Beginnings

The War in the Pacific was the crucial event in the establishment of the Center for Japanese Studies. Just as postwar Allied occupation brought to Japan a new Constitution, a revised education system, radical land reform, and women's suffrage, it also brought to Michigan a chance to build on the highly regarded Army Japanese Language Training School. In June of 1947, the Center for Japanese Studies was formally established in Haven Hall. As per Professor Robert B. Hall's precepts for area studies, education through the Center was to be considered an additional competency, not an alternative one. This was partly to allay fears within the university community that the Center would "steal" graduate students from other departments. Students would begin with language training, followed by the study of social science theories, and finally, field work—a chance to test theories against realities. Professor Robert B. Hall was appointed Director, presiding over a diversified executive committee: Professor James M. Plumer, Department of Fine Arts; Professor Charles F. Remer, Department of Economics; Professor Mischa Titiev, Department of Anthropology; and Professor Joseph K. Yamagiwa, Oriental Civilizations Program. A lecture given in Japanese in September 1948 by Bunshirō Suzuki, a former editor of the Asahi Shimbun who spoke on the role of women in Japanese society, illustrated the leadership role that Michigan had by this time assumed in Japanese studies. Not only would a Japanese man be unwelcome in most places in America so soon after the war, but few places would have had an audience who could understand Japanese. The Michigan Daily called this Rackham lecture "probably the largest single gathering of Americans in the United States who [understand] Japanese."

Initial funding for the Center was provided by the Carnegie Corporation and resulted in the acceptance of 25 students from a pool of over 150 applicants. All were men with military language training in Japanese, and most had spent some amount of time in Japan. An integral component of their training was to be research on-site in Japan. To this end, the Center embarked on the first of many ambitious projects as the newly formed executive committee began the arduous task of setting up a field station in war-ravaged Japan.