From the In Memoriam column in the November 1990 Perspectives
Edwin O. Reischauer (1910-90)
AHA Staff, November 1990
Edwin O. Reischauer, professor emeritus of Harvard University, died September 1 at the age of 79. Dr. Reischauer was a renowned East Asian scholar who taught at Harvard University for more than 40 years and served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966.
Dr. Reischauer was born in Tokyo to American educational missionaries. Raised in Japan, he graduated from the American School in Tokyo in 1927. At 17, he enrolled in Oberlin College, where he majored in history. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1931 and then went to Harvard, where he received a master's degree in history in 1932.
He did postgraduate work at the University of Paris, the Universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, and in China, receiving his doctorate in Far Eastern languages from Harvard in 1939.
An instructor at Harvard from 1938 to 1942, Dr. Reischauer left the university to work as a senior research analyst for the State Department and the War Department before joining the Army as a major in 1943.
While in the Army, he was awarded the Legion of Merit and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel as an acknowledged expert on Japanese culture and Japanese military codes.
After a brief stint with the American occupational government after World War II, he returned to Harvard as an associate professor of Far Eastern languages. In 1950 he became a professor of Japanese history and later held various positions at the university, including director of the Harvard Yenching Institute and director of Harvard's Japan Institute (now the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies).
In 1961 he left Harvard to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan. Able to address the Japanese in their own tongue and with a deep understanding of their society and culture, Dr. Reischauer was regarded as an ideal American spokesman.
In 1966, he returned to Harvard, where he was appointed University Professor. Japan's First Class Order of the Rising Sun was conferred on him in 1968 for his work to promote better understanding between cultures. His list of honorary degrees includes recognition from Harvard, Yale, Oberlin, Michigan, Chicago, Brandeis, Dennison, and the Japanese universities of Nihon, Rikkyo, and Keio. In 1988 he received the American Historical Association's Award for Scholarly Distinction.
Dr. Reischauer's contributions to his field include his most recent books: The Japanese Today: Change and Continuity and My Life Between Japan and America: Memoirs. His readable history, Japan: The Story of a Nation, was an expanded follow-up of a previous work, Japan, Past and Present. He also wrote two detailed studies of the T'ang Dynasty in China: Ennin's Diary: The Record of a Pilgrimage to China in Search of the Law and Ennin's Travels in T'ang Japanese Literature. He has authored several books on U.S. policy, including Toward the Twenty-first Century: Education for a Changing World; Beyond Vietnam: The United States and Asia; and Wanted: An Asian Policy.
Dr. Reischauer is survived by his wife Haru; two daughters, Ann Heinemann of San Diego and Joan Simon of Larchmont, NY; a son, Robert of Washington, D.C.; and nine grandchildren.