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Dr. Eric Gangloff
Japan-United States Friendship Commission
February 1, 2005
|Click highlighted words and phrases below that turn red with cursor over for additional links .|
|Developing an Interest in Japan’s Literature and Culture And Chicago|
|Field Research in Japan|
|The Tennessee Experience|
|Arrival in Washington, D.C.|
|The United States-Japan Friendship Commission|
|Japan Studies in the United States: Assessing the Field|
|Geographic Distribution of U.S. Japan Studies|
|Area Studies and the Social Sciences|
|The Role of CULCON|
|Encouraging American Undergraduates to Study in Japan|
|Creation of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation and Bridging Project|
|Significance of Japan’s Popular Culture|
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Angel: This is a telephone interview with Dr. Eric Gangloff, Executive Director of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission, recorded February 1, 2005. Thanks for joining us, Eric. Can you tell us how you became involved in Japan?
Gangloff: Well, serendipitously, I think. I had been a chemistry major in college. Those were the days, right after Sputnik, when a great many young Americans wanted to study science and mathematics in order to somehow strengthen national resolve to resist the Soviet threat. But when I got to college I realized that I wasn’t interested in chemistry.
Meanwhile, while in high school I had been a pen pal with a counterpart in Japan. There was a program sponsored during the Eisenhower Administration to make friends for America. We students were all part of it. I was assigned a pen pal in Japan. I was very happy with it. When I got to college I hadn’t been thinking much about Japan, but I was wondering what to do instead of chemistry. I looked through the College catalog and found any number of very interesting offerings. I was at the University of Chicago College at the time. And I came to Japanese and decided I would give it a try.
It was serendipitous that Japanese was there. It was a very new program, one of the ten major centers that later developed. Chicago was the latest to develop. I took some courses and found the faculty to be very interesting. So, I went into Japanese on the strength of the teaching that was being done at Chicago at the time.
Angel: So you started during your undergraduate years majoring in Japanese literature.
Gangloff: I did. I started in 1963. I was a second-year undergraduate. I began studying the language at that time. I had never been to Japan; I didn’t know a thing about it. I walked into a seminar where was talking about these funny people. I couldn’t figure out what it was. But we made our way through it.
Angel: That’s interesting. Do you remember any faculty from your Chicago days who were influential in your development?
Gangloff: Without any question, the most influential person in my academic life had been Edwin McClellan, [Edwin McClellan names Yale University Sterling Professor, 1999] who was at Chicago at the time. I think he moved to Yale in 1972, where he recently retired. But he was a major figure in establishing the field of Japanese studies. And he was the major figure in my life. I also studied with Cornelius Kiley [Cornelius Kiley home page, Villanova University]. He did many things. He was very interested in Japanese linguistics, in Japanese history, and Japanese medieval literary texts and the like.
Angel: Did you then enter Chicago’s graduate program?
Gangloff: I went directly from the undergraduate program to the graduate program at Chicago.
Angel: And you completed your Ph.D. there.
Gangloff: I did. In Japanese literature. I got an undergraduate degree there in what then was called Oriental Languages. It was housed in the Oriental Institute at Chicago, very famous for its work in Near Eastern archeology. And the course offerings continued to expand further east, as it were.
Angel: During this period in Chicago did you do any field work in Japan, and if so, where?
Gangloff: I did not do any field work in Japan. I hadn’t been there throughout my undergraduate degree. And I continued to study in graduate school for two years before going to Japan for the first time in 1967.
Angel: Sort of the Waley approach.
Gangloff: Yes, it was. Very much so. It was sight unseen. I just fell in love with the literature under Ed McClellan’s guidance. I was very deeply interested in literature as it was. I was a great theater buff. I finally convinced the faculty in the Department to let me write a dissertation on modern Japanese drama. That was a hard sell. I had not been to Japan. But it was reading, and it was being challenged by a set of aesthetics that were so completely different from anything I had ever met before that it was truly challenging to all my assumptions about literature and culture. That’s what I loved about it.
