Roger Fleming Hackett, 1922-2017 (contributed by Frank Joseph Shulman)

[Ed. note: H-Asia is privileged to post the obituary and tribute below for Professor Roger Hackett of the University of Michigan. It has been written, compiled and edited by Frank Joseph Shulman. The same essay has been posted on H-Japan.
Additional reminiscences of Prof. Hackett are welcome, and can be found or added here. RD]

Roger Fleming Hackett (October 23, 1922 - October 26, 2017)

Obituary        Reminiscences        Tributes

Roger F. Hackett, professor of Japanese History at the University of Michigan, peacefully passed away in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just shortly after his 95th birthday.

Born in Kobe, Japan in 1922, he was the son of Harold Wallace and Anna Luena (Powell) Hackett. His father was an "educational-administrative missionary" and served as treasurer of Kobe College. His son Roger grew up there together with his sister Elizabeth and two brothers Harold and David, speaking Japanese fluently and learning first-hand from their neighbors and friends about Japanese life and culture. Indeed, his fluency in Japanese was such that he remarked on one or more occasions that he could nearly pinpoint exactly where a native speaker of Japanese was from just on the basis of that person's speech. He attended the Canadian Academy in Kobe and upon graduation enrolled at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he met and married Caroline Betty Gray (1946), earned a B.A. in International Relations (1947), and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. During the intervening years of World War II, he joined the Navy, "was among a select group of young men" who studied at the U.S. Navy's Japanese Language School on the campus of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific theater as well as with the allied occupation forces.

Roger Hackett went on to study about East Asia at Harvard University, where he earned an M.A. in Regional Studies in 1949 and his Ph.D. in History in 1955. Written under the direction of Edwin O. Reischauer, his 417 page Ph.D. dissertation, "Yamagata Aritomo: A Political Biography," was a study of the life and career (1838-1922) of one of the foremost leaders of Meiji Japan in which he "determined the sources of this oligarch's political strength, examined the scope and direction of his influence, and evaluated the extent to which that influence shaped the character of the post-Tokugawa era." It was published as Yamagata Aritomo in the Rise of Modern Japan, 1838-1922, by Harvard University Press in 1971 (ix, 377p.) as volume 60 in its Harvard East Asian series.

Hackett was "among the postwar generation of scholars who brought East Asian Studies into the curriculum of American universities." He taught undergraduates East Asian history at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois from 1953 until 1961. He then moved to Ann Arbor to join the History Department of the University of Michigan as an associate professor. He was promoted to full professor in 1967 and served terms as the department's associate chair and chair (1975-1977). In addition, he was a core member -- including director from 1968 to 1971 and again during the late 1970s -- of the university's Center for Japanese Studies at a time when area studies in the United States were flourishing with the financial support of major foundations and the federal government. In the course of his long career, he worked extensively with both undergraduate and graduate students and supervised the writing of a large number of Ph.D. dissertations that "contributed to the rapidly expanding scholarship on modern Japan."

In addition to his book on Yamagata Aritomo, Roger Hackett conducted research on "the role of the military in Meiji and early Taishō Japan, the involvement of Americans in modern Japanese history, and the history of Japan's treaty ports." He authored a number of articles and essays on modern Japanese political and military history, among them "Nishi Amane: A Tokugawa-Meiji Bureaucrat" (in The Journal of Asian Studies 18, no. 2, February 1959), "Yamagata and the Taishō Crisis, 1912-1913" (in Studies on Asia 1962, edited by Sidney DeVere Brown, University of Nebraska Press, 1962), "The Military: Japan" (in Political Modernization in Japan and Turkey, edited by Robert E. Ward and Dankwart A. Rustow, Princeton University Press, 1964),  "The Meiji Leaders and Modernization: The Case of Yamagata Aritomo" (in Changing Japanese Attitudes toward Modernization, edited by Marius B. Jansen, Princeton University Press, 1965), "Political Modernization and the Meiji Genro" (in Political Development in Modern Japan, edited by Robert E. Ward, Princeton University Press, 1968), and "The Era of Fulfillment: 1877-1911" (in An Introduction to Japanese Civilization, edited by Arthur E. Tiedemann, New York: Columbia University Press, 1974).

