"Book Burning" in Japan

By Frank Baldwin


This essay describes a campaign by nationalist Japanese journalist Komori Yoshihisa against a public symposium and workshop on historical memory and reconciliation in East Asia held at George Washington University in 2003. When conservative politicians, led from behind the scenes by current prime minister Abe Shinzo, alleged anti-Japan bias in the Diet (parliament), the cosponsor and funder of the workshop, the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, wilted under intense political pressure from the Right, lost its autonomy within the Japan Foundation, and withdrew support for the book project. A counterprotest in defense of academic freedom by senior American Japan specialists revived the workshop only to have the Foreign Ministry intervene. Funder interference—insistence on progovernment authors—undermined the project and the essay collection based on conference papers was never published. Fear of the Right led American and Japanese professors to reject a highly qualified fellowship applicant in 2015 and still haunts prominent bilateral intellectual exchange competitions. This essay’s scrutiny of the Komori Affair leads it to other contemporary concerns, such as the integrity of peer review in a context of funder intervention and the compromise of US academic partners dependent on intellectual exchange activities bankrolled by foreign governments.

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