And what I also loved about it was the fact that we had to learn kanji This was ancient days in language teaching. There were no decent texts. I started first year on a very old text written by Reischauer and Eliseyeff. World War Two. It started you in on kanji from day one. And I loved kanji. Everything else at Chicago was “consider and interpret.” Write a paper on it. What would Marx have thought of Weber if they’d met on the beach of the Trobriand Islands with Malinowski? And what would Weber have thought of Marx, etc.
Kanji were wonderful. You couldn’t interpret them. It was black and white. You were right or you were wrong. And it was very refreshing.
Angel: Then you finished your PhD at Chicago and went on to teach, didn’t you? [Return to Topics]
Gangloff: At Chicago. I did field research in Japan for three years. Between 1967 and 1970. I enrolled at Waseda University, which really was – still is –the forefront in the studies of Japanese drama of all periods and all times. They have a wonderful collection and a really excellent teaching staff.
I did not go to the Inter-University Center, and continue to regret to this day that I didn’t. Nonetheless, I went to Waseda in September of 1967. You may remember that by December of 1967, Waseda closed down with student riots. So, I consulted with my faculty at Chicago and they talked with their friends. And it was decided that I would enroll at the University of Tokyo, which was “safe.” So, I enrolled for the new academic year in April of 1968. And not long after that the campus and the entire University had shut down. For the rest of my time in Japan I really did not have a university base, although I continued to be enrolled at the University of Tokyo. Most of my work was done with tutors, and directly with the subject of my dissertation.
Angel: In the Tokyo area?
Angel: So, that brought you back to the United States in about 1970?
Gangloff: 1970. I began teaching at Chicago. I was thoroughly imbued with Chicago. I absolutely adored the place. I loved it. I finished my dissertation in 1973 and continued to teach there until I accepted a position at the University of Tennessee in 1977, which was to establish a Japanese studies program. So I left Chicago for Tennessee. [Return to Topics]
Angel: So, you established Japan studies at the University of Tennessee.
Gangloff: Yes I did. It was quite an awakening. I went to a school that didn’t even have a department that I could work with. I was a one-line item on the Dean’s budget. The University had gotten a grant from the Japan Foundation which would eventually be taken over with hard money from the University. Which the did. They were very good about that.
But they didn’t have a department. They did have an Asian Studies Committee. And I was recruited by Phoebe Marr, The Middle East historian and political scientist. You still hear Phoebe on NPR, talking about Iraq. Her specialty was modern Iraqi history. She retired, but I gather she is now at the U.S. Institute of Peace. I haven’t seen her in some years.
Angel: My, what an administrative challenge!
Gangloff: It was a challenge. It was very interesting. I very quickly realized that I’d better see who my friends were, and learned what it was to go to schools of engineering, schools of business, which were beginning to get interested in Japan, and to see what they wanted to do, and what they were interested in studying. It was hard to get classes going.
But, by 1980, then Governor Lamar Alexander had enticed Nissan to come to Smyrna, Tennessee, and things turned around 180 degrees very rapidly. I left in March of 1983. At that point, students were flocking to the doors, and faculty were getting interested in learning more about Japan.
Angel: I didn’t realize that your administrative experience extends clear back into your university life.
Gangloff: Yes it did. I was chairing the Asian Studies Committee as soon as I went. A year later I took over the Committee from Phoebe Marr and really helped to develop Asian Studies at Tennessee in those early days. And I was very happy to do that.
Angel: And those kinds of administrative challenges at Tennessee must have helped to prepare you for what you had to face in Washington.
Gangloff: To some degree. Well, we all know the quip that academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so small. Yes. There was a great deal of learning to be done independently about how to administer programs, as opposed to the teaching, which I loved. But if we were going to administer something, I really wanted to administer. [Return to Topics]
That was what was so interesting. In late 1982 I got a call from out of the blue from the then-U.S. Information Agency. Since then it has disappeared into the bureaucracy, has been absorbed into State. It was the home of the Fulbright Program. It had new funds. It was interested in getting new ideas, fresh ideas, about how to use those funds outside its standing fellowship programs. It arranged to bring a mid-career scholar on leave for a year from his or her home university to the USIA – one for each of the five geographical areas that American diplomacy is divided into, including the Fulbright Program.
And for many reasons my name had been suggested for the academic consultant for East Asia. I went. I interviewed. I thought it might be interesting. I was accepted. And I began working April 1, 1983 at the U.S. Information Agency on the East Asian Fulbright Program.