Roger Hackett was a popular classroom teacher and dedicated faculty adviser, as attested by the reminiscences and tributes of more than twenty of his former students and colleagues (both faculty and administrative staff members). Over just the past three days, upon learning of his death, they have written about him as follows:

"Roger had a deep impact on my education, both in my choice of a thesis (first book) subject, and in writing. It was he who introduced me to Strunk and White [The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. 3rd ed., New York: Macmillan, 1959], and I am deeply indebted to him for this."

"I am saddened by Roger's passing. What a loss! Hearing about his death, I remembered the day when I met with him to go over the first chapter of my dissertation draft. He referred to Strunk and White as masters of style, and when I said I didn't know them, he asked if I'd read a terrific children's book, The Wind in the Willows, another example of masterful style. When I said no again, he dashed out the door to exclaim to a colleague that he had a Ph.D. student who didn't know Strunk and White or The Wind in the Willows!"

"Roger recruited me to Michigan (via the Center for Japanese Studies and the History Department) when I was finishing my undergraduate degree at San Jose State University under his childhood friend. He was my major adviser both at CJS and in History, and his wife Caroline was the Association for Asian Studies comptroller during many of the thirty years that I worked for them on the side. I was basically a self-educated, working-class, high-school dropout with a B.A. when I met him, and *irregardless* of the fact that I had pretty much memorized such basic works as Strunk and White, whenever I turned in a class assignment, he always patiently helped me to improve my standard American English, as when he tactfully explained that my frequent written use of the word 'irregardless' was a substandard, colloquial, dialectical, nonsensical combination of the words 'regardless' and 'irrespective'."

"Roger gave me support when I needed it most."

"I remain grateful for the help and kindness Roger extended to me over a long time. Ironically, I just passed through Kobe, where he grew up, guiding 18 friends on a three week tour of Japan."

"Roger played a huge part in my professional career: he helped me get a big dissertation grant, and then a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard that led, in turn, to the position I currently hold. He also tolerated my broad range of intellectual interests, and my inclination to follow my own interests, which usually did not dovetail with his. It all worked out in the end."

"I had Roger Hackett for a course on Meiji period Japan. As a budding art historian, I was much more interested in the Heian period, but this accident of scheduling opened an entirely new aspect of Japanese studies to me. As the area of his greatest strength, the course was challenging, informative, and ultimately unforgettable – something one can rarely say about a lecture course."

"One of the reasons why I got my M.A. in Japanese studies was because I so loved the courses I took with Roger as an undergraduate.  He was a warm, caring man and has always been in my small pantheon of favorite teachers."

"Roger Hackett was a wonderful man. I saw him with Professor Malm [William P. Malm, the eminent professor of Japanese music at the University of Michigan] a few years ago when I went back to the Center."

"Roger had such an impact on so many of our lives."

"I know I'm not alone in feeling very saddened by the news that Roger has died. What a remarkably interesting life he had. I'm glad I got to know him better as the years passed. Whenever I visited Ann Arbor, for research, to teach one term as a visiting professor, or to see my mother who lived in the same retirement community where he and Carol spent their last years together, I always made a point of seeing him and I believe this is true of many others. He was the kind of man who inspired loyalty in people who worked with him."

"As a 'perpetual presence' around Lane Hall and especially in the office of the Center for Japanese Studies during many of the years that I spent at Michigan as both a graduate student in history and a bibliographer, I got to know Roger in a range of capacities as a teacher, an administrator, and a dedicated scholar. I dedicated my first book, Japan and Korea: An Annotated Bibliography of Doctoral Dissertations in Western Languages, 1877-1969 (1970), to him out of gratitude for all of his support."

