Education About Asia: Online Archives

EAA Interview with Herbert P. Bix, 2001 Pulitzer Winner: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

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Herbert P. Bix is a professor of history and sociology at Binghamton University in New York, where he was recently appointed after three and a half years at the prestigious Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. In the fall of 2001, I had just moved to Tokyo to teach Japanese history and Asian studies at The American School in Japan. After reading Bix’s biography of Hirohito, I immediately invited him to speak to my senior honors classes, and thankfully, he graciously accepted. The talk Professor Bix gave four months later at The American School and the ensuing discussion had a huge impact on my students. We had read major portions of the book as a class, but the students really struggled with the idea that what they had learned about Hirohito in their textbook was just wrong. Bix calmly, but forcefully, explained to them in what way the traditional narrative about Hirohito was incorrect, and how such misleading and erroneous accounts of the Emperor came to be so widely accepted. Somehow Professor Bix made these high school seniors comfortable with what had seemed to them a betrayal of sorts. Bix talked about the life of Hirohito, but what he really taught them was that history is ambiguous, tenuous, and controversial, and as a result, always fascinating. Isn’t that what we all want to teach students?