Angel: But you went thinking you were only going to be there for a year.
Gangloff: Yes. Originally I went thinking I would be there only for a year. I was seconded from the University. There is something called the IPA, the Inter-Agency Personnel Authority, which allows government agencies to write one-year contracts with outside institutions to bring people on board, while still leaving them in the employment of their agencies, to simply reimburse the university or the non-profit for services.
So I was still paid by Tennessee. I was there for a year. I enjoyed working so much, realizing … I had a mentor here in Washington, D.C., who was then Branch Chief for East Asia Fulbright Programs, a woman named Louise Crane, who was in the Foreign Service. She ultimately became PAO out in Tokyo many years later. I enjoyed working with her in that capacity.
She turned to me about three months after I got to Washington and said, “Eric, you never are going to return to academic life.” I told her she was out of her mind. “Why would you ever think that?” And she said, “Eric, you like money.” She was a very direct woman. A very interesting person. She also could see what people enjoyed doing. And I did. I enjoyed administering programs, using money to make things happen. And I discovered I had a talent and truly enjoyed it.
Angel: You know, enjoying administration and having a talent for it do not necessarily come together. It’s the old story. Anyone who wants to be department chair is thereby disqualified. You are one of the few who has made a long-term success of developing programs, supervising programs.
Gangloff: I have indeed, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. The Commission has been my home now for twenty years. I just passed my twentieth anniversary January 2 nd of this year.
Angel: Congratulations. It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been that long. Did you learn those skills at Tennessee? Or did you learn them at USIA?
Gangloff: Well, I began learning at Tennessee. Certainly at Chicago I had no interest or vision of administration, only teaching and honing my skills for research. But when I got to Tennessee I discovered that I enjoyed chairing the Asian Studies Committee. I didn’t think much more broadly than that at the time. When I got to USIA, that was where I discovered that it was interesting.
At Tennessee I was chair of Asian Studies, and our budget for what we could do for Asia in the State of Tennessee through the University was determined by the same Dean who had told me that I was catering to the Yellow Mind. So, I would have to go and try to weasel $1,500 – that was my target for academic year 1979. $1,500 for everything, from getting my own chalk to secretarial help. Whatever I could do. I had to beg, borrow, and steal everything I did for teaching. And if I wanted to bring a lecturer in or carry out an Asia Week, I had to figure out how to do it with everybody else’s money.
And I began to discover how to do this. Great coalitions. Great friends. Great packages. And I brought those skills when I went for my interview at the U.S. Information Agency late in 1982. They called and asked if I would be interested in coming to interview. I said, “Yes.” They said, “Well, all we can offer is a two million dollar budget line.
So I just shut up and said I’d think about it. I had been fighting for $1,500. I couldn’t imagine! Two million seemed like the end of the earth.
Our budget today is a little over two million dollars for grants. It hasn’t risen in well over twenty years. As they say up on the Hill, when I used to have to go for appropriations, preparations for appropriations hearings for our chairman, and work with staff to explain what we were doing. They would look at this – and one twenty-year-old kid – I don’t know how old they really were, but they were kids, and were arrogant. He said, “This is just decimal dust. Two million dollars.
Now, mind you. That was in the bubble days of Federal budget hearings. These days it’s different.
Angel: Speaking of that, can you tell us a bit about your organization, the United States-Japan Friendship Commission, and your role there? [Return to Topics]
Gangloff: The Commission is a very simple thing to explain. Congress took some funds that were coming in from Japanese payments for superstructure that came from Okinawa. In 1972 they took eighteen million of those incoming dollars and put them in a trust fund. At the same time there was a very old sum of funds in Japanese yen that were U.S. Treasury assets held in the Embassy from the days of Ambassador Reischauer. These were repayments for work done during the Occupation. And they were to be used for educational and cultural exchange. They languished. They remained in the Embassy.
So when Congress passed the legislation in 1975 and took the eighteen million, they also added on the sum of approximately 3.9 billion yen. They created a trust fund. The trust fund generates interest. A Commission of eighteen citizens, nine private citizens and nine U.S. government officials, meet two times a year. They are a peer review board. They review proposals that have come into the Commission in the meanwhile for institutional programs, and say yes or no. And that is the ultimate authority.
