Professor Yujin Yaguchi, University of Tokyo, Offers Lecture on Pearl Harbor for Stanford e-Japan

Professor Yujin Yaguchi introduced diverse perspectives on Pearl Harbor to 27 high school students in Stanford e-Japan.
Professor Yujin Yaguchi in front of the main library at University of Tokyo Professor Yujin Yaguchi at the University of Tokyo; photo courtesy Risako Kondo

December 7, 2021 marked the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On the occasion of the anniversary, Professor Yujin Yaguchi, Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, University of Tokyo, gave a lecture on Pearl Harbor to high school students enrolled in SPICE’s Stanford e-Japan, which is taught by Instructor Meiko Kotani. Yaguchi has been an advisor to both Stanford e-Japan and SPICE’s Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP), an online course about Japan and U.S.–Japan relations that is offered to high school students in the United States and is taught by Instructor Naomi Funahashi. From 2004 to 2009, I worked with Yaguchi during the “Pearl Harbor: History, Memory, and Memorial” summer institutes for American and Japanese teachers that were hosted by the AsiaPacificEd Program for Schools, East-West Center, Honolulu.

Prior to Yaguchi’s lecture, Kotani compiled questions from her students to share with Yaguchi, and he used them to conceptualize his lecture. The students were also required to view a lecture by Stanford Emeritus Professor Peter Duus on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Yaguchi informed the students that he would be introducing diverse perspectives on the Pearl Harbor attack and also encouraged students to think about the questions that they had written while he delivered his lecture. He encouraged them to consider two questions that he devised based on the students’ questions: “Why do you ask such questions?” and “What do the questions tell you about how you think of the past and today?” Yaguchi noted, “I am kind of spinning the table around.”

Yaguchi set the context for his talk by giving a brief geographic and historical background of Pearl Harbor. He pointed out that for ancient Hawaiians, the name of the harbor now known as Pearl Harbor was Puʻuloa, regarded as the home of the shark goddess, Kaʻahupāhau. Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the U.S. Navy established a base on the island in 1899. Over the years, Pearl Harbor, along with the Naval Base San Diego, remained a main base for the U.S. Pacific Fleet after World War II. He also noted that Pearl Harbor is the most popular destination in Hawaii for American visitors.

Yaguchi pointed out that the excellent questions from the students were primarily about the United States and Japan. He posed the question, “But is Pearl Harbor really only about the U.S. and Japan?” and encouraged students to critically consider the following points, which were the five key points of his lecture.

  1. We need to see history in a longer and wider perspective.
  2. History is not only about powerful nation states.
  3. History is not only about (mostly male) politicians and leaders making decisions.
  4. Pearl Harbor means different things to many people.
  5. We need to see Pearl Harbor from multiple angles—especially from the perspectives of race and gender (non-white, non-Japanese, non-male)—those who have been making/writing history.

He followed up each point with specific questions. For example, “What does Pearl Harbor mean to the indigenous people of Hawaii or the Native Hawaiians?”; and “Was Pearl Harbor an attack on the United States” or “Was Pearl Harbor an attack on Native Hawaiians as well?” were follow-up questions to point number four. Yaguchi pointed out that he was born and raised in Hokkaido, the northern-most main island of Japan, and to his surprise one of the students mentioned that he lives in Kushiro, a city in Hokkaido that is Yaguchi’s ancestral hometown. Since the Ainu are an indigenous people from the northern region of Japan, particularly Hokkaido, Yaguchi’s questions prompted some students to think about parallels between the Ainu and Native Hawaiians.

At the University of Tokyo, I really encourage students to think about why you learn history in specific ways. Who decides what you need to study?

The five key points of his lecture led to many questions during the question-and-answer period. One student asked, “Is there anything that you keep in mind when teaching Japanese about American history or specific events such as Pearl Harbor?” Yaguchi replied, “At the University of Tokyo, I really encourage students to think about why you learn history in specific ways. Who decides what you need to study? I also encourage students to be critical of the education that you receive. University years are a time for you to reassess what you learn… We living in Japan or educating in Japan tend to connect Pearl Harbor as the beginning and the atomic bombs as the ending… or the cause and the effect. And this is a very common way of framing history. People in the United States do not necessarily think so.”

While listening to Yaguchi’s lecture, I reflected upon UTokyo Compass, which is the University of Tokyo President Teruo Fujii’s statement of the guiding principles of the University of Tokyo—the ideals to which the university should aspire and the direction it should take, under the title “Into a Sea of Diversity: Creating the Future through Dialogue.” In his lecture, Yaguchi extended the reach of UTokyo Compass to Stanford e-Japan high school students throughout Japan. Kotani and I were most appreciative the ripple effect of UTokyo Compass that he provided through his lecture. Kotani stated, “I am so grateful to Professor Yaguchi for introducing my students to not only diverse perspectives on Pearl Harbor but also for engaging them in questions related to epistemology.”

UTokyo Compass prompted me think about the importance of one’s “moral compass,” or a person’s ability to judge what is right and wrong and to act accordingly. Through Stanford e-Japan and the RSP, Kotani, Funahashi, and I hope to encourage high school students to remember to navigate their academic and professional careers with their own moral compass. In addition, as a compass always follows true north, I think that leaders should follow a set of unwavering personal values, including integrity. The students in Stanford e-Japan and the RSP are among the best and brightest in Japan and the United States and future leaders. I encourage them to singlehandedly change the world, to be changemakers.

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Meiko Kotani

Instructor, Stanford e-Japan
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