By Brendan Straub
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
When Jacob Schlesinger was given the opportunity to travel to Japan to write about the booming auto industry in the late 1980s for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), love at first sight engulfed him and he eagerly embraced Japan’s language and culture.
Today, Schlesinger is WSJ’s senior Asian Economics Correspondent and Central Banks Editor-Asia. He is based in Tokyo, where he has lived, on and off, for nearly 10 years.
Towson University’s Office of International Initiatives invited the journalist to campus recently as its Distinguished Global Speaker. Before a crowd of about 300, Schlesinger talked about Japan in the 21st century and its impact on peace, media and politics.
A big focus of the talk was about Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution, which stresses peace “based on justice and order” and the “Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.” Schlesinger said this stance by Japan contradicts the way the nation rules today. He noted that President Trump has an unduly influence on Japan as it seeks to bolster its arsenal of weapons.
“There was a moment of this idea of pacifism by U.S. Gen. McArthur for Japan after the war ended but the world was much less changeable than he thought,” Schlesinger explained to the audience. “They brought forth this new idea even though Japan is seen as this peace country engulfed by hostile states around them.”
In an interview with The Baltimore Watchdog, Schlesinger said his journalism career started when he was an Economics major at Harvard University. He began to write for the school newspaper.
“I was so obsessed with journalism that by the time I graduated it was the only real thing I was qualified to do,” Schlesinger said.
Also, Schlesinger had an internship at the WSJ but didn’t receive a job offer after he graduated with his bachelor’s degree. So, he began writing for the St. Petersburg Times, which is known now as the Tampa Bay Times. While working there, he became a business writer where he mixed his love for business and his passion for journalism.
“I think the focus on business helped me feel more comfortable getting hired and distinguishing my resume from what others could have offered,” Schlesinger said.
In 1989, Schlesinger was a reporter in Detroit for the WSJ, covering the auto industry. He said he had no background in Japanese culture when he was asked to visit Japan to write a story on the booming auto industry.
“The first day I landed in Tokyo was the day I moved there,” said Schlesinger. “However, what I ended up covering was a lot different than I thought I was going to cover but I ended up falling in love with Japan.”
During this trip, he met an American woman who grew up in Japan. Her love for Japanese culture became something they were both passionate about. She became his wife and they decided to stay in Japan where they would start their family. They have two daughters, one a recent college graduate who is a field organizer for the Nevada Democratic Party and the other who is currently studying engineering in California.
Schlesinger also is an author. His book, “Shadow Shoguns: The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Postwar Political Machine,” takes a look at a 20-year period from the 1970s and the 1990s, where the “corrupt political machine of Japanese politics” made it the world’s second largest economy.
Japan became a world power through its quasi democratic/capitalist government in trade and economics, Schlesinger said. The rise and fall of regimes have caused the country to look back into the shadows of past generations to understand the acid bubble government that caused the country to collapse.
“This political system had been seen as so successful during that time so when it became a mess, I became fascinated in writing about the political economy and the fall of Japanese politics.” Schlesinger said.
Schlesinger has received many awards for his work on Japanese politics. In 2003, he was a member of the team at the Journal that won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism. In 2014, he was awarded the Shorenstein Journalism Award from Stanford University for his outstanding reporting on Asia and the Western understanding of the region.
Saleha Suleman, assistant vice president for International Affairs at Towson and one of the event coordinators, said she left the event well informed about Japanese politics.
“I was really impressed by the depth and breadth of his presentation and his grasp of Japanese history, military and politics,” said Suleman. “I learned a lot about many facets of history that were not of my knowledge before.”
Towson student Methan Outtara said he felt that Schlesinger was able to discuss a very intense topