Events Remembering Dr. Ezra Vogel

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Remembering Dr. Ezra Vogel

February 2, 2021 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am

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On Tuesday, February 2, 2021, Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA (Sasakawa USA) welcomed Dr. Steven K. Vogel, Chair of the Political Economy Program at the University of California, Berkeley, Mr. Glen S. Fukushima, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus at Harvard University, to remember Dr. Ezra Vogel, an eminent scholar of Japan and China who passed away on December 20, 2020, at the age of 90. To pay tribute to Dr. Vogel, the speakers shared their personal experiences with the late professor and discussed Dr. Vogel’s impact and legacy.

Attendees included distinguished guests from the Washington D.C. policy community, academia, think tanks, and former and current members of the government. Dr. Satohiro Akimoto, Chairman and President of Sasakawa USA, moderated the panel and facilitated the audience remembrances.

Remarks by Dr. Steven K. Vogel

The memorial began with Dr. Steven K. Vogel, son of the late Dr. Ezra F. Vogel, reflecting on his experiences with his father. Steven recalled the awkward moments from his childhood when his father would chase after people who appeared to be from Japan or China in the airport, calling out to them in either Japanese or Mandarin. These events, Steven noted, were embarrassing for him as a child. As he grew older, however, he understood that what he saw as embarrassing about his father was what others viewed as charming.

Originally from Delaware, Ohio, and the son of Jewish immigrants, Dr. Ezra F. Vogel eventually began studying at Harvard University. At Harvard as a student and eventually a professor, Steven noted that his father reinvented himself time and time again. Throughout his career, he transformed into a sociologist, business professor, political scientist, international relations scholar, and, eventually, a historian. Furthermore, Dr. Ezra F. Vogel was not restricted to a certain intellectual paradigm or social science methodology. Rather, Steven stated that the one common thread in his father’s research was a relentless drive to get the story right by whatever means necessary.

This passion was demonstrated by the books and works Dr. Ezra F. Vogel published, covering a wide swath of genres. Steven noted that, after his father’s passing, he took to Twitter to learn more about how the world was reacting to the news. He found that people were discussing their favorite works, including “Japan as Number One,” “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China,” and “The Four Little Dragons.” Among these works, Steven picked “Japan’s New Middle Class,” originally published in 1963, as his favorite of his father’s works. In this ethnography, Dr. Ezra F. Vogel integrated his experience living in Japan from 1958-1960 with his scholarship, painting a vivid portrait of Japanese family life during the late 1950s.

Steven then addressed his father’s most recent book. Steven highlighted that he encouraged his father to focus on Sino-Japanese relations because he felt that someone with his father’s authority and respected reputation in both China and Japan needed to speak on the recent turbulence in the relationship. Dr. Ezra F. Vogel did so in “China and Japan: Facing History.” In this book, Steven noted that his father aimed to introduce Japan and China to each other, differing from his past works in which he introduced Asia to the United States. Steven also highlighted another project that was still ongoing at the time of his father’s death, which focused on advising the Biden administration about opportunities to improve the U.S.-China relationship. Concluding, Steven stated that, going forward, the United States, Japan, and China must be more understanding of each other, looking for opportunities for collaboration and compromise on shared issues.

Remarks by Mr. Glen S. Fukushima

Next, Mr. Glen S. Fukushima, a former student and friend of the late Dr. Ezra F. Vogel, discussed his close relationship with the scholar over the past 46 years as teacher, mentor, and public figure. Mr. Fukushima first met Dr. Vogel as a graduate student at Harvard University in 1974. During his eight years at Harvard (1974-82), Mr. Fukushima was Dr. Vogel’s student and teaching fellow. After moving to Tokyo in 1990, he served as an informal “control officer” for Dr. Vogel, arranging for him meetings with Japanese political, government, and business leaders on his annual visits to Japan.

Mr. Fukushima recalled that during his first year as a graduate student at Harvard, Dr. Vogel published a book he edited in which the first sentence he wrote was, “Progress in an academic field may be viewed as a series of successively closer approximations to reality.” Therefore, Dr. Vogel dwelt less on esoteric theory and methodology than on getting the facts right. This was one of the reasons he placed such importance on learning the Japanese and Chinese language. Interestingly, Dr. Vogel’s books on Japan focus on the society, whereas his books on China tend to focus on individuals who are leaders of their society.

