Toshio Nishi is the only Japanese research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, a renowned think tank in the United States. Nishi is highly evaluated for the research on the American occupation of Japan, diligently reproduced from primary sources, that he has presented in the U.S. Toshio Motoya spoke with Nishi about his successes achieved while spending many years in a foreign country, as well as the truth about the attack on Pearl Harbor, Nishi’s current research topic.
Motoya Thank you very much for joining me on Big Talk today. You are usually active in the United States, but you have recently attended my wine gathering and the Shoheijuku school. You also won a Special Prize in this year’s True Interpretations of Modern History essay contest. I invited you here because I felt that we have similar ways of thinking.
Nishi I look forward to speaking with you.
Motoya Let’s begin by talking about your past experience. First of all, why did you go to the U.S.?
Nishi Certainly. I graduated from Kwansei Gakuin University, in Nishinomiya-shi, Hyogo Prefecture, in 1964. It was a period of rapid economic growth and there were few university graduates, so I had many offers of employment. But I didn’t study much at university, and I felt like it would be wrong to receive a salary from a company in that way. That’s why I headed to the U.S. to re-do my studies.
Motoya At that time, overseas travel was rather unusual.
Nishi Just obtaining a passport was a trial. I remember that my passport had a more dignified appearance than those today; the cover was made of goat leather, and the writing was in very ornate letters.
Motoya It must have been difficult to get a visa and be admitted to a school.
Nishi There were few Japanese people who studied abroad in the U.S. back then. For this and other reasons, I had to complete procedures such as an interview with the Japanese vice-consul. But it wasn’t that difficult.
Motoya The U.S. is a country of immigrants. Was it easy to get into a university?
Nishi It’s a lot harder now. As for my method of transportation, I didn’t have enough money to travel by airplane, so I took a boat from Yokohama to Honolulu. I came to the U.S. on the SS President Wilson, a passenger boat that is known for transporting the current Emperor of Japan ? back when he was the crown prince ? to Queen Elizabeth’s coronation ceremony.
Motoya That’s a very luxurious passenger boat!
Nishi Apparently, it was (laughs). I was surprised by all the different foods I had never seen before.
Motoya How long did it take?
Nishi It took seven nights and eight days to Honolulu, Hawaii, and then exactly the same time from Honolulu to San Francisco.
Motoya And then you entered a university.
Nishi I entered graduate school at the University of Washington in Seattle. I went right into graduate school without attending a language school, so I experienced great struggles with the English language. I somehow avoided failing any classes during the first year, though. I had spent all my money by the summer vacation after my first year. When I asked the college about the highest-paying part-time jobs, they introduced me to a cannery in Alaska. But it wasn’t even in mainland Alaska ? it was located in the Aleutian Islands. There, I worked in the canning of salmon roe. The work was hard, but the money was good. I was a temporary worker for two seasons of 2.5 months each.
Motoya You didn’t receive any scholarships?
Nishi International students were not given scholarships for one year; we had to earn good grades first. Scholarships are given to students with excellent schoolwork in the U.S., not just those with financial need.
Motoya I see.
Nishi It took me four years to complete the master’s course that is usually finished in two years by regular students. My English-language skills improved, too. I had a Japanese accent, but the words I used were of the graduate-school level, so the people around me didn’t make fun of me.
Motoya I’ve heard that, in English, you can tell where someone comes from and how educated they are by the way they speak.
Nishi That’s true. I obtained my master’s degree in 1968. I then found a job at a major advertising firm in New York whose clients included watch company Rolex and diamond company De Beers. I was in charge of Kodak, a film manufacturer.
Motoya I imagine that was Kodak’s golden age! It entered markets in new countries and crushed all of its rivals via low prices. Afterwards, it raised the prices of its own products. Kodak conquered the world with this skillful sales strategy.
Nishi Kodak had a lot of power; for example, it bought all of the commercial spots for the Academy Awards. After serving as an underling in the creation of these commercials, I went to the Tokyo branch. You may remember the Instamatic; I was the first person who brought these cameras into Japan and promoted them.
Motoya Is that so? That camera had cartridge film, and it was simple for beginners to use. It sold amazingly well.
Nishi People said it wouldn’t sell at first, but it was a huge success. I worked in Instamatic cameras in Japan for three years, but I got sick of doing the same thing each year. I returned to the University of Washington and obtained my doctorate. The theme of my doctoral dissertation I wrote at that time was the American occupation of Japan.