"My memory of Roger is of a truly egalitarian person who gave his students, including women, a high degree of support. He treated the female administrative staff with the same respect he gave everyone. When the tiny University of Michigan feminist group needed a place to meet, he allowed us to use the Center for Japanese Studies library until the group became too large for it."

"Roger hired me as an administrator at the Center while I was still living in Japan, based on a brief interview with Dick Beardsley. The move was typical of Roger, ever eager to believe and encourage the best from those under his guidance. He in turn proved to be the best of supervisors: kind, courteous, receptive to new ideas and methods. Though I never took a course from him, I benefited from his deep knowledge of and love for things Japanese. He shared his reminiscences, his family, his deep warmth and his humor. I witnessed daily the respect and affection he received from students and fellow faculty. He was approachable, yet authoritative; scholarly, yet down to earth. He cared deeply about those who came under his wing and became a role model for how we in turn might pursue our lives and our careers."

"Roger Hackett was indeed a pioneer in Japanese and area studies, sending his students out far and wide to teach. I worked several summers for him on the Japan Teachers Workshops for high school teachers who wanted to really teach world history, not Western history."

"I visited Roger Hackett at Glacier Hills Manor, his residence, in October 2015, when the Center for Japanese Studies invited my wife Suzuko and me to Ann Arbor for a few days. He was in a wheel chair but otherwise looked fine. He was clear about what he wanted to say. He told me about how he was brought up in Kobe. He also told me that he was still reading the New York Times. I was impressed with his intellectual desire to keep up with daily events, both national and international. In all we talked for about an hour. I knew him when I was a graduate student in Ann Arbor between 1964 and 1970. I found him to be a warm-hearted person. Soon after I got to know him, he called me "Nishihara kun," just like any Japanese professor addressing his students. I liked it and thought he perceptively knew something about professor-student relationship in Japan. I will miss him a lot."

"As a graduate student, I found Roger to be both an inspiring teacher and a thoughtful adviser in matters relating to my career. His autobiographical talks at the Center for Japanese Studies' bag lunches were fascinating. They offered insights into both life in prewar Japan and the academic study of Japan in the United States during the immediate postwar years, when it was very much a novelty. Indeed, as I recall, Roger was scheduled for one bag lunch, but he had so many good stories to tell that, if my recollections are correct, a second one was added so that he could finish. It’s a shame that he never published his reminiscences."

"The word that comes to mind when thinking about Roger Hackett is decency. He was a kind man and one possessed of fine intellect. Those are rare combinations in the academic world and outside of it. His contributions to the early childhood of Japanese studies in the United States are immeasurable. As one who shared his military background, I thought he had an almost complete understanding of young minds and what was required to optimize the development of those minds. He will indeed be missed."

"I never took a formal course from Roger Hackett, but I got to know him when I worked a couple of summers as a research assistant on a project, and also when we were in Tokyo for the same year and took a calligraphy class together. He had a car and would come by the house where I was staying with a Japanese family and drive me to the class. I learned a tremendous amount from him in these informal encounters, and have valued our friendship and his unflagging support through the years. He was a dear man who will be sorely missed."

"Roger was a good friend and colleague when I was at Michigan and I enjoyed his company and friendship from 1967-74. While he regularly 'schooled' me on the squash court, he occasionally let me 'win a game', reflecting his basic decency as a human being. He will be missed."

"Roger was CJS [Center for Japanese Studies] director when I was hired; he was very helpful then and ever after."

"Roger picked me up at the airport when I first visited Ann Arbor and, before heading to the Michigan League, took me on an automobile tour of all the athletic facilities on campus. (That was pretty much the beginning and end of my education in local gyms and fields.) Roger the fabled jock certainly wanted me to know the landmarks that mattered most. But Roger the peerless gentleman also wanted to give me time for the easy, gentle conversation possible only, when anxiety runs high, if delightful distractions provide the laughter. Such unfailing civility, in calm and stormy weather alike, lifted every subsequent meeting with Roger. It was never simple courtesy. It expressed a humanity and a humility so deep that the reach toward others was Roger's creed."