As a mentor, Dr. Vogel was very generous in providing advice to his students and encouraging them, even when, like Mr. Fukushima, some of them decided to leave the Ph.D. program for other fields such as law and business. Dr. Vogel valued human networks and relationships and was eager to develop the next generation of leaders. Thus, he was an advisor to the Mansfield Foundation U.S.-Japan Network for the Future, and he created a “Vogel “Juku,” a study group comprising Japanese students in the Boston area. Through these two programs, Dr. Vogel sought to develop the next generation of Asia scholars. Dr. Vogel was widely admired for his kindness, humility, generosity, curiosity, and optimism.

In addition to his role as scholar, mentor, and network builder, Dr. Vogel was engaged as a government official and public intellectual. He was one of the few American scholars who was deeply knowledgeable about both Japan and China. Thus he had the perfect qualifications to serve as the head of the East Asia Desk of the National Intelligence Council in Washington, D.C. in 1993-95. After leaving government, Dr. Vogel continued in his efforts to improve America’s understanding of Asia. In this vein, he was recently drafting recommendations to the Biden administration on its China policy. In conclusion, Mr. Fukushima expressed gratitude for having had the opportunity to serve as a teaching fellow for three of Harvard’s best-known scholars–Ezra F. Vogel, David Riesman, and Edwin O. Reischauer–and for the honor to count himself as a friend of Dr. Ezra F. Vogel for nearly half a century.

Remarks by Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Following Mr. Fukushima’s remarks on being a student of Dr. Vogel, Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Jr. discussed his relationship with the late scholar as a colleague. Dr. Nye began by stating that when he met Dr. Vogel, he was already a well-known scholar at Harvard University. Dr. Vogel had many bestsellers, had mastered both Japanese and Mandarin, and he had also succeeded Harvard’s other well-known Asia scholars, Dr. John K. Fairbank and Amb. Reischauer. Dr. Nye stated that Dr. Vogel’s success stemmed from his pursuit of truth and his incredible curiosity. Dr. Vogel’s constant reinvention in his academic works, as identified by Dr. Nye, also propelled his impactful academic career.

Beyond his well-known academic career, Dr. Nye discussed Dr. Vogel’s success in Washington, D.C., a path which started at Harvard. While at Harvard, Dr. Vogel, Dr. Nye, and other colleagues such as Dr. Susan J. Pharr, created a study group to understand Japan’s role in the world. Dr. Vogel wanted to demonstrate that Japan was not a threat in the early 1990s when there was a great sense of alarm and fear about Japan’s rising economic influence. Instead, Japan was an example, and the United States needed to learn from it to understand the role of Japan in East Asia. This study group, Dr. Nye stated, was what led him to invite Dr. Vogel to join the NIC in D.C. for the Clinton administration.

Once in D.C. in 1993, Dr. Nye stated that Dr. Vogel immediately realized that D.C. policymakers did not have a reality-based perspective of Japan. Dr. Nye noted that rectifying this issue was difficult since the intelligence community focuses on facts, not policy recommendations. However, Dr. Vogel overcame this limitation by taking on a role as a teacher. Dr. Vogel would often call and meet with people in various government agencies to give them briefings on what was actually going on in Japan. Though Dr. Vogel’s educational outlook sometimes caused Dr. Nye trouble, Dr. Nye stated that even in D.C., Dr. Vogel stayed true to his pursuit of reality, ignoring any concerns of appeasing a governmental hierarchy.

One year later, in 1994, Dr. Nye was offered a position at the Pentagon where he had the opportunity to be more involved with policy concerning Asia. He developed a program to reaffirm the U.S.-Japan security alliance, which culminated in the 1996 Clinton-Hashimoto Declaration in Tokyo. Dr. Nye highlighted that the success of this work was based on Dr. Vogel’s NIC national intelligence estimates on China. Together, both Dr. Nye and Dr. Vogel understood that Chinese power was growing and the United States needed to respond. Therefore, Dr. Nye worked to reaffirm the U.S.-Japan security alliance so that the United States and Japan could shape the environment in which Chinese power grew. Dr. Nye added that Dr. Vogel’s estimates on China have remained the bedrock of U.S. Asia policy and that Dr. Vogel always strived to keep U.S. policy from becoming anti-China, stressing that there were ways to work with both Japan and China.

