A Tribute to Marius Jansen
by Helen Hardacre
I can imagine that every person who delivers the Marius Jansen Memorial Lecture begins by saying that it is a great honor to have been invited. I will begin with that statement as well. It is indeed a high honor to have been asked to present today’s lecture, but in my case the honor truly began with the experience of knowing Marius, as a friend and mentor during my first teaching post. The ten years I spent here at Princeton were truly formative in every area of my life, but when I thought about the kind of researcher, writer, and person I aspired to be, Marius set the gold standard.
One some public occasion in the mid-1980s—I no longer recall what it was—Marius was asked to describe himself. Besides “scholar” and “teacher,” he also said simply, “I am a soldier.” He had been out of service over 40 years by that time, but the experience clearly remained deeply important to him. Born in 1922, Marius was too young to have enlisted at the beginning of the war, but soon after graduating from Princeton summa cum laude(and that was before the days of grade inflation), he was sent to Japan, where he served in Okinawa and later in the Allied Occupation of Japan. His military service was also the beginning of his academic ties to Japan. He saw Japan at the nadir—the cities in ruins, the people defeated and devastated. Returning to the US, he and John Whitney Hall, Robert J. Smith, and Edwin O. Reischauer made fledgling programs into the country’s powerhouses of Japanese Studies today. It is thanks to Marius and others of his generation that we have sophisticated language study programs, Japanese studies in all its disciplinary forms, and magnificent library collections such as the one upstairs here at the Gest Library.
Marius’ generation was probably the last to believe that the study of Japan included the obligation to study deeply the full range: literature, the arts, religion, society, culture, politics, and of course history. Because he also believed that the study of Japan was incomplete without complementary study of other Asian histories, he also wrote admirable studies of Japan and China. His dedication to this ideal is demonstrated by the range of publications he produced, as eloquent sole author, sometimes as co-author, and sometimes as translator and editor. He and others of the Occupation generation saw Japan transformed to a vibrant, prosperous, democratic society, and its cultural traditions restored to a place of honor. Marius and his generation of Japan scholars produced the paradigm of modernization studies that guided and coordinated the study of Japan across the disciplines for forty years or more. He promoted all the disciplines of Japanese studies and took a keen interest in each one. He could converse with equal knowledge and interest about any field—religion, society, art history, and of course history. Even in retirement, while suffering from macular degeneration, he continued to read, study, and write.
Marius loved meeting Japanese scholars, and even people he had known as a soldier in the Occupation, such as Okayama historian Taniguchi Sumio, came to Princeton in the 1980s to seek him out. Marius coordinated a translation project by graduate students and others to introduce the work of Irokawa Daikichi to English readers. He helped me to bring Tamamuro Fumio and Miyata Noboru to Princeton. Marius loved to argue with Eto Jun, whom he also brought to Princeton—and there were many others. He remained deeply connected with Japanese scholars through ties of friendship, profession, and love of Japan throughout his life.
Did you know that Marius was a fine pianist? I recall vividly one Thanksgiving when he and Jean invited a great crowd of us over for dinner. Marius played for us beautifully and at length. We were simply astonished at his virtuosity and the depth of feeling he put into his playing. It was stunning.
Marius’ guidance of students and younger colleagues was not, however, always a Kumbaya. I can also recall a time when a colleague raised a cherished idea for a new venture that he hoped that East Asian Studies would endorse—an institute for the study of Heian grammar. Marius must have been channeling my own reaction to the idea, saying, “I don’t keri.”
What a magnificent life. What a magnificent contribution. What a monumental standard of scholarly achievement. All while being one of the most kind, generous, warmly humorous people one could ever encounter. When he died, I came down here for the memorial that followed the funeral. The weather was dreadful; freezing rain fell incessantly, but the place was so packed that you couldn’t have found enough space to stand up the proverbial needle. Some people had come from half way around the world, to pay tribute and their last respects to a great scholar, a gifted writer and pianist, a soldier, and a wonderful friend. I keep his picture in my study. I miss him.