"My primary contact with Roger was as a member of the Center for Japanese Studies' Executive Committee during my time as Director in the mid-1970s and early 80s. These were some tumultuous years with delicate personal relationships. Roger was most supportive and a force for reason. Simple words yet they convey a great deal about the man himself."

"Roger was kind of an uncle to me when I arrived in Ann Arbor as a fledgling professor. Wise and kind. Since I don’t care about tennis, we talked about football, particularly about how his nephew Paul was doing. He arranged for Ruth and me to visit Paul, then a football coach at the University of Southern California, when the Association for Asian Studies met in Los Angeles. Roger and Caroline were good friends and a role model of a close and egalitarian marriage of high achievers for our entire time in Ann Arbor."

"I live only a few minutes away from the Hacketts’ retirement community in Ann Arbor, and often spotted Roger and Caroline shopping at the local supermarket. I will really miss him, particularly at the bag lunches, now called 'noon lectures', of the Center for Japanese Studies. He was such a regular."

Roger Hackett retired from active faculty status in June 1993, following 32 years of service at the University of Michigan, and was named "Professor Emeritus of History" in recognition of his distinguished career of "teaching, scholarship and service."

He became an active member of the Association for Asian Studies in 1948 -- this almost certainly made his tenure the longest of any member on record -- and a "life member" in 2004. From 1959 to 1961 he was editor of its Journal of Asian Studies, and he served on the AAS executive committee and board of directors from 1966 to 1969. One of his former colleagues recalls hearing that he attended the first annual meeting of the Far Eastern Association (the precursor of the AAS) as a student in 1949. In addition, he was a Social Science Research Council fellow, a Japan Foundation fellow, a fellow at St. Antony's College of Oxford University, and a member of the Japan Society, the International House of Japan, and the Ann Arbor Racquet Club. He loved a wide range of sports -- from basketball and soccer to tennis and squash --and was "always an athlete" throughout most of his life.

Following his retirement, Roger Hackett "pursued an active life, offering workshops on Japan to secondary school teachers, taking college classes, participating in Center for Japanese Studies events, volunteering for various causes, attending music concerts, playing and socializing with his tennis friends, traveling abroad," and spending time with his extended family. His survivors include Caroline, his wife of 71 years who worked as comptroller of the Association for Asian Studies between 1977 and 1994; their three children, Anne, of Adrian, Michigan; David, of Gainesville, Florida; and Brian, of Lake Ridge, Virginia; seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at a future date.

Messages of condolence may be sent to Caroline Hackett and the Hackett family at: Glacier Hills Manor, 1200 Glacier Hills Road, Apt. 549, Ann Arbor, 48105.

Note: The sources for this posting include obituaries in both the Ann Arbor News (November 5, 2017. and the New York Times (November 5, 2017.; "Memoir, Faculty History Project, University of Michigan" (; "Roger Fleming Hackett: Educator, Historian" (; published and unpublished bibliographical sources; and personal reminiscences from Roger Hackett's former students and colleagues.

Prepared by Frank Joseph Shulman ( with contributions and assistance from Beni, Jan Berris, Mary Elizabeth "Beth" Berry, Robert Borgen, Richard Briggs, Thomas W. Burkman, John Creighton Campbell, Robert E. Cole, Aileen Gatten, Maribeth Graybill, William B. Hauser, William D. Hoover, James L. Huffman, Stephen S. Large, Masashi Nishihara, Nancy Okimoto, Michael Paschal, Betsy Sato, Richard Jacob Smethurst, Patricia G. Steinhoff, Ronald S. Suleski, Susan Suleski, Harry Wilkinson, and Samuel H. Yamashita.

Frank Joseph Shulman
Bibliographer, Editor and Consultant for Reference Publications in Asian Studies
9225 Limestone Place
College Park, Maryland 20740-3943 (U.S.A.)

November 12, 2017