My role is to help prepare people with proposal questions, give them the best advice I can on how to present a good proposal, a competitive proposal. I organize meetings. I do a lot of due diligence on proposals after they come in, to check out claims that are being made, past track record, histories that the applying organization might have with the Commission itself, present my findings. But I leave all judgments up to the Board. I do not interject myself into the decisionmaking process. The Board then makes the decisions, and then we follow up for the rest of the half-year. The Board meets two times a year. Much of my work involves following up on grant-making activity, writing papers, getting the money out to the grantees, and on occasion, doing site work with our grantees.
A lot of my work in the meanwhile is simply spent here in Washington talking with people who have ideas. Sometimes they are appropriate for the Commission. And I help them formulate their ideas so that they have a good run in the competition. But I never give an unfair advantage. I can’t do so, and I won’t do so. No more than I would have given a student a grade before the paper was handed in.
But the other thing I can do is also help them find other sources. When … and increasingly this is the issue with all of us now in the funding field. Nobody has enough money anymore. We put together packages of funding. If not from our Commission, then at least I can try to direct them to other sources that might be more interested in their ideas, if their ideas don’t fall within the very clearly outlined set of priorities that the Commission has established.
Angel: That work must take a lot of staff in your office.
Gangloff: No, on the contrary. We have one of the smallest Federal agencies that exists. My staff, including myself, is four persons. Total staff.
Angel: It’s remarkable you accomplish what you do on that small a staff.
Gangloff: Well, all of us have been here for well over a decade. My secretary came in 2001, after the previous secretary retired after spending at least twenty years with the Commission. I’ve been here twenty years. I hired my first assistant director in 1991 and my second assistant director in 1992. We’ve had no turnover since then. All of us have very long institutional memories, very strong commitment and loyalty to the organization. [Return to Topics]
Angel: You certainly are among Americans the best positioned to assess the flow of the study of Japan in the United States. Do you have any comments on the current state of Japan studies in the United States, and how we got here?
Gangloff: Yes, I have some thoughts on that. There are basically four funding agencies dedicated in whole or in part to U.S.-Japan exchanges, whether on an institutional basis, such as mine, or individual fellowship and scholarship funds. They are our Commission, the U.S.-Japan Foundation, the Center for Global Partnership, and the Japan Foundation.
All of us have seen a considerable drop-off in the number of proposals we are receiving. The number of proposals I have now are about fifty percent of what I would have anticipated twenty years ago, even fifteen years ago. Particularly fifteen years ago, during the great boom of Japanese investment which spun off intense activity in U.S. academic and research circles. But when I look at the proposals coming in, I think it is far more difficult now to fund the number of proposals we receive, even though there are only half as many as there were twenty years ago.
Twenty years ago I could do triage and simply toss out three-quarters of the proposals we received on the grounds that they were opportunistic, because there was a lot of money in the Japan game at the time. You’ll remember. Now, virtually everything we get I would fund. And the decisions that my Commissioners have to make now, as compared to twenty years ago, are far more difficult, trying to pick the very best from a field of virtually all good, that we would fund in their entirety if we could.
So, numbers as far as institutional commitments and interest in Japan, are down. But the general level of understanding and knowledge about Japan in the United States has improved immeasurably. And interest has not gone away. I see now a very steady flow of very solid proposals.
Angel: I’m surprised that the numbers have dropped that much. But your comments about the remainder suggests that there remains in the United States a solid core of Japan studies scholarship.
Gangloff: Not merely a solid core of Japanese studies. But I think a permeation throughout at least the sorts of institutions we deal with which are in public affairs and research, and in culture, of a much greater understanding and sophistication about Japan. And it’s that sophistication, that probably has emanated from the Academy, from the very solid academic core that we still maintain, into other areas of American life.
As people graduate with PhDs, they are not necessarily going into teaching anymore. In my current situation I have so many friends with advanced degrees in Asian Studies and Japanese Studies who are working in government, in non-profits, in cultural institutions, and in business, and in law, as well as in the Academy. And I think that’s really what is driving the quality that I’m finding now. [Return to Topics]
Angel: Do you remember in the early 1970s an effort, driven in part by interests in Japan, but also by interests in the United States, to geographically diversify the study of Japan. Did that work?