Motoya Was that the prototype of your famous book Kuniyaburete MacArthur ?
Nishi It was. I wrote my thesis by gathering materials such as official documents that were publically released in the U.S, which made me a name in the academic world. That’s why I was approached by Stanford University’s Hoover Institute. I had three professors from Stanford, Yale, and Princeton read the manuscript of my book. This caused a great uproar, and I received intense rebuttals from these professors. But the final evaluation was that I should publish the book. The U.S. is skilled at discovering talent, and I also felt like the American academic world is home to a broad-minded way of thinking.
Motoya In Japan, the academic world is referred to as an “ivory tower.” You probably wouldn’t have been able to publish if you had gotten into a conflict with your advisor. Japan should follow the U.S.’s example in this way.
Nishi Stanford is commonly referred to as being right in the center of Silicon Valley. There are many venture corporations and so-called “angel investors” who fund these start-ups. Japanese entrepreneurs are present as well, but recently there are many Indian people. There are more Indian restaurants, too.
Motoya That’s because Indian people are good at math and can speak English, which makes them a perfect match for the IT field. I also feel like Indian people are more sincere than Chinese or Koreans.
Nishi That is a frequent topic of conversation in the U.S. In contrast, Japanese people are evaluated very highly. Incidentally, the Japanese people in question don’t have this self-awareness due to the masochistic education they have received.
Motoya We must make it possible for Japanese people to feel pride and confidence in their history.
Nishi One of the students I teach traveled to Bolivia in South America. He received a job offer from a person of Japanese descent who manages a farm there. This famer grows crops such as rice on a vast farm that stretches to the horizon, and also raises 25,000 chickens. He purposefully hasn’t installed machinery for harvesting the eggs; rather, he employs people from the local region. Hearing this, I advised my student that he should take the position. He travels all over South America for his job, and e-mails me occasionally. He said Japanese are the only people who are trusted and liked in South America.
Motoya The Japanese people who immigrated to South America did so because they believed in an overly optimistic story. Still, they achieved success after a great deal of hardship. I feel like many Japanese people did not balk at taking risks in the past. These days, it sounds like many people do not want to study abroad or be transferred overseas.
Nishi I know the head of an undergraduate faculty, who said there are unclaimed scholarships each year for students who want to study abroad.
Motoya Perhaps that means we need education to give young people a stronger spirit.
Nishi I agree.
Motoya The U.S. is a country where serious racial issues have remained until quite recently. They have disappeared on the surface, but I think many people still believe in white supremacy in their hearts.
Nishi There were no East Asian or black people on campus when I entered the University of Washington in 1964 ? just white people. Japanese people like myself were very rare. In the U.S. people who speak up are highly evaluated, so I proactively expressed myself in class and other places. Maybe that’s why I don’t have any memories of being discriminated against.
Motoya Courage of that sort is important. I think debate-based education should be conducted in Japan. The current Japanese educational system stresses rote learning only; the successful people in this system enter famous universities with high deviation values, and then become elite figures who lead corporations. Diplomats are this type of person, so they are very bad at negotiating with other countries. I think the Japanese people of the Meiji period who revised the unequal treaties with the major Western European powers were better negotiators.
Nishi There are many Japanese academics who do not say anything at symposiums held in the U.S. In contrast, I always end up getting into heated arguments (laughs).
Motoya That leads to deeper discussions, and cultivates an attitude of not just believing in established theories.
Nishi I agree entirely.
Motoya In Japan today, we need government officials who will gather and analyze information publically disclosed throughout the world. I think we should establish a ministry of information with around 3,000 of these officials.
Nishi I think so. Japan lacks these functions entirely. I also read the Venona documents you mentioned at the Shoheijuku.
Motoya The objective of the Venona project was to decipher coded texts dispatched by the Soviet Union during World War II. These documents have been made available to the public on a steady basis since 1995. These primary sources are very vivid, such as the messages between Comintern and American spies.
Nishi Right now I’m writing about the American cryptanalysis system at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Specifically, my topic is how much President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew. According to documents that were released in 2006, via cryptanalysis the U.S. government knew of the ultimatum sent from Tokyo to the Japanese embassy in Washington before it was handed over by the Japanese embassy. The U.S. concealed this fact. Moreover, Harry Dexter White ? who is known as a Soviet spy ? wrote the original draft of the Hull Note that caused a breakdown in Japan-U.S. negotiations. White was an assistant to the secretary of the treasury. This draft was checked by Secretary of State Cordell Hull and then approved by the president before being presented to the Japanese side.
