Nobutaka Ike, expert on Japanese, East Asian politics, dead at 89
Briefly confined to internment camp during World War II but released for language skills
Nobutaka Ike, a longtime Stanford professor of Japanese and East Asian politics and former chair of the Political Science Department, died Dec. 15 at Saint Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., following a brief illness. He was 89.
"[Ike] was one of a small number of leading people who were experts on Japanese politics," said Hubert Marshall, emeritus professor of political science and Ike's longtime neighbor on Alvarado Row. "He was a credit to the department."
Ike (pronounced EE-kay) was born in Seattle on June 6, 1916. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington in 1940. In the fall of that year, he and his future wife, Tai Inui, began teaching at the university but were abruptly fired after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. According to a University of Washington Daily article published Dec. 8, 1941, Ike was confused by initial radio reports of the attack. "I thought it was a recurrence of Orson Welles' imaginative invasion from Mars and couldn't believe it was true," he was quoted as saying.
A few months later, Ike, Inui and their Japanese-American families were relocated to Camp Harmony, a temporary facility within the internment-camp system created after Pearl Harbor. Ike, the camp's assistant chief interpreter, spent only a couple of months there until the U.S. military realized it needed his language skills. According to Dorothy North, the widow of Ike's longtime friend and colleague at Stanford, Robert North, Ike persuaded camp officials to release Inui in August 1942. The couple married shortly thereafter and spent the war at the U.S. Navy Language School in Boulder, Colo. Ike and other Japanese-Americans taught a group of elite Navy recruits selected for a crash course in Japanese at the University of Colorado. Known as "The Boulder Boys," graduates of the program served as interrogators, code breakers and translators during the war and later participated in the U.S. occupation of Japan. In the post-war period, many went on to become experts on Japan.
After the war, Ike earned his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University and, in 1949, came to campus as a research associate and curator of the Hoover Institution's Japanese Collections. In 1958, Ike joined Stanford's faculty as an associate professor of political science specializing in Japanese and East Asian politics. He served as department chair during the mid-1960s and as chair of the department's graduate admissions committee. During the late 1950s and 1960s, Ike also held visiting appointments at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Michigan, International Christian University in Tokyo and the University of the Philippines.
Ike became a professor emeritus in 1984 but continued to live on campus until about five years ago, when he and his wife moved Jacksonville to be close to their daughter, Linda Kelso.
"He was a very modest, quiet man, but when he opened his mouth [during a discussion with his colleagues] he nailed it," North recalled. "He was one of the most genuine, decent human beings I've ever had the privilege of knowing."
Ike wrote several books, including The Beginnings of Political Democracy in Japan (1950), Japanese Politics: An Introductory Survey (1957), Japanese Politics (1972), Japan, the New Superstate (1973) and A Theory of Japanese Democracy (1978). In 1967, Ike translated and edited Japan's Decision for War, based on the official records of the 1941 policy conferences, which revealed for the first time to an English-speaking audience that the Japanese general staff was aware of the possibility of defeat when they decided to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor but never officially mentioned it for fear of being thought treasonous.
Many years later, in 1982, Ike and Jan Triska, his longtime friend and colleague, self-published The World of Superpowers. Ike, Triska and North decided to write their own political science textbook, which accompanied a course they taught of the same name, to avoid the long delays and high book prices they associated with commercial publishers. The professors did the production and distribution themselves—Ike and his wife laid-out and pasted up the tabloid-style book on their dining room table at home.
Ike is survived by his wife of 63 years, Tai Ike of Jacksonville, Fla.; their daughter Linda Kelso of Jacksonville; and son Brian Ike of Darien, Conn.; and two grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions honoring Ike be sent to Henry S. Tatsumi Scholarship Fund for excellence in the study of Japanese, Department of Asian Languages and Literature, University of Washington, Box 353521, 225 Gowen Hall, Seattle, WA 98195-3521. In 1983, Ike and his wife established the fund to honor Professor Tatsumi, their teacher and mentor, using reparations money given to the couple by the state of Washington for being fired from their university positions in 1941.