Gangloff: Yes it has! There you can take a look at the surveys done by Professor Patricia Steinhoff at the University of Hawaii. She’s now involved in the 2005 study. She does it every ten years. The last was 1995. She then writes a “state of the field.” She’s currently doing a survey to see where Japanese studies has gone. She can demonstrate far better than we can the extent to which expertise in Japanese studies has permeated American higher education institutions across the board.
Angel: So that early 1970s effort was a success.
Gangloff: Very much so. A great success. Keeping that alive now is the Commission’s primary goal. Our highest priority is to continue to maintain the vitality of this base. Our funding is slowly devolving. We haven’t had any new appropriations. So, the interest that we get – even if it were the same as it was ten years ago, or fifteen years ago – is being eaten away by inflation. Interest rates now are at an historical low. We’re looking at about – over a three-year period – a drop of about $250,000 in income that we can use for grant-making purposes.
Angel: So, you have to worry about that too.
Gangloff: Oh yes. Not only that. It’s very complicated. [Return to Topics]
Angel: My colleagues here at the University of South Carolina in political science tell me that area studies is dead, that we no longer need area studies. Is that true around the country?
Gangloff: Well, I can say that people in Japanese studies certainly don’t think it is dead. We have had our own encounter with, I think, particularly the issue as it’s raised in the social sciences. Certainly not in the humanities.
A good example is the handling of the fellowship program that we do offer through an institutional base for advanced social science research on Japan. For many years we carried out the program in cooperation with the Social Science Research Council in New York. But finally we came to the conclusion that the SSRC itself had changed direction away from support for area studies. And that is what we really were set up to support. The maintenance of language expertise and area studies knowledge in the U.S. The SSRC had moved far more toward its interest in supporting disciplinary and global issues.
So, finally last year we moved the program from the SSRC to the NEH, the National Endowment for the Humanities. We had an excellent competition last year, and look forward to a good one this year. The proposal submission deadline at the NEH is May 1.
Angel: So it’s not at the SSRC any more.
Gangloff: That’s right. Counter intuitively, social science research is being supported by us at the NEH, which has a very strong interest in the maintenance of language and area studies.
Angel: Given the hostility to area studies, at least at the provincial level, that makes good sense. We’re bound to go back and discover the need for this area expertise, as we have done more than once in our history as a nation.
Gangloff: And we’re doing so once again right now, recognizing the importance of language studies in this post-9/11 world. [Return to Topics]
In addition, I am not that concerned because looking at the younger generation, I am very impressed by their interest in the world. Bob, one thing I did in response to CULCON. I am the executive director for CULCON here in the U.S. CULCON is a joint activity of the Department of State the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A panel of twelve citizens and officials from each country meets periodically to review cultural and educational relations, and how to improve them.
In my legislation, it states that the twelve U.S. CULCON panelists shall be my Commissioners. So, no one is ever appointed to my Commission. People are appointed to CULCON, and, ex officio, become my Commissioners. And then I have two Senators, two Representatives, and the chairs of the two Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, who are not members of CULCON. Assistant secretaries: two from the Department of State, and one from Education, are on the CULCON panel as our official representation, and nine private citizens. Those nine private citizens and those nine government officials make up my panel.
So, in 1991, the Department of State came to the Commission and said, “Given our close relationship with CULCON, if the Department of State made an annual transfer of funds, would we organize the staff work for CULCON,” which I do. And one of my three other staff members, is, in fact, the assistant director for CULCON activity. [Return to Topics]
One of the things that CULCON thought was most important in the 1990s was to get more American undergraduates studying in Japan. We did any number of institutional improvements to get transfer of credits from Japanese universities to U.S. institutions more easy to decipher by registrars here, to get visa problems resolved, to get housing arrangements in Japan resolved. To get more English language teaching since students are going to study in English, like it or not, for the most part, on the undergraduate level. To get more English language programs up and running. The wonderful programs at Doshisha, Sophia, etc., all were fully subscribed. So we helped encourage national universities to branch out and create English language programs.