Motoya To the Japanese, the Hull Note was the equivalent of a declaration of war by the U.S. For the Soviet Union ? which had begun the Russo-German War in June 1941 ? an attack by Japan on the east side would have been a true nightmare. It had to bet on the fate of the nation by turning Japan towards war in the Pacific Ocean.
Nishi The Soviet Union sent intelligence operative Richard Sorge to the German embassy in Japan. There, he investigated the movements of the Japanese government.
Motoya That’s how well attuned the Soviet Union was to trends in Japan. Adolf Hitler broke the Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Soviet Union by invading the Soviet Union, yet the common sense of the world states that treaties are made to be broken. The Japanese government of that time had too much faith in this treaty, and their interpretation was wrong.
Nishi Once a treaty is signed and the ink is dry, it is nothing but a scrap of paper.
Motoya In the attack on Pearl Harbor, approximately half of the American victims (2,400 people) died on the USS Arizona. This battleship apparently sunk when the powder magazines were detonated. However, I cannot believe that it would be so easy to explode the powder magazines, which were carefully protected, via aerial bombing. For example, one precedent was the Spanish-American War, which was started when the U.S. purposefully blew up and sunk its USS Maine. The U.S. stirred up the public opinion regarding the war with the slogan, “Remember the Maine.” If few people died at Pearl Harbor, perhaps the public opinion in the U.S. would not have favored participation the war. That may be why the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor” was used.
Nishi Measures of that sort may have been taken. In addition, the army and navy generals at Pearl Harbor gave a full report to President Roosevelt on putting a structure for responding to surprise attacks in place, but he didn’t listen. Yet after the attack, the president placed the responsibility for this attack on both generals, who were dismissed.
Motoya A resolution exonerating these two men was passed in the Senate, but the president refused to sign it. The approval of this resolution would likely have meant the acceptance that there was prior knowledge of this attack, which would have opened a true Pandora’s box.
Nishi I’m currently pounding on that box from the side (laughs).
Motoya This year is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. All evidence from this incident will be disclosed in 2039. I suspect the military-industrial complex wanted to eliminate Kennedy ? who was looking for a way to retreat from Vietnam ? and put Lyndon B. Johnson in the position of president since he would follow orders. I went to the museum near where Kennedy was shot. It would have been impossible for Lee Harvey Oswald, who is known as the perpetrator, to carry out this assassination by himself. Someone definitely fired at Kennedy from the front. An assassination is said to be successful not just when the target is killed, but when the intentions of the mastermind are achieved ? including the impacts of arresting the criminal. A classic example was the Huanggutun Incident of 1928. Colonel Daisaku Komoto of the Kwantung Army, which set off explosives on a cliff next to the railway tracks, was regarded as the ringleader. However, Dmitri Prokhorov, a Russian novelist who is a former member of the secret service, said he heard from his boss Dmitri Volkogonov that this crime was perpetrated with explosive materials brought into the train car by the Soviet secret service. For the Soviet Union, this assassination was a huge success because it was able to kill Zhang Zuolin and reduce Japan’s clout in Manchuria. In addition, Zhang’s son Xueliang became hostile towards Japan.
Nishi That’s certainly true.
Motoya The Venona papers and Prokhorov’s book both include evidence that changes traditional views of history. However, Japanese historians have been overly attached to accepted explanations from the past, and have ignored these things. You have analyzed documents that were made available to the public in the U.S. to write your book Kuniyaburete MacArthur on the occupation. I think the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government institutions should effectively use these results by having a team of around 10 people analyze this book, and then use it as grounds to revise Japan’s history.
Nishi Thank you very much. When I write, I don’t think about who is right or wrong ? I merely make judgments on what was the truth. Therefore, I am confident that my work can fully hold up to examination.
