer was a widower with three children
when author James A. Michener introduced him to
Matsukata, who would become his second wife. As teen-agers, it
turned out, they had gone to the same Tokyo high school, where she
had had a secret crush on him. She and her husband became a
formidable team. The
home they made together is maintained and used today as the Edwin O. Reischauer
In 1973, he was the founder of the Japan Institute, which was
renamed the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute
of Japanese Studies in his honor when he turned 75 in 1985.
Reischauer was also honored in 1985 by the opening of the
Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Speaking at the dedication ceremonies in Baltimore, Sen. Jay
Rockefeller, a former student, described Prof. Reischauer as
being "what a teacher is meant to be, one who can change the life
of his students." At the same event, Japan's Ambassador Nabuo
Matsunaga read a personal message from Prime Minister Yasuhiro
Nakasone, who observed, "I know of no other man who has so
thoroughly understood Japan."
Reischauer has used his in-depth knowledge of Japanese history to
publish a book called Japan: Story of a Nation. Reischauer
published a total of 5 editions of his book, each time adding more
to the contents.
M. McCune, Reischauer worked to develop the McCune-Reischauer romanization of Korean.
Reischauer regarded the hangul alphabet as "perhaps the most
scientific system of writing in general use in any language."
during World War II
During World War
II, Reischauer was the Japan expert for the U.S. Army
Intelligence Service, and a myth developed that he prevented the
bombing of Kyoto during the
explained by Robert
Jungk in Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A personal history
of the atomic scientists:
- "On the short list of targets for the atom bomb, in addition to
Hiroshima, Kokura and Niigata, was
the Japanese city of temples, Kyoto. When the expert on Japan, Professor Edwin
O. Reischauer, heard this terrible news, he rushed into the office
of his chief, Major Alfred MacCormack, in a department of the Army
Intelligence Service. The shock caused him to burst into tears.
MacCormack, a cultivated and humane New York lawyer, thereupon
managed to persuade Secretary of War Stimson to reprieve Kyoto and have it
crossed off the black list."
In his autobiography, Reischauer specifically refuted that
validity of this broadly-accepted myth:
- "I probably would have done this if I had ever had the
opportunity, but there is not a word of truth to it. As has been
amply proved by my friend Otis Cary of Doshisha in Kyoto, the only
person deserving credit for saving Kyoto from destruction is Henry
L. Stimson, the Secretary of War at the time, who had known and
admired Kyoto ever since his honeymoon there several decades
In 1964, while serving as Ambassador to Japan, Reischauer was
stabbed by a mentally disturbed youth. He received a blood
transfusion and recovered from the wound, but the transfusion
inflicted him with hepatitis. He never fully recovered, and
though he continued to work and lead an active life, he died of its
complications after over 25 years.
- 1939 -- The Romanization of the Korean language, Based Upon
Its Phonetic Structure with G. M. McCune
- 1942 -- Elementary Japanese for University Students
- 1955 -- Ennin's Diary : The Record of a Pilgrimage to
China in Search of the law (translated from Chinese), Ronald
- 1955 -- Wanted: An Asian Policy
- 1956 -- Japan, Past and Present, Knopf
- 1957 -- The United States and Japan, Viking
- 1958 -- Our Asian Frontiers of Knowledge
- 1960 -- East Asia: The Great Tradition with J. K.
- 1965 -- East Asia, The Modern Transformation with J. K. Fairbank, A. M. Craig, Houghton Mifflin
- 1965 -- A History of East Asian Civilization
- 1968 -- Beyond Vietnam: The United States and Asia, Vintage
- 1972 -- A New Look at Modern History, Hara Shobo
- 1972 -- Translations from Early Japanese Literature
with Joseph K. Yamagiwa, Harvard University Press
- 1973 -- Toward the 21st century: Education for a Changing
- 1977 -- The Japanese Belknap Press
- 1986 -- The United States and Japan in 1986: Can the
Partnership Work?(Forward by Reischauer)
- 1986 -- My life Between Japan and America Harper and Row
- 1988 -- The Japanese Today: Change and Continuity Tuttle
- 1989 -- Nihon no kokusaika Raishaw Hakushi to no taiwa
(Internationalization of Japan: Conversations with Dr.
Reischauer). Bungei Shunju
- 1989 -- Japan, Tradition and Transformation, Houghton
- 1990 -- Japan: The Story of a Nation, McGraw-Hill
- ^ a
"Reischauer is Feted in
Capital." New York Times. October 16, 1985.
- ^ a
Zurndorfer, Harriet Thelma. (1995). China Bibliography: A
Research Guide to Reference Works About China Past and
Present, p. 31 n85.
Schulman, Frank Joseph. (1970). Japan and Korea: An Annotated
Bibliography of Doctoral Dissertations in Western Languages,
1877-1969, p. 909. (Reischauer 1610)
Johnston, Laurie and Robert Thomas. "Notes on People; Reischauer,
at Harvard, Gives Farewell Lecture, New York Times.
April 23, 1981.
Stewart, Barbara. "Haru M. Reischauer, 83;
Eased Tensions With Japan," New York Times. October 5,
Hyun, Peter. "A Trove of Unfamiliar Art
from Korea," New York Times. January 4, 1981.
Jungk, Robert. (1959). Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A
personal history of the atomic scientists, p. 178.
Reischauer, Edwin. (1986). My Life Between Japan And
America, p. 101.
"Edwin O. Reischauer, Japan
Expert, Dies," The Harvard Crimson. September 10,
- Jungk, Robert. (1959). Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A
personal history of the atomic scientists. New York: Harcourt Brace.
- Reischauer, Edwin. (1986). My Life Between Japan And
America. New York: Harper &
- Schulman, Frank Joseph. (1970). Japan and Korea: An
Annotated Bibliography of Doctoral Dissertations in Western
Languages, 1877-1969. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-714-62691-0
- Chapin, Emerson. "Edwin Reischauer, Diplomat
and Scholar, Dies at 79," New York Times. September 2,
- Deptula, Nancy Monteith and Michael M. Hess. (1996). The
Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies: A Twenty-Year
Chronicle. Cambridge: Reischauer Institute, Harvard
- Haberman, Clyde. "Books, East and West: My
Life Between Japan and America by Edwin O. Reischauer,"
New York Times. August 20, 1986.
- McDowell, Edwin. "Major Encyclopedia on Japan
Written In English." New York Times. October 11,
- Zurndorfer, Harriet Thelma. (1995). China Bibliography: A
Research Guide to Reference Works About China Past and
Present. Leiden: Brill Publishers. 10-ISBN
9-004-04487-6; 10-ISBN 9-004-10278-7; 13-ISBN 978-9-004-10278-1
(cloth) [reprinted by University of Hawaii Press,
Honolulu, 1999. 10-ISBN 0-824-82212-9; 13-ISBN 978-0-824-82212-5