Marius Jansen

Professor of East Asian Studies, Emeritus
  • Ph.D. in History, Harvard University
  • A.B. in European History, Princeton University

A tribute to Marius Jansen - by Helen Hardacre

Marius Berthus Jansen, world-renown scholar and Emeritus Professor of Japanese History at Princeton University, died on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2000 at his home in Princeton, N.J.

Born in the Netherlands in 1922, Jansen grew up in Massachusetts and received his undergraduate education at Princeton, where he majored in European history of the Renaissance and Reformation eras. He was a member of the Class of 1944, earning his A.B. degree in 1943. He graduated summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Following three years of military service devoted to the study of Japan, and including service in Okinawa and the initial year of the Allied Occupation of Japan, he turned his interests from European to Japanese history. He studied for his doctorate at Harvard University under the direction of John K. Fairbank and Edwin O. Reischauer, who was later U.S. ambassador to Japan.

Jansen began his teaching career at the University of Washington in 1950 and moved to Princeton in 1959 as professor in the departments of history and Oriental studies. He was one of a small group of specialists in the study of Japan who deepened the American understanding of Japanese history and helped introduce Japan into college and university curricula. His students in turn fanned out to develop Japanese studies throughout the United States.

At Princeton, where he received the Howard Behrman Award for excellence in teaching in the humanities, Jansen was a devoted member of the history department, as well as the director of the Program in East Asian Studies (1962-68), and the first chairman of the newly formed Department of East Asian Studies (1969-72). He was a stimulating undergraduate teacher and a demanding, incisive adviser for generations of graduate students in East Asian history. Upon his retirement from Princeton University in 1992, Jansen was named Emeritus Professor of Japanese History.

Throughout his career, Jansen was active on committees for learned societies, for the Fulbright Commission; in the Association for Asian Studies, to which he was elected President in 1977; and for the Japan Foundation, whose American Committee he chaired for 17 years. He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was recognized for his contributions to Japanese studies and Japanese-American relations by the Japan Foundation, the city of Osaka, the Japan Society of New York, and the Emperor of Japan, who conferred on him the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1985. His long service and many contributions to the study of Japan and its culture were recognized in his appointment to the Japan Academy in Spring 1999 and the award of the Prize for Distinguished Cultural Merit (Bunka Korosho) later that year. Jansen was the first non-Japanese to receive this award.

In addition to many articles in both English and Japanese, Jansen was the author and editor of more than twenty books, including: The Japanese and Sun Yat Sen (1954), Japan and China, from War to Peace, 1894-1972 (1975), and Japan and its World: Two Centuries of Change (1981). Perhaps the best known of his books is Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration (1961). This was devoted to the turbulent period of Japan's turn to the West in the mid-nineteenth century. It has also enjoyed wide reading in its Japanese translation, and made him a celebrity on the island of Shikoku, where Ryoma grew up. Professor Jansen's eyesight had been failing for some time, but he continued to research, write, and edit. His latest book, The Making of Modern Japan (2000), was published a week before his death, affording him great satisfaction.