Page Last Updated: August 18, 2007 4:47 PMRobert Angel                          © 2005: University of South Carolina Trustees

Professor Ellis Krauss

Graduate School of International Relation
& Pacific Studies

University of California at San Diego

May 2, 2005


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Introduction to Japan
Choice of Political Science
Learning Japanese at the Inter-University Center in Tokyo
Enduring Interest in Political Sociology
Work on NHK and Japan's Communications Media
Researching and Writing the NHK Book
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Introduction to Japan

Angel: Thank you for joining us on Japan Considered. To begin, can you tell us about your early years. Where were you born and raised?

Krauss: I was born in Memphis, Tennessee. When I was one and one-half, my parents moved to New Orleans. They both were from New York families, but both of their parents had moved to the South. Then when I was three, they moved back to New York, and I was raised in Brooklyn, New York.

Angel: How did you get to Japan, then, from Brooklyn?

Krauss: As usual, it was a combination of both personal and professional factors. When I was about 17 or 18, I worked for a summer at a Wall Street investment firm, doing stock tallying and other duties. A Japanese woman, recently arrived in New York, also worked there. She had photos of the Crown Prince and Princess at their wedding. This was the early 1960s. We became friends, and that stimulated my interest in Japan. When I went to graduate school, I didn’t have any specialty. Everyone else had some specialty. So I decided that since I was interested in Japan I would start studying Japanese. And my second year in graduate school I started Japanese language study. Which, of course, was ten years too late.

Angel: Most of us had that problem. Where did you do your academic training?

Krauss: I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and went to graduate school at Stanford.

Angel: Were there any faculty at either Brooklyn or Stanford who were influential in your academic development?

Krauss: The only course I had related to Japan as an undergraduate at Brooklyn College was one taught by Hyman Kublin. It was one of those six-month survey courses that covered all of China, India, and Japan from 2000 BC to present. It was a big survey course, but it got me interested in Asia.

And when I went to graduate school I worked with Nobutaka Ike who was the Japan person, even though Kurt Steiner was on the faculty. Because Ike was there, Steiner taught only European politics. So I never had a class with Steiner. But after I got my degree we collaborated on a book. He was a wonderful man. He just died a year or two ago at the age of 92. It was really a loss. [Return to Topics]

Choice of Political Science

Angel: How did you decide to study politics rather than another discipline? Were you a political science major as an undergraduate?

Krauss: As a freshman in college I wanted to be either an engineer or a doctor. But then I took my first course in political science at Brooklyn College given by Martin Landau, a well known name in public administration who later went to Berkeley. He was a fantastic teacher. We had a lecture class of about 100 people. He didn’t allow students to take notes. We had to listen to the lecture and write up notes after class. He was a great lecturer, and that helped us to remember what he said.

So, Martin Landau got me interested in political science. From the end of my freshman year in college I knew I wanted to do something related to political science. Law? Academia? Government? Then I graduated and decided to go to graduate school. I was only 20 when I went to graduate school, so I didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing. When I got to Stanford I was competing against 25 or 26-year-olds who had families, for whom this was not a game. For me it was just something to do. I liked political science. But they had strong professional motivations.

Angel: Did you focus on Japan that first year, or did that come later?

Krauss: Not until the second year. The first year there were required courses. I did mostly comparative politics. The person who really served as a role model was Sydney Verba. He was a full professor at 31 at Stanford. Almond and Verba were there at the time. Verba was my hero. I had three courses with him. I don’t think I ever got an A from him. I may have gotten B+s or A-s, but never a full A. But he always was my role model. I also did a paper on France for Almond, which he really liked. I did a paper on Japan for Verba, which was so-so.

Then in my second year in graduate school I started studying Japanese. I was deceived into believing that it wasn’t that hard a language because they used the Niwa and Matsuda book in those days that had no kanji or even kana until the end of the first year. The second year we had a Japanese professor who did nothing but writing. The only thing that saved my language training was when I went to the Inter-University Center after four years of graduate school. [Return to Topics]

Learning Japanese at the Inter-University Center in Tokyo

Angel: Was that your first trip to Japan?

Krauss: That was my first trip to Japan. 1968-1969. Within a month of arriving at the Inter-University Center my Japanese improved in quantum leaps. I could barely read when I arrived, and couldn’t speak at all. After a month I could read newspapers without difficulty. It was wonderful training. I always struggled with speaking, but I got good enough to pursue my profession after six months. The teachers were wonderful. They used a system of videotaped home dramas to teach us, even back in 1968. We had two or three hours of speaking in the morning, and then two or three hours of reading in the afternoon. The Center was the thing that allowed me to survive the language. So I’m very grateful to it. Ken Butler created a great program.

