Colleagues, relatives and friends of the late Edwin O. Reischauer gathered for a service at Memorial Church yesterday to honor the scholar for his personal and professional contribution to the study of Japan.
Reischauer was a leader in establishing Japanese studies at Harvard and the United States. His books and lectures brought an understanding of Japanese society where language and cultural barriers once seemed insurmountable, said Benjamin I. Schwartz, professor emeritus of history and political science.
Five professors that knew and worked with Reischauer throughout his career as scholar and an ambassador to Japan payed tribute to him. Reischauer, 79, died on September 1, 1990.
One of the first Western scholars fluent in Japanese, Reischauer predicted the country's potential for industrialization. His understanding of Japanese society went far beyond the verbal level, said Schwartz, formerly Reischauer's student.
"At a time when the Japanese were thought of not only as the enemy, but also as the weirdly universal other ones, he convinced us that they could be understood," said Schwartz, who was enrolled in Reischauer's Japanese language classes during World War II.
Reischauer's career did not end at academia. Appointed ambassador of Japan from 1961 to 1966, he "wound up making history as well as writing it," said Professor Emeritus of History John King Fairbank, a leader in Chinese studies.
Reischauer's effort as ambassador to have the United States grant Japan the power to determine its own foreign policy reflected a deeply held belief, Yenching Professor of History Albert M. Craig said. "He understood that indepence and dignity are as important to nations as they are to individuals."
"His selection as ambassador changed almost overnight the climate of Japan and U.S. relations," said Marius Jansen, a professor of history and East Asian studies at Princeton University.
Reischauer's death is "not only the loss of friend and colleague," Schwartz said. "It is also a loss of a voice in the deep and ongoing dialogue between Japan and the United States."
This is a dialogue frequently clouded by "simplifiers" and "cultural chauvinists," Schwartz continued, and "in this cacophony the voice of Edwin Reischauer will be sorely missed."