We could do all of that at the Commission. The one thing we can’t do, and won’t do, is to give an undergraduate a scholarship to go to Japan. But that, in the end, really was the most important thing. Money. [Return to Topics]
So, I went out and created a 501C3. I’m the executive director of that. I give volunteer time to it and about a third of my time is spent raising money from American corporations to send undergraduates to Japan. I’ve raised about $2.3 million so far.
Angel: What’s the name of the organization?
Gangloff: The United States-Japan Bridging Foundation. I have a contract officer who also has a room in my suite of rooms here in Washington, D.C. She’s here right now. It’s such a shoestring operation that we really have trouble getting the funds to do a website.
The main activity of the Foundation is to raise money. That money is given to students recruited through the Bridging Project Clearinghouse that’s housed inside the ATJ, the Association of Teachers of Japanese, out in Boulder, Colorado. They get information out to students across the U.S. about opportunities to study. They get applications coming in. They create review and selection panels, peer review by people in the field. And then the Foundation will write a check and give it to the Bridging Project Clearinghouse to dole out as individual scholarships to these students. That’s how we work. It’s a wonderful relationship.
For every scholarship we can give we have at least five applications coming in. And of those, I would give money to at least two-thirds more than we have. I could double the number of students going to Japan and it still wouldn’t be enough. We have funds for about one hundred students a year.
One of the most encouraging signs I have seen is that when we started this there were less than 1,800 students, undergraduate and graduate, studying in Japan on an annual basis. That would be in 1993. Today there are over 3,200 studying in Japan on an annual basis. And our goal is to double that number. All I can do is provide funding for 100. We said we would be a pump-priming operation, get the word out to study-abroad advisers on campuses that Japan is a viable option. You don’t have to send your students only to Europe, particularly the U.K., Canada, or Australia where the language is familiar. You can do Japan, and I think we’ve been making our point.
But I see the numbers coming. Bob, I see students coming all the way from vet schools to the fine arts. There is such an interest in Japan. I know that about fifteen years ago we did do motivational studies to set this up. And Japan was very clearly marked as a fast track to a good career. It was tied to salary considerations. That has fallen by the boards. We’ve all seen that.
But the numbers have not fallen. The number of students studying Japanese at the university level remains at about 40,000 solid, every year.
Angel: So in spite of the social science tenurate telling us about the end of area studies, students remain interested. That’s my experience too. The students remain very interested in Japan. [Return to Topics]
Gangloff: Yes, the students are. And from anecdotal evidence, we haven’t done anything serious about this yet, but anecdotal evidence tells us that in virtually every application we get, students somehow refer to a childhood or a life in which Japanese popular culture surrounds them. It’s familiar. It’s a daily thing. Whether through anime or a PlayStation or any number of ways in which Japanese culture – not what we studied in the 1960s – but a different sense of culture.
Nonetheless, a very different culture, one that really intrigues these kids, that makes them want to go to Japan – whatever they are going to do. They may be going into business. They may be going into computer engineering. They may be going into fine arts. It really doesn’t matter. There is a broad-based interest out there, and it will remain very strong. I am very confident about continued U.S. interest and expertise on Japan.
You know, I think that’s where the field ultimately will go. It’s going to have to take into consideration the so-called “Japan Cool.” We’ve seen that in various PR pieces put out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But there is an objective reality behind this stuff. And it dovetails, as we see in our students who are responding to this sense of Japan as something they’ve not quite gotten yet. And they want to know what it is. And that’s what we wanted to know in the 1960s, except it was about a different set of cultural traditions we were looking at.
Whether they will succeed or not, the Japanese are planning an economy that is built on original creativity. And we’re seeing the first blossom of it. It has been successful so far. They see the outsourcing, as we did, some years earlier. And they think, “Well, if a factory is going to go to Shanghai, at least the design will be here.” And this dovetails very nicely with a very systematic, scholarly, disciplined look at the intersection between culture and economics. It has never happened before. But it’s going to have to happen if we are going to understand what Japan’s doing in this world. It’s very interesting. And we’re going to have young people who are interested in putting those two things together. It’s not there yet. It’s not yet a field. And I can hear the howls of indignation on both sides. But it’s going to happen.
Angel: I’ve taken much of your morning after learning that you have to run not one, but three, organizations. Thank you for the time. [Return to Topics]