Constructing a Framework Centered on Resources for a New Society

Jin Sato / Professor Department of Pioneering Asian Studies, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo.

——— You own many documents and materials don’t you? Now, in the Internet era, I think the opportunities to go to the library to conduct research have decreased. How about you?

Sato: I often visit the library. Many things are still on paper only. For example, the minutes documented by the officials from some time ago are only situated in places like the British Library or the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Often, when I go to the library to search for a book, I often find another book that is even more interesting next to the book I was originally searching. In the process of going back to the past, I often encounter many by-products that were not part of my initial aim; hence, in that process, I accumulate a broader perspective and knowledge base. I really enjoy the process itself.

——— Do seminar students and other students under you adopt the same approach?

Sato:Basically, I think that repeatedly visiting the library and the triumvirate of fieldwork—the site, the village, and the government office—are essential to understanding policy and are time-consuming. This is especially true in a foreign country where you have to be able to comprehend the country’s language. So, in a master’s course, you have to often visit the site and listen to several stories; you become painfully aware that you can’t do anything without knowing the local language. So, simply realizing that fact is rewarding enough.  
This is something that I have come to understand only recently. However, if you read interesting documents, even from the same village, the variety of questions are dramatically different. For example, I recently translated the book, Zomia, which focuses on people who live in the highlands of Southeast Asia and are considered primitive because they cannot read; they relocate and practice slash-and-burn agriculture. The book further explains that they are, in fact, acting against nation-states in the plains, intentionally not learning to write, and relocating to escape capture. The author states that it is their strategy. The book states that when rewriting world history in Southeast Asia from that viewpoint, the world becomes completely different. If I had not read books like this when I was pursuing my Ph.D., when I visited hinterlands and found bamboo houses, I, unfortunately, would not have been able to ask questions like, “This is for quickly wrapping up the house and fleeing in case the government officials arrive, isn’t it?” I did not have such breadth within me at that time. However, once one reads a book like this, one starts wanting to ask the villagers different questions.

——— You interview a variety of people in your research. Can you speak about that?

Sato:Yes. When I was working on the history of resources, I visited many different places. The most amazing visit was to Edward Ackerman’s son. Ackerman was an advisor to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP/GHQ) during the American occupation of Japan and was a 35-year-old U.S. national when he arrived in Japan as a young geographer from Harvard. Ackerman had already passed away by the time of my visit, but I somehow located his children and traveled to Maine to meet them.

——— How did you locate his family?

Sato: I had searched for people with the surname Ackerman and speculated on the age of the children, judging from the parents’ ages. My search revealed about 25 people in the United States, so I decided to call all of them. The third call led me to Ackerman’s daughter. (Laughter) I told her that I would somehow like to view the items in the house. There are a few things left behind in the archives by Ackerman, but I thought that, because he had been in Japan for about two years since 1946, there must be photos of Tokyo just after the war and many other items. So, I asked his daughters to allow me to see what was left in their house. They told me that they resided in Maine and invited me over. I accepted the invitation and went to their house.  
I am certain that you would be surprised if some random Japanese person came to your house. I think they must have been in doubt and wondering who this person could be, but they must have also wanted to find out what kind of man their father was. They had lost their father around the age of 20 and so, must not have had many memories. On the other hand, I had searched through many documents to know even more about Ackerman himself than did the children. I read letters written by Ackerman and his correspondences with various Japanese people.

——— And the daughter didn’t know what her father was doing in Japan?

Sato:That’s right. We had conversations along the lines of “your father was a person who did this and this and this for people in Japan.” Edward Ackerman was loved by many people throughout Japan. He had conducted a sort of fact-finding survey of Japanese rural villages and covered about 45 prefectures, excluding Tokyo and Hokkaido. I was touched when I discovered a record from a farmer who had hosted Ackerman at a library in Matsumoto [City, Nagano].  
When I went to a certain archive, I had found some letters from Japanese people to Ackerman that read, “We were very honored by your visit. Please come see us if you come to Japan.” It was quite a document and described the state of the village, so I researched a certain Motomi Uchishiro who wrote this letter. He had already passed away, but, through my research, I managed to make contact with a professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology who stated that a book by Mr. Uchishiro remained in the library in Matsumoto, Nagano. I visited Matsumoto and found an article about Ackerman’s arrival. The article described how the villagers gathered at the farm co-op asking what they should do. GHQ officials were arriving in Nagano, and they gathered to discuss how they should receive them.

——— And were you the first person to discover that this was Ackerman?

Sato:I had never read records from farmers who had taken in SCAP/GHQ officials, so I really felt refreshingly excited. Ackerman had come to the University of Tokyo as well. A letter from President Shigeru Nanbara, who was then the head of the university, was kept at the Ackerman residence; it read, “Dear Mr. Ackerman, I would like to serve you tea, so please come at such and such time.” Apparently, the family did not understand what this letter was. It was just sitting there for decades. When I visited them, I read the various letters to them. Ackerman’s daughter then told me that she would give me the set of tools that he had used during his SCAP/GHQ years. What I received was this planimeter. His daughter, Francis Ackerman, went out of her way to write a memo certifying that she gave this to Jin Sato, and that the tool is not a stolen item. She also offered me the green SCAP/GHQ coat that he wore in Tokyo; however, I felt that I could not take advantage of her generosity, so I simply took a photo of it. Other items there included an old slide rule besides other things. This is really the domain of a hobbyist, isn’t it? (Laughter) I’m not certain what use these may be for academic purposes, but I have enjoyed these experiences.