Motoya A recent scoop in the Sankei Shimbun newspaper threw the basis of the Kono Statement into major doubt. In Japan, the theory that the Nanking Massacre was fabricated is becoming conclusive as we speak. China also understands this, and has stopped using historical issues as a method of attack regarding territorial disputes (such as the Senkaku Islands). I also spoke about this with former President of the Republic of China Lee Teng-hui, but international relations are not just pretty words; today and in the past, a balance of power is created throughout the world via the skillful use of information strategies. In addition, wars are deterred by possessing offensive abilities ? being able to strike back in response to an attack. Japan has control of the seas and air, and also exceeds China in terms of military strength. Still, no one knows what will happen in 10 years. Sufficient preparations must be made for security guarantees, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe playing a central role. I intend to provide extensive support via my published works, essay contest, the Shoheijuku, and other methods. Cooperation with the U.S. is also vital. I hope the next president will be a Republican…
Nishi That’s entirely possible. President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. would strike Syria, but it did not happen ? that achievement was stolen away by Russian President Vladimir Putin, his natural enemy. The American people are a bit skeptical of the Democratic Party. People also suspect that Hillary Clinton ? a leading candidate for the next presidential election ? was involved in a cover-up in an incident when she was secretary of state, in which the American ambassador to Libya was killed at the American consulate in Benghazi in September 2012. In contrast, I think the Republican Party will put out a strong candidate in the future.
Motoya Lee Teng-hui said the future will become a G-zero world in which the U.S. grows weaker, and that efforts must be made so that China does not take a leading position. Japan must make preparations against this.
Nishi It’s true that the American society is entering a state of metal fatigue. It won’t have any more strength left to protect Japan.
Motoya I can’t believe that the public opinion in an exhausted U.S. would allow soldiers to shed blood for the sake of another country. We can no longer depend on the nuclear umbrella or the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Japanese people must understand that peace doesn’t come just by wishing for it. First, we must revise the constitution.
Nishi I agree. Article Nine of the constitution, as written in documents such as McArthur’s notes, was to clearly renounce war even for the sake of self defense. These days, some people interpret this as including the right of self defense, but that is not the fundamental issue. This article was established to steal the survival instinct of the Japanese people, and it must be amended immediately.
Motoya I agree entirely. I look forward to working with you in the future for the sake of Japan. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Nishi I tell my students to always wish on shooting stars. The important point is timing; shooting stars can be seen for two seconds at most. If you do not have a constant desire, you will not be able to make a wish on the spot.
Motoya That resembles the saying, “Take time by the forelock.”
Nishi Yes. I would also like to say that, when young people want to accomplish something, they should start by jumping in with courage rather than trying to plan a scenario in advance.
Motoya I agree. However, in addition to studying, if they don’t learn what risks should and should not be taken, they will end up dying suddenly (laughs).
Nishi That’s exactly how I was when I first went to the U.S. (laughs).
Motoya However, you recovered to a great degree afterwards. I think the American society is wonderful in that way, since it recognizes the abilities of people.
Nishi The important figures in Silicon Valley all dropped out of university. People who graduated properly are regarded as lacking ideas.
Motoya In contrast, in Japan the only people who are accepted are graduates of the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law. Ambassadors from other countries ask why everyone went to law school. There are many cases throughout the world in which leaders have scientific backgrounds.
Nishi I suspect this is because Japan has become a bureaucratic nation based on a legal foundation. I have great expectations of young people because they are patriotic. For example, young people at national soccer team matches hold up the flag, sing the national anthem, and cry when their team is victorious. They have not forgotten how to love Japan.
Motoya During the Falklands War, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher mobilized the Queen Elizabeth 2 and even bid Prince Andrew to serve on the HMS Invincible, an aircraft carrier. It is said this led to solidarity among the people and cured the “British Disease.” As long as Abe is prime minister in Japan, I think the people would be unified even if an emergency were to occur at the Senkaku Islands. Of course, I hope that will not happen. But I will provide support so that the Abe administration can be in power for a long period of time.
Nishi I certainly think Japan will change.
Motoya I think so, too. Thank you for joining me today.
Born in Osaka in 1941. After graduating from Kwansei Gakuin University’s School of Humanities in 1964, Nishi went to the United States and entered graduate school at the University of Washington. After working at J. Walter Thompson, an advertising firm, he received his master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Washington at Seattle (in international politics and education). Nishi became a postdoctorate fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in 1977. He is currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institute. His published works include Kuniyaburete MacArthur (“The Invasion of MacArthur”) and Nichibei Konryokusen (“Battle Over Japan’s Soul”). He is also the author of Unconditional Democracy, a book published originally in English.