Richard Bowring

Richard Bowring Professor of Modern Japanese Studies at Cambridge, is the author of a study of Murasaki’s novel The Tale of Genji.

Japanese Power

Richard Bowring, 14 June 1990

At the last triennial meeting of the European Association for Japanese Studies in late September 1988 the major talking-point was the extraordinary outburst of anti-Japanese feeling which in parts of the British press greeted the news of Emperor Hirohito’s final illness. Later in the new year, as the gruesome saga of the Emperor’s coma continued, we heard that the journalist Edward Behr had just finished a BBC documentary which promised, with exquisite timing, to blow the lid off the ‘Hirohito myth’. Behr had apparently discovered some incriminating evidence which historians had hitherto either missed or wilfully ignored. One waited in apprehension, but the supposedly key passages from ‘newly-discovered’ diaries turned out to be the same old tired mistranslations from long-published sources that Bergamini had tried to pass off as history in the early Seventies. Yet again, it seemed that the overwhelming desire for a scapegoat was being linked to the notion that Hirohito had been a Japanese version of Hitler. Much easier to assume that the whole world operates as ‘we’ do than to inquire into the nature of the imperial institution in Japanese history. It was as if in 1952, on the death of King George VI, the German press had offered up fervent prayers that the Firebomber of Dresden would go to his just reward in Hell, or as if the Argentinians were to hold the Queen personally responsible for the Belgrano.


Why I Quit

10 September 2014

Two phrases stand out in Marina Warner’s Diary: ‘These REF stars – they don’t earn their keep’ and ‘an ecstasy of obedience’. The first illustrates the terrible damage inflicted on academia by successive assessments run by a funding authority (HEFCE) that changes the rules as it pleases with no thought as to long-term goals. Five years ago it was all ‘research, research and don’t...

Ghosts of the Tsunami

6 February 2014

Buddhism and Shinto, Richard Lloyd Parry writes, ‘have been pressed into the service of the true faith of Japan: the cult of the ancestors’ (LRB, 6 February). The situation he describes will be familiar to anyone who has read Carmen Blacker’s The Catalpa Bow (1975), a world where the line between the living and the dead is gossamer thin and where the need to pacify spirits who have been denied...

Don’t Blame Us

17 March 2011

I was forcibly reminded of Iain Pears’s warnings of the coalition’s attempt to ‘extinguish all meaningful independence in higher education’ when I recently learned how Cambridge University, my own institution, plans to maximise its returns in 2013 (Letters, 14 April). There are staff whose whole lives are now devoted to working the system and we are being forced to follow suit. There is, of...

The End of Research

25 February 2010

Ross McKibbin rightly castigates Hefce for the absurdity of using ‘impact’ as a measure of research in the humanities (LRB, 25 February). It is right and proper that universities should be accountable for public funds, but the funding mechanism has for many years been exerting undue influence on the kind of research we do. It generates a form of self-censorship, whereby we aim for short-term benefit...


Brigid Brophy, 6 October 1983

A small ad in Private Eye seeks a companion ‘sexy, feminine and discrete’. Siamese twins, I suppose, need not bother to apply. It is harder to divine why this translation of...

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