Legacy

In Memoriam: Ezra Vogel

1930—2020


Ezra Vogel
Japan Society mourns the passing of Ezra F. Vogel, towering scholar, academic, author, and bridge-builder across East Asia and the United States. Recipient of the 1998 Japan Society Award, longtime Board Member and committed believer in the importance of U.S.-Japan relations, Dr. Vogel was renowned for his pathbreaking scholarship in exploring the rise of Japan and China as global superpowers—culminating in both academic and bestselling texts—that received great acclaim across both sides of the Pacific. This commendation made him a favorite speaker for, and champion of, the Japan American Society network that he supported in countless ways.

Dr. Vogel was the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University, Director of Harvard’s Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, and Director of its Asia Center. Professor Vogel was a long-time contributor to Japan Society—as a member of its Board of Directors, as advisor and program participant, and in many other ways. Serving as an advisor to the Clinton administration for two years, Professor Vogel briefed Cabinet members as an East Asia officer on the National Intelligence Council. He made lasting contributions to better American understanding of East Asia, enlightened U.S. foreign policy, and worked ceaselessly to strengthen partnerships across the Pacific.

Dr. Vogel inspired generations of students from diverse disciplines and professions to become productively engaged with Japan, China and other Asian countries. He was legendary for his mentorship and generosity of time, including through his “juku” study group which he hosted out of his home in Cambridge.

Joshua W. Walker, Ph.D., President and CEO of Japan Society reflects, “The last trip I took before the pandemic was to Harvard’s U.S.-Japan Program that Ezra-sensei founded and invited me to speak at. Professor Vogel not only introduced me as a speaker, but insisted I stay at his house. Despite his frenetic schedule, he always made time for those he mentored and made us feel as though we were the center of the universe. That night, I fondly remember staying up late together to watch the Democratic Primary Debate. I was in the presence of a giant playfully pitching the most intelligent questions on U.S. foreign policy to candidates as they performed on his television screen. His ebullient curiosity and brilliant questions underscored the fact that I was in the same room as the most preeminent scholar of East Asian relations of our time, who could have been having this discussion with anyone on that stage that night or with anyone in Beijing or Tokyo. Yet the next morning, this ever humble legend insisted on personally making me his famous avocado toast for breakfast, ensuring I felt cared for and welcomed. He was tirelessly helpful and would personally arrange the details of every meeting he would graciously set up for me among his vast network of admirers and students—many of whom are now the leading authorities and voices in their own right—in Boston and beyond. He connected and gave freely in everything he ever did for me and countless other mentees that have been blessed by him over the decades.”

After graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1950 and serving two years in the U.S. Army, Professor Vogel received a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard in 1958. Following two years of research in Japan, he became an assistant professor at Yale. In 1961 he returned to Harvard as a post-doctoral fellow and became a professor there in 1967. Vogel succeeded John Fairbank to become the second Director (1972-1977) of Harvard’s East Asian Research Center and Chairman of the Council for East Asian Studies (1977-1980). He was Director of the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at the Center for International Affairs (1980-1987) and was Honorary Director. He was Chairman of the undergraduate concentration in East Asian Studies at Harvard from its inception in 1972 until 1991. He was Director of the Fairbank Center (1995-1999) and the first Director of the Asia Center (1997-1999). Vogel was Chairman of the Harvard Committee to Welcome President Jiang Zemin (1998). He also served as co-Director of the Asia Foundation Task Force on East Asian Policy Recommendations for the New Administration (2001).

Vogel received honorary degrees from Kwansei Gakuin, the Monterrey Institute, the Universities of Maryland, Massachusetts (Lowell), Wittenberg, Bowling Green, and Ohio Wesleyan, Albion College, Chinese University (Hong Kong) and Yamaguchi University (Japan). He received the Japan Foundation Prize in 1996. His 1978 volume Japan as Number One: Lessons for America was a best-seller in both English and Japanese, and his 2011 Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China won the Lionel Gelber Prize.

Dr. Vogel was a national treasure and will be deeply missed by us all. We express our immense gratitude for his service and groundbreaking scholarship that succeeded in advancing U.S.-Japan relations. We offer our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

Image: © Ken Levinson.

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