In This Review

America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy

America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy
By Naoko Shibusawa
408 pp, Harvard University Press, 2006

This is a bold book in which the author quite openly discusses the racial and gender prejudices of Americans toward the Japanese during World War II and the early Cold War. Americans recognized that there were "good" and "bad" Germans -- the latter limited largely to the Nazis themselves -- but the Japanese were more generally demonized with blatantly racist terminology. Even liberal scholars joined in the attacks on the Japanese by discussing the Japanese "national character" in quite negative terms. During the occupation, the U.S. military depicted the Japanese as immature people who needed instruction in many dimensions of modern life. Even with the advent of the Cold War, the treacherous, myopic, bucktoothed "Jap" continued to appear in American popular culture. Shibusawa makes the telling point that Americans eventually had to change their views of the Japanese in part because of feelings of guilt about dropping atomic bombs on two defenseless Japanese cities. American GIs also helped change the image of the Japanese, especially as many married Japanese women. Yet a degree of ambivalence lingered on, and there was some uncertainty as to what role Japan could best play in the emerging international system. This is a significant study that combines analysis of popular culture with judgments about international relations.