Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations: Historical Essays

Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations: Historical Essays

Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations: Historical Essays

Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations: Historical Essays


Ever since Commodore Perry sailed into Uraga Channel, relations between the United States and Japan have been characterized by culture shock. Now a distinguished Japanese historian critically analyzes contemporary thought, public opinion, and behavior in the two countries over the course of the twentieth century, offering a binational perspective on culture shock as it has affected their relations.

In these essays, Sadao Asada examines the historical interaction between these two countries from 1890 to 2006, focusing on naval strategy, transpacific racism, and the atomic bomb controversy. For each topic, he offers a rigorous analysis of both American and Japanese perceptions, showing how cultural relations and the interchange of ideas have been complex--and occasionally destructive.

Culture Shock and Japanese-American Relations contains insightful essays on the influence of Alfred Mahan on the Japanese navy and on American images of Japan during the 1920s. Other essays consider the progressive breakdown of relations between the two countries and the origins of the Pacific War from the viewpoint of the Japanese navy, then tackle the ultimate shock of the atomic bomb and Japan's surrender, tracing changing perceptions of the decision to use the bomb on both sides of the Pacific over the course of sixty years. In discussing these subjects, Asada draws on Japanese sources largely inaccessible to Western scholars to provide a host of eye-opening insights for non-Japanese readers.

After studying in America for nine years and receiving degrees from both Carleton College and Yale University, Asada returned to Japan to face his own reverse culture shock. His insights raise important questions of why people on opposite sides of the Pacific see things differently and adapt their perceptions to different purposes. This book marks a major effort toward reconstructing and understanding the conflicted course of Japanese-American relations during the first half of the twentieth century.


An interesting way of approaching the history of Japanese-American relations is by examining the culture shocks experienced by the main actors, either individually or collectively. And starting with the visit of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” to Japan in 1853, the relations between the two countries have been replete with instances of culture shocks. According to Kalervo Oberg, “Culture shock is precipitated by the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse.” It involves “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feeling of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture.” In this volume I shall employ this term broadly as any situation where an individual or people are forced to adjust to an unfamiliar socio-political situation where previous learning no longer applies.

The theme of culture shock will conveniently bring together such diverse topics as naval strategy, the decision-making process, transpacific racism, and the atomic bomb controversy. I have emphasized mutual perceptions and the interplay of ideas, examining how cognitive dissonance can cause conflict and escalation into crises, even a war. These essays will show that the interplay of ideas and cultural exchange are highly complex and sometimes destructive—contrary to the prevalent notion that cultural exchange is an agent of peace.

It may be an unusual way to open a book on the history of JapaneseAmerican relations, but in response to the request from the director of the University of Missouri Press, I give a brief intellectual autobiography. It is a belated and partial answer to the late Harold Isaacs, the author of Scratches on our Minds and a behavioral scientist at MIT. During a visit to Kyoto in 1965, Isaacs discovered that I had spent nine youthful years in America

1. Oberg, “Culture Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments”; William A.
Smalley, “Culture Shock, Language Shock, and the Shock of Self-Discovery”; Paul
Pederson, The Five Stages of Culture Shock: Critical Incidents around the World, 1.

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