Angel: I was there in 1971 and 1972, and also benefited greatly from Ken’s program.

Krauss: I owe the Stanford Center a lot. I’m a big fan, and wish I could go back for a year again now. I’ve always wanted to go back to the Center but have never had the right combination of time and money. I watch NHK cable news at home every morning, and try that way to keep my language up. But without speaking and without the retraining it’s hard.

I’ve always enjoyed doing interviews as a way to find out what’s going on with politicians and bureaucrats. So for me, interviews are important. Now, I’m working with a young fellow, Robert Pekkanen at the University of Washington, whose Japanese is excellent. We do joint interviews; I do some separately; he does some separately. So between the two of us we’ve interviewed about 60 people for our research. Mostly Diet Members and staff members of politicians. Between the two of us there is no problem. It’s just that his Japanese is so much better than mine. He could do all of the interviews himself if he wanted to. [Return to Topics]

Enduring Interest in Political Sociology

Angel: Speaking of interviews, what do you consider your most important contribution to the study of political Japan?

Krauss: I haven’t thought much about that. If I had to crudely sum it up, I’d say, the one theme that runs throughout all of my work is political sociology. I’m interested in organizations and institutions, how they affect people, how they change policies. My dissertation and first book on what happens to student radicals after they graduate was typical because I was looking at what happened when the students graduated, left one institution and go into the workplace and have families. How did that change their political beliefs?

Since then I have been looking at the relationship between bureaucrats and politicians, local and national governments, party relations in the Diet, then the mass media and NHK, and now what happened to the Liberal Democratic Party after the electoral reform. So, I guess the theme that runs throughout everything I’ve done is the effect of organizations and institutions on politics and political change.

I didn’t intend it to turn out this way, and I certainly didn’t choose the topics of my research for that reason. But I realize now that theme runs throughout everything I’ve done.

I've also, of course, worked on U.S.-Japan relations. I did some work on trade friction issues in the 1980s, and more recently a project with T.J. Pempel that resulted in the edited volume, Beyond Bilateralism. In it we looked at emerging trends in the Asia-Pacific region during the past decade and a half. The end of the Cold War and the rise of China economically and as a strategic power, vast increases in financial flows across borders, and the unprecedented establishment of several multilateral organizations may be reshaping the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship. We had a great multinational group of both senior and junior scholars contribute to the project , which was sponsored by the U.S.-Japan Friendship Commission. [Return to Topics]

Work on NHK and Japan's Communications Media

Angel: Your work on Japan’s communications media has long been of interest to me.

Krauss: I’ve always been surprised that more people have not studied the mass media in Japan. At least American political scientists and Japan specialists. There are a few more books now. Laurie Freeman’s work, the one Susan Pharr and I wrote, my book on NHK, Ofer Feldman, and a few others. But it’s amazing to me, given the importance and influence of the media in Japanese society and politics, that more people haven’t studied it, and that it wasn’t studied earlier.

We still don’t have a great study of a newspaper in the politics of Japan. After all these years. Greg Ornakowski was going to do it. But he went to work for the Boston Consulting Firm, and didn’t finish. He was studying the Asahi Shimbun. I thought about doing that, but it was too close to my research on NHK, and I didn’t want just to reproduce that in newspaper form. [Return to Topics]

Researching and Writing the NHK Book

Angel: Your book on NHK, Broadcasting Politics in Japan, took a long time to write, didn’t it.

Krauss: A long time. Fifteen years, actually, from the time I first became interested in it. It never was supposed to be the focus of my research. When I started out, it was supposed to be an article. I just fell into it accidentally. I was working at ShaKen [Shakai Kagaku Kenkyujo of Tokyo University] in 1983, I think it was, on a Fulbright, researching government and opposition relations. I was not getting very good information in my interviews, and my co-author seemed to be losing interest in the project. So I was looking around for something else to do while on the Fulbright.

I mentioned my interest in NHK to a close Japanese friend, and soon got a phone call asking if I would like to meet one of the NHK directors. I agreed, and began the interviews, beginning with the vice-director of the newsroom.

I then had free access to the NHK newsroom, which is very unusual, where I arranged formal and semi-formal interviews while I was there. At the end of my time there, the vice-director asked me to compare the NHK 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM news programs. I wrote up a comparison and discussed it with him. After that, I just started going back whenever I was in Japan. I never had a long period of time after that to research the book, or to follow up. Of course, it’s a moving target. The late 1980s was a major transitional time in the Japanese news business. News Station had started, and I interviewed people involved right before it began.

So, the whole project just snow-balled, and eventually I decided to write a book. But it was never my primary research focus until just toward the end. I remember other Japan specialists giving me funny looks when they asked what I was working on. When I replied “NHK,” their eyes would roll, since I had been working on it so long.

Angel: Well, it resulted in a good book.

Krauss: I have an article in Doing Fieldwork in Japan, by Bester and Steinhoff, that describes the entire process of why it took so long. I began to feel ashamed that it took so long. But I was able to edit three books and write 29 articles while working on NHK. So it wasn’t like I was doing nothing other than the NHK project. It had always been a back-burner thing until the late 1990s when I came here. [Return to Topics]

Speculation on the Future of Japan's Communications Media

Angel: What do you see in store for Japan’s communications media in terms of its influence on politics, and politics’ influence on the media?

Krauss: I think a couple of things are going on at the same time. I’m not sure which will be the dominant trend. On the one hand you have, as in the U.S., the diversification of technology: communications satellites; broadcasting satellites; the internet. All of this is going on in Japan, as it is in the United States. At the same time there are very strong institutional, organizational, and political reasons why some people would like to slow down that change. They can’t stop it, but I think they’ve been trying to tame it. For the first time, I think, the future of NHK is starting to be a little in doubt. However, I have to say that there are many political reasons, as long as the LDP is in power, why they would like to keep NHK. In part because it avoids controversial criticism, sometimes even erring on the side of obsequiousness toward the LDP.

For a while, News Station presented the other trend, way before Fox News, which, of course, is a very different thing. Kume’s News Station was providing interpretations and commentary on the news way before Fox. Now, the difference, I think, between News Station and Fox News is that News Station didn’t have a consistent political ideology. It was much more “news as cynicism.”

I once talked to an NHK guy about Kume and News Station who said, “He’s just a complaining pensioner.” I realized what he meant, and he was right. He meant that Kume is not the opposition. He doesn’t present his own positions. All he does is complain and provide cynical commentary on what the government is doing.

But, in fact, that was a big change. Fox News is very different. Fox News has a consistent political-ideological agenda. It warps the news in that direction. But nonetheless, way before Fox News, there was an interpretative non-journalistic, objective news program in Japan. For a while it looked like the trend of the future. But with Kume’s retirement, nobody has stepped up to the plate to completely replace him.

I don’t know what the future of Japanese news is, except that broadcast news is being eroded by the internet and cell phones, and all of that. So the future is not clear to me. Probably different trends will develop simultaneously. The dragging along of NHK. Maybe a commercial station will come up with some sort of rival network news that will be like Kume again, but different. [Return to Topics]

The Sunday Political News Programs

Angel: What about those Sunday news programs?

Krauss: That’s another big change. That is a huge change. There was never this type of debate program, political affairs program, with interviews on Sunday, or those programs now that go all night long. That was a huge change.

Kristin Kyoko Altman, who’s a CNN correspondent, has an article in my book with Susan Pharr, Media and Politics in Japan, in which she calls the 1993 election “the television election.” That’s really when television hit in Japan. Kume, and then the 1993 election. Television never was a force in Japanese politics until then. In some ways, Japan was about twenty years behind the United States in that respect. But it’s caught up pretty quickly in terms of television’s influence.

There are good institutional reasons why it never will be as influential, including the inability to buy television time during election campaigns. But nonetheless, it’s far more important now than it used to be. And that’s a major change, I think. I don’t think the trend is going to go back in any form. If anything, it’s going to continue. [Return to Topics]

Significance of Media for the Japanese Premiership

In fact, Ben Nyblade and I have an article coming out in the British Journal of Political Science, "Presidentialization in Japan?: The Prime Minister, Media, and Elections in Japan," in which we argue that the role of the prime minister has become much more important in Japanese politics. Not only because of the institutional reforms of 2001, but primarily because of the increase of television influence on politics, and television’s image of a leader. We have – believe it or not – data that actually shows how the prime minister has become more important over time to his party, to elections, and to the public. Now the image of the prime minister is differentiated from the image of his party – even as he becomes more important to his party.

Angel: Only the prime minister or the prime minister and the cabinet?

Krauss: The prime minister particularly. But even the cabinet has become more important. One of the things we say at the end of this article is that Japan as a parliamentary democracy used to be completely on the other side of the continuum from Britain where there really is cabinet government. There, what the prime minister says, goes. That’s who makes policy. And then the rest of the party is supposed to follow along.

That’s something of a stereotype. But nonetheless, if you look at Tony Blair and the war in Iraq, and the raising of school fees in England…. These issues were pretty much forced on the party by the leadership. Nothing like that in Japan. Kenji Hayao’s book on the role of the prime minister, The Japanese Prime Minister and Public Policy, explains why. All of the political reasons why the Japanese prime minister, despite on paper being a parliamentary democratic leader of a ruling party that’s perpetually in power, really is a weak leader.

Angel: That’s changing, isn’t it.

Krauss: That’s changed. We found that this trend actually began with Nakasone. It’s actually a twenty-year trend, preceding the 2001 reform, that granted, certainly has reinforced these trends and made a difference. But it already was happening, starting with Nakasone. And it happened because of the use of television. Nakasone was the first prime minister to use television politically. Then, of course, you had Hosokawa, and then Koizumi. We argue that Koizumi is not an aberration. He’s the culmination of a twenty-year trend. I personally do not believe that somebody without a good media image, and the ability to manage the media ever again will be a successful prime minister of Japan.

Angel: We’ve seen examples of that between Nakasone and Koizumi, haven’t we.

Krauss: Right. And looking at the guys who didn’t make it explains why – exactly. Television has become very important for political leadership in Japan, and has been one of the factors strongly reinforcing prime ministerial and cabinet leadership. Not the only factor. But it’s important.

So, we argue, Japan is not your father’s Japan. But neither is it Britain. It’s now somewhere in-between. But at least it’s moved along the continuum, further from the old factional politics, behind-the-scenes type of leadership of a weak prime minister, further along the spectrum toward the English model. [Return to Topics]

The Future of U.S. Academic Research on Japan

Angel: A final question about your assessment of academic research in the United States on Japan these days. What do you think of it, and where do you think we’re headed?

Krauss: I think it’s become bifurcated. There’s always been a tendency for people who are oriented toward the disciplines to write for the journals, and people more into area studies and Japan experts to write books. I think that continues. I think that it’s not the Japan field that’s changed, but the departments. Departments now are so completely dominated by discipline-oriented people that young people coming up don’t have a chance if they just want to write books on Japan.

I don’t know if we’re ever going to see a Dick Samuels again, for example. Somebody who can write for major policy journals, but whose work never could be published in the American Political Science Review. Not because his work is not fantastic, but because he doesn’t do that kind of work.

There are a few people, like David Leheny at Wisconsin, who are like that, who make a big impact and who use political science theory and who write for policy journals. But they’re not doing the kind of quantitative, systematic -- scientific, if you will -- political science that gets you into journals.

I’m trying to do both, and I find it to be a great strain. The only reason I can do both at all is that on the political science journal front I collaborate with some young, very sharp political scientists who have been trained methodologically and theoretically in recent political science trends. They are very good. I learn a tremendous amount from them. I also think I bring thirty or forty years of experience and knowledge of Japan to them. So, it’s a good synergistic collaboration. But, could I write those kinds of articles for journals myself? No. Because I wasn’t trained methodologically that way. I understand what they are doing. I make as big a contribution to the articles as do they. But I don’t think I could do it myself. [Return to Topics]

Ongoing Research

On the other hand, I’m still trying to write books, including a book with Robert Pekkanen on how the LDP adapted to electoral reform. It is political science oriented, important theoretically to political science, but is not quantitative. We’ve conducted about 50 interviews with Diet Members, plus others. We are hoping to have a manuscript done by December of this year that looks at how koenkai, factions, and policy affairs committees evolved before the electoral reform and how they have changed since. We suspect that the reason the electoral reform did not result in the changes that some political scientists expected is the prior historical development of these organizations, and the relationships to each other. It’s much more like your older political science books on Japan. So, I’m trying to do both. I find that I can do both. But only through those kinds of collaborations.

In another project I am comparing U.S.-Japan relations to U.S.-British and U.S.-German relations.

Angel: Interesting. What period?

Krauss: Now! Three dimensions: security; political economy; and global governance issues. In spite of how obvious that is -- the three most important U.S. allies and economic partners among the democracies – that relationship has never been systematically analyzed in comparative perspective. So, we’re doing U.S.-Japan compared to U.S.-German and U.S.-British.

Angel: Who are you collaborating with?

Krauss: Chris Hughes at the University of Warwick, in England. And Verena Blechinger, now chair at the Free University of Berlin. We’re having a conference this spring in England on political economy and we hope to have a conference in August on security issues. And then one in Berlin in 2007 on global governance issues. We’ll produce an edited book for each of the conferences.

Angel: I look forward to reading the books. That’s a good note on which to end this discussion. Thanks again for your time. [Return to Topics]

[Click here for selected books by Ellis Krauss]