Dr. John C. Campbell

Professor, Department of Political Science University of Michigan

February 23, 2006


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Introduction and First Involvement With Japan

RCA: This is an interview with Professor John C. Campbell of the Department of Political Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He joins us by Skype phone from Tokyo. Thanks for joining us, John. We’re long overdue in getting your comments on the website. Let’s begin with the usual question of how you first became involved with Japan.

JCC: I went to college a year earlier than normal, and really wasn’t prepared for it. So in my freshman year at Columbia I spent more time working on the radio station than I did actually going to class. As a result, my grades were lousy. I didn’t flunk out because people don’t flunk out in the Ivy League.

My reaction to it after some depression was to figure I should do something else for a while. So I joined the Army. By a fluke of fate and the alphabet, I was sent to Japan, actually to Okinawa. So, right at the end of 1959, after going to the school for journalists and radio broadcasters, I wound up in Okinawa and was immediately put on the air as the all-night disk jockey at what we now call FEN, the Far East Network. Then it was called AFRTS, Okinawa. I spent a year-and-a-half there.

I liked Okinawa very much. I was in the Army for another year afterwards. But when I came back, I got married that summer and went back to Columbia as a sophomore. I was planning for a career in broadcasting or journalism. But I had a language requirement to fulfill. So I started taking Japanese. And, as long as I was taking Japanese, I took a little Japanese politics, and a little Japanese history, and so forth.

Japanese language was an awful experience for me. But I gambatte-ed [did my best], and by the end I’d had a lot of Japanese, and other Japan-related courses, by the time I graduated in 1965. And then my mentor and guardian angel, Jim Morley, suggested “Why don’t you go to Japan and study Japanese?”

He told me about the IUC, the Inter-University Center, then located in Mitaka. So I got a scholarship and went there for a year with our, at that time, one-month-old first son, and spent a year studying Japanese. By that time I was pretty well committed to the field. And I came back and went to graduate school in Japanese studies and Japanese politics. [Back to Topics]

Studying Japanese Politics at Columbia

RCA: How did you decide on politics?

JCC: That’s a hard question. I have few memories of actually ever deciding anything in my life. And that’s one of them I sort of drifted into. I finished college as a Japanese language major. Because if you were taking Japanese anyway it had hardly any other requirements. But I’d always liked politics. And it turned out I kind of liked political science too. So, no particular reason. History, politics, or sociology would have certainly been what I did, once I started to become an academic.

RCA: Did Jim Morley have anything to do with that? [Click here for James W. Morley Interview]

JCC: He had a lot to do with everything. He really was wonderful to me. I took his class when I was a junior. It was a graduate class, but there were other undergraduates in it. I remember being annoyed that I got only a B+ in it. I was then used to getting pretty good grades. I liked the paper I wrote for him a lot better than he did.

Yes, certainly he was an influence then, and when I was in graduate school. But that’s probably not why I picked political science. I probably was more impressed with Richard Neustadt’s course on the presidency. Also a graduate course. Also when I was a junior. And I also got a B+ in that one. Neustadt’s course probably was more of an influence on me.

RCA: What appealed to you in that course?

JCC: For whatever reason, when I think of politics and political science, I think of the way the government works and political forces intersect to produce public policy. There’s hardly anybody in the field of political science who does that any more. It’s totally out of fashion. But back in my day – and in yours; you came up the same way – it was a very logical thing to think about. And Neustadt’s case study approach … Of course, he was talking about the presidency. It came to me as very natural, and was how I thought about politics. [Back to Topics]

Selecting a Dissertation Topic

Later on, in 1967 when I came back and went to graduate school, and was looking around for a dissertation topic, I planned to write on the Komeito in Tokyo metropolitan politics. Why, I don’t know. In retrospect, it seems like an amazingly boring topic. But that was right at the time the Komeito was coming up. So, I suppose there may have been something to say about it. Nobody had written anything about the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly. Don’t know why anybody would.

I applied for a Foreign Area Fellowship under that title. But that fall I took a course with Wallace Sayre, the great dean of public administration and politics. The course was called “The Political Context of Public Administration.” That course impressed me even more. It was all case studies of decisionmaking. And in that course one of the main books we read, which I hadn’t run into before, was Aaron Wildavsky’s The Politics of the Budgetary Process. It was one of the great classics of political science in that era, and of the kind I was talking about. I was very impressed by that book. So I thought, “Maybe I can apply this book to Japan.”

I already had been scheduled for an interview by the Foreign Area Fellowship Program, probably in December. I wrote to them and said I wanted to change my topic. When I showed up for the interview, which was given by Lucien Pye and Bernard Cohn, the India specialist, they were ready to talk about the Komeito and Tokyo Metropolitan politics. The staff somehow hadn’t passed my note along to them. But they were quite happy to shift in mid-stream and didn’t hold it against me.

So I wound up getting the fellowship, and I wound up writing about budget politics. It turned out, happily, that the model that Wildavsky had of how budgeting worked in the U.S. – incrementalism, fair shares, stability, and things like that – worked even better in Japan than it did in the United States. So it turned out to be quite a good topic.

RCA: Your budget book is still assigned. At least I use it.

JCC: Thank you. It’s still assigned in Japan, in the Japanese translation. Although it was published by Simul Publishing, which later went out of business. They also had published Gerry Curtis’s book, and others. That book is still in print, and I see it in college bookstores in Japan. It has stood up well. Though things have changed in budgeting in Japan. But a lot of what I wrote about is still true, I think. [Back to Topics]

Field Research for the Budget Politics Book

RCA: Could you tell us a little about your research experience for that book?

JCC: Sure. I wrote a little about it in Doing Field Work in Japan, edited by Ted Bestor, Pat Steinhoff, and others, with chapters by twenty people, or so. My chapter was called something like “Research Among the Bureaucrats.” Not much had been written by political scientists. A lot had been written about budgeting by people in the zaisei, or public finance, field. But not much by political scientists. There were a lot of journalistic accounts of the budgetary wars, in a popular kind of way. But nobody had tried to make sense of it. In fact, in those days, in Japanese political science there wasn’t much analysis of decisionmaking or anything like that. It was a whole generation of Columbia people, like T.J. Pempel, and Mike Donnelly, and others, who were the first to do that kind of thing on Japanese politics, I think. [Click here for an interview with T.J. Pempel]

Since there wasn’t much written down, a lot of it had to be done through interviews. So I did lots and lots of interviews, some with politicians as eminent as Fukuda Takeo, and a few others. The real eminent ones actually weren’t all that productive. So most of the interviews were with bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry and in the various other ministries, and with a number of politicians of lesser fame. Nemoto Ryutaro was one I remember.

So I tried to figure out this whole system by piecing together all of these interviews. I would talk to young Japanese scholars I knew who were amazed to discover I could be writing a dissertation and get interviews with all of those people. But clearly it was because I was a foreigner.

I also had a couple of really good mentors. Kojima Akira, who, unfortunately has since died, was the public administration specialist working at the National Diet Library in the Legislative Reference and Research Bureau. It turned out by sheer coincidence that he was in the middle of translating Aaron Wildavsky’s book into Japanese.

I visited Wildavsky in Berkeley on my way to Japan. He told me about Kojima. So I looked him up. I helped him with problems understanding the rather colloquial style of the book, which made it hard to understand in places. Kojima had never been to America.

In the course of this Kojima helped me enormously. He introduced me to lots of people. He knew all of this back and forward. So, he was one mentor. And I had a couple of others that helped a lot. [Back to Topics]

Working at the SSRC and Completing the Dissertation

RCA: Did you go straight from Columbia to Michigan?

JCC: Sort of. It’s true that my PhD was in June of 1973.

RCA: I remember when you defended.

JCC: It was fun, in a way, because I didn’t think I would have any real trouble. And I’d actually signed a book contract for publishing the dissertation with the University of California Press a couple of weeks earlier. [Contemporary Japanese Budget Politics] So I think I may have come in a little arrogant as a result of that. But it was a good discussion. Jim Morley, Gerry Curtis, and others.

RCA: Herb Passin?

JCC: Yes. I remember Herb Passin more acutely from my orals. He drove me nearly crazy during the orals. But he was very nice at the time of the defense.

I also worked at the Social Science Research Council for a couple of years, while I was writing the dissertation. Or, instead of, for the most part. Then by the grace of god, the people at the SSRC, and the Ford Foundation, they bestowed upon me a six month grant to take the time to finish the dissertation. Otherwise, I’ve no idea what would have become of me. But I did take the six months off, and pretty much finished it then.

I had come back from Japan in late 1969 or early 1970, or somewhere along that time. So, for three years I was working at the SSRC. I was the staff of the Joint Committee on Japanese Studies, as well as a couple of other things. That was interesting, and got me involved in administrative affairs. I would have stayed longer, and might even have gone into that foundation business. But Bob Ward, who was both president of the Association for Asian Studies and president of the American Political Science Association, had suddenly decided to leave Michigan. I knew him well. He and John Hall shared the management of the Joint Committee on Japanese Studies back then. And I was the staff. [Back to Topics]

Joining the University of Michigan Faculty

Bob Ward decided to leave Michigan, where he always had been, to go to Stanford. He hoped to retire there eventually. He and his wife both were from the Bay area. He became a vice president for International Studies at Stanford. So the Michigan job was open.

They had interviewed a couple of people who, for various reasons, hadn’t worked out. They were very late in the process, and they came and asked me to do it. So I just did the interview at the last minute. When I see students going through all the preparations they go through – as well they have to – writing up their presentations, doing practice talks, and so forth…. I didn’t have any time. I was busy as anything at the SSRC. I just got on a plane and went. I wrote a few thoughts down on the plane on the way.

I did two talks. One at the Japan Center and one at the Department of Political Science. Each was a little different, though both were based on my dissertation. I sort of did them off the cuff. Which probably was a good thing. When I’ve tried to do prepared talks like that they’ve been disasters. Those went over well enough to get the job. I remember, Bob Putnam was the host for the one I did at the Political Science Department.

There’s a funny story about that. It was very late in the hiring process. And I now know at Michigan that in any given year in our Department we usually have six or seven jobs we’re trying to fill. So there might be twenty or thirty people coming in. By the end of the thing people are tired of going to these presentations. Nobody cares much about Japanese politics anyway. So, only Bob Putnam and a couple of other faculty members were there. Sam Barnes, and somebody else. The others were mostly graduate students. We did the talk in the late afternoon. Instead of doing it in a regular lecture room, we did it in the graduate student lounge. So people were sitting around on sofas and cushions. After the talk there were some questions, and some back-and-forth.

But there was a whole big box of powdered donuts. I was starving because I hadn’t eaten all day. I’d been doing nothing but non-stop interviews. So, after I was finished I asked if I could have a donut. They passed me the box, and I managed somehow to dump the whole box of powdered sugar all over myself. Clouds of white drifted up, and I was covered with this stuff.

Somebody passed me a napkin. It had been on the table in the back, where the students were sitting. I looked down at the napkin and saw that a student had written very legibly to his friend “What a lot of crap.”

RCA: That’s a great story.

JCC: Yes, and mostly true. I showed it to everyone.

It’s such a weird sensation to go to be interviewed for a job. You just talk about yourself all day. When do you ever do that? You’re nervous, and all that. So you’re really kind of flying. So it struck me as the end of a perfect day. [Back to Topics]

The Michigan Scholarly Environment

RCA: How was Michigan as a place to work as a Japan specialist?

JCC: It was terrific. There are two sides to that answer. One is the Japan specialist part, and one is the political scientist part. As a Japan specialist, or actually as an Asia specialist. Because I’d also been the staff of the Committee on Contemporary China. John Lindbeck had been the chair of that committee. He was at Michigan. Al Feuerwerker had been the chair for a while. He was at Michigan. And then, Mike Oxenberg was at Michigan. Alan Whiting. All China people.

Then, in Japan, Roger Hackett, Bob Cole, the sociologist who became my best friend, Dick Beardsley, the anthropologist, Ed Seidensticker in literature, Gary Saxonhouse. It was a wonderful group of Japanologists. That side of it was terrific, and I fell into that group very easily.

In the Political Science Department people were very nice to me, certainly. But I felt completely abashed … as a typical Columbia student. I’d always had difficulty with languages. To do the PhD you had to have a second foreign language, as well as Japanese. Or else you could do one foreign language and statistics. I thought I’d never have any use for statistics. Who would want to do that? So I decided to study French, and did enough to pass the exam somehow. Obviously, I should have taken the statistics.

So I came to Michigan, which then was at the absolute forefront of what was called the “behavioral revolution” in political science, where everybody was doing these statistical things with public opinion data, and other kinds of data. But I didn’t even know how to read it. I didn’t know anything about it.

So, I went to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, for their famous summer school on statistics that lots of people have gone to. Mostly graduate students. But I did their elementary stuff in my first summer there, and managed to pick up enough to sort of get through it. And since then, although, I’m no methodologist, I can make sense out of methodological arguments. I’ve enjoyed doing that.

So, for me in the political science field, Columbia was way out of the mainstream even then, let alone …. Now, it’s kind of different. But then it was regarded as a retrograde department back in those days among the high-class people like Michigan.

RCA: [laughing] Nicely put.

JCC: Well, it was very good in the Neustadt kind of thing. But that was already kind of going out of fashion. [Back to Topics]

Thoughts on Japan Studies Today in the United States

RCA: What do you think about Japan studies today in the United States? Do you have any comments on that?

JCC: During the 1990s I spent six years as the secretary-treasurer, and in effect the executive director, of the Association for Asian Studies, which I enjoyed a lot. I’ve always done a certain amount of administrative stuff. But I enjoyed that a lot.

In that capacity I was interviewed a few times, and would appear on panels where we were assessing the state of area studies, or Japanese studies, in the United States. The most memorable line from all of those discussions was one from Bruce Cumings at an AAS meeting held to assess those sorts of things. He said that area studies was in a tough place in the modern academic world, with the rational choice people on one side, and all the cultural studies people on the other side. It was, he said, like being trapped between a rock and a soft place.

RCA A wonderful line.

JCC: I’ve employed it ever since. Certainly there’s that in the field of Japanese politics. Well, in the field of Japanese studies, we could say contemporary Japanese studies. That is, studies of contemporary Japan from the social science point of view. As compared to our day.

In my day, and in yours, Bob. I’m a generation older than you. Even then it was said that the older generation – older than me – could just be Japan specialists. But we had to be not only Japan specialists, but also political scientists. These days that’s gone a lot further.

Many graduate students today will say that you can’t write a dissertation on just Japan. It either has to have some fancy formal modeling in it. Or be really comparative, and so forth. And the training that Japan social scientists are getting is …

Typically, young people today are very good at language. Particularly because they’ve spent a lot more time in Japan in their early years than I ever could. And their language is way better than mine was then, or is now.

But they don’t have the area studies background. Graduate school has gotten so short that people can’t take other classes any more. When I was first teaching at Michigan, I would get people in my graduate class in political science who were studying all kinds of things. And they were just interested in taking a class in Japan. But they don’t do it any more. And our Japan students don’t take the courses in history, sociology, and anthropology, and all that stuff. They may have as undergraduates.

Very often they don’t have much general academic background on Japan. They have a lot of street knowledge. They’ve lived here. They know their way around. But they don’t have a scholarly knowledge of it. And they spend so much of their time on theory and methods that, from my point of view, it’s hard for them to get into the …. I wouldn’t want to say “cultural” exactly. But into the broader sense of Japan. So, to me, that’s a loss.

On the other hand, there certainly are people who do interesting things based on comparative or theoretical perspectives. We started with Chalmers Johnson and industrial policy, where Japan was at the forefront of a really important branch of political science. Now these days, everybody seems to be fascinated with the impact of electoral systems on practically everything, Japan’s one of the leading cases in that. We have a lot of people working in that field. So in that sense, it’s good.

But the field as a whole …. I guess I was talking specifically about politics, and maybe social science. I think it’s a lot more mainstream, a lot more in the curriculum. I think the number of people studying Japanese really didn’t drop off very much at all during all those years when interest in Japan, during the lost decade, had dropped off generally. People in business schools … Our business school and the Berkeley business school both had three full-time Japan specialists going for a while at the same time. That’s three each. By four or five years ago, neither school was teaching a single course on Japan.

At that level, it fell off. But engineers were interested in Japan because of the manufacturing connection. And a lot of young kids were interested, because they were coming up from anime and games. And a lot of people generally got interested in Japan for all sorts of reasons. So now it’s sort of more spread out. It’s less of a ghetto. Which has its good side and its bad side. [Back to Topics]

Current Research in Japan

RCA: What takes you to Japan this time?

JCC: I’ve retired from teaching. Although I’m still at the University of Michigan, and will be for more than a year. Basically, on research leave. I’m in Japan for a year. And I’m continuing the research thread that I started in 1975, when I started working on a book on Japanese social policies, but particularly policies and programs for older people. That book came out as How Policies Change: The Japanese Government and the Aging Society. It took me thirteen years to write that book. And then I wrote another book on the Japanese health care system with my colleague, Naoki Ikegami. But my old-people book cut off in 1990. It was published in1992.

And since 1990 there’s been a lot interesting going on in the old-age field in Japan. The whole aging society concern has really reached a crest. And in particular they started this long-term care insurance program, or kaigo hoken, which was passed in 1997 and started in 2000. The way they got there was very interesting. So that’s mainly what I’m working on. But in a sense, what I will do is bring that book of mine up to date by looking at what happened in public policy toward older people in the now fifteen years since the cut-off date of that book.

I can’t say that I’ve really started yet. But I’ve been here only three weeks. So I still have plausible excuses for not getting any work done.

RCA: You certainly have an interesting topic. Everybody is talking about that. [Back to Topics]

Observations on Current Japanese Politics

I wonder if you could give us some comments about how Japan has changed since your last long-term visit.

JCC: My last long-term visit here was only five years ago. I spent a year in Kyoto as director of the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies, the junior-year-abroad school run by a consortia of American universities. So, the economy has improved a lot. But, I didn’t think all the Japanese were depressed five years ago. And I don’t think they’re all cheerful now, necessarily. There’s been a little bit of a change in tone. But that may be more Kyoto-Tokyo differences than there are differences across five years, probably.

Certainly there have been a lot of changes since I first got here. On daily life things, Japan is so sophisticated. We went last night to a Portuguese restaurant. Can you imagine going to a Portuguese restaurant in Tokyo? It was delicious.

RCA: We don’t have one here in Columbia, South Carolina, that I know of.

JCC: We don’t have one in Ann Arbor either. Tokyo’s such an amazingly cosmopolitan city.

RCA: One thing that’s changed is that Koizumi has been prime minister during that period. Do you think that has made any difference?

JCC: What’s the dependent variable? Difference to what? Well, I think it does. When Koizumi first came in, it was his whole populist kind of thing, his popularity, the Koizumi masks, his nutty haircut, he loved music. All of that stuff. He seemed to be this fresh breeze who was attacking these mountebanks in the LDP.

These days, if you came in without having gone through that whole process, and having that image in your mind, what really comes to the fore is that this the most right-wing administration that we’ve had in postwar Japan. Since Kishi? It’s hard to know. It’s solidly right-wing in its domestic politics.

I don’t think it’s all that different from a right-wing Western government, like those of Mrs. Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, or George Bush. They all believe in a big military. Now, that’s relative. A big military in Japan is not the same thing as a big military in the U.S. But the direction of their interests is the same. They aren’t too worried about civil liberties. They’re very pugnacious in their attitudes toward foreign countries. Not to say, maybe, arrogant. They play up the traditional right-wing themes. Obviously, Yasukuni Jinja in the case of Koizumi. But also Bush with all of his right-wing agenda. And Mrs. Thatcher used to wave various traditional flags, and have nothing but contempt for liberals and for the Left. And then, of course, in economic policy, with all the emphasis on market forces, deregulation, and all that stuff. You can just go down about fifteen points and see where….

The LDP over the postwar period really has been noted for its enormous breath. I remember Gerry Curtis saying years and years ago that if you looked at the ideological spectrum in the LDP it’s actually broader than 98% of both the Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Back in the day when Congress wasn’t as split as it is now, in the United States.

There were all kinds of people in the LDP. To some extent, a lot of those forces have been shut out. And the Party is far more centralized than it had ever been before. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of Koizumi. I’m thinking pretty much in straight political terms. I don’t know what he’s done for society as a whole.

RCA: Do you think that Koizumi’s approach to leadership has made an enduring difference in the way the LDP relates to voters?

JCC: I don’t have a particularly thoughtful view of that. I haven’t thought about it much. I think the electoral change in 1993-94 is significant. All the trends in Japanese elections … This was true well before Koizumi. More of a focus on the prime minister. More of a direct appeal to voters at the expense of koenkai, local machines, and public works-fueled stuff. That whole pattern.

When we were writing about Japanese politics in the late 1980s…. Look at Gerry Curtis’s second book, The Japanese Way of Politics, which was published in 1988. Everything that everybody was writing about Japanese politics was that Japanese politics was going in that direction. When Kaifu ran against Doi in the 1990 general election, that was seen as the first TV election. TV played a big role. The talk shows were in, and all of those things.

Yes. Koizumi furthered that because he certainly has been the politician who has used TV better than anybody else, you could say, in mobilizing the public against the rank-and-file of the LDP. That’s almost unprecedented, I imagine.

But the direction of change in Japanese politics is one that everybody saw, long before Koizumi came along.

RCA: Do you want to make any predictions?

JCC: No.

RCA: You’re smart enough not to.

JCC: Well, I’m pretty gloomy. In an odd way, I’m actually more optimistic about the U.S. right now, though not very. And we’ve got a long way to go in the Bush Administration. But in Japan …

I’ve been reading the papers here. But I don’t read the “inside the LDP” type stories. Asahi has been running a series on the upcoming LDP presidential election in the fall. I haven’t even read them, truthfully. So I don’t know what people are talking about. Superficially, it looks like it’s kind of a lock for Abe. I would be a lot happier if the pendulum would swing back a little in the LDP.

RCA: Do you see any hope for Maehara’s DPJ?

JCC: Maehara is regarded as a breath of fresh air, with an Opposition party in favor of active military stuff. My personal opinion is a little left of that. That’s not a political scientist’s opinion. It’s just as a resident of Japan.

RCA: Thanks for an excellent interview, and for your time.

JCC: Thanks, Bob. It was fun talking to you. [Back to Topics]