Concluding, Dr. Nye stated that after Dr. Vogel’s work in D.C. ended, he returned to Harvard, where he convened groups of Japanese and Chinese scholars through the faculty club to discuss how to better write and understand the history between the two countries in the 1930s and 1940s. He did so to ensure that younger generations would not fall victim to stereotypes. Overall, Dr. Nye stated that Dr. Vogel worked with the greatest urgency until the end of his life, and even now his ideas and policies live on. However, while Dr. Vogel’s great achievements in scholarship and policy were impressive, Dr. Nye believes Dr. Vogel’s greatest legacy will be his humanity.

Audience Remembrances

The first attendee to speak was Dr. Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard University. Dr. Allison, a longtime friend and colleague of Dr. Ezra F. Vogel, elucidated further on what the featured speakers discussed as Dr. Vogel’s last project, a message to the Biden administration concerning China. Dr. Allison began by stating that Dr. Vogel visited him two years ago in Beijing, distressed by the state of the U.S.-China relationship. Dr. Vogel, after observing the Trump administration’s actions toward China, was concerned that if left unmanaged, the U.S.-China relationship could devolve into war. Therefore, Dr. Vogel proposed that Dr. Allison and himself create a Harvard-sponsored study group to offer sensible views for either a new administration or a renewed Trump administration in 2021. Ultimately, the project offers constructive actions to manage the U.S.-China relationship. Dr. Allison concluded that Dr. Vogel worked on this project up until his passing and that he was forever indebted to Dr. Vogel as a friend and colleague.

Next, Dr. Patrick M. Cronin, Asia-Pacific Security Chair at the Hudson Institute, stated that when he first met Dr. Vogel in the 1990s, he was already a strategic soft power weapon for the United States in Washington. Dr. Cronin added that knowledge is power, but when people fail to recognize that, power can become threatened by knowledge. Therefore, he asked the speakers how academics and professionals can drive people with top knowledge and talent like Dr. Vogel to Washington and make it a regular occurrence. First, Dr. Nye responded that some ongoing projects bridge the gap between academics and policy but more needs to be done. Mr. Fukushima added that elections matter and that American voters need to elect leaders who will speak truth to power and who will hire into the government officials who likewise value science, facts, and truth. Lastly, Dr. Allison noted his optimism in this regard, referencing Jake Sullivan and Kurt Campbell’s nomination to the NSC. These people, he stated, were a part of study groups at Harvard and are a hopeful sign for future policy.

Dr. Eve Vogel, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Geography Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and daughter of the late Dr. Vogel, concluded the memorial. She first expressed her gratitude to the audience for attending the event in tribute to her father. She noted that often after a passing of a family member, people say rest in peace. Contrary to this, others have highlighted that Dr. Vogel never rested and recommended people instead say travel in peace. She recommended a phrase from another language she learned in her 20s as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras. In Spanish, there is a tradition that when someone dies, especially someone who has made a difference in the world, they say “Presente!” – as if there’s a roll call and others are speaking “Present!” for the person who is no longer there. She feels that all of the members of the panel and audience talking and writing about carrying on her father’s legacy are saying, “Ezra Vogel, presente!” Eve concluded by expressing gratitude that Dr. Vogel will continue to live on in everyone’s hearts, as will his legacy.


Sasakawa USA is grateful to Dr. Steven K. Vogel, Mr. Glen S. Fukushima, Dr. Joseph S. Nye, the audience remembrance speakers, and attendees for the thoughtful discussion on Dr. Ezra F. Vogel’s life and legacy.

The summarized views of the speakers expressed herein are entirely the work of Sasakawa USA and do not represent the official positions of any of the speakers.


February 2, 2021
9:00 am - 10:00 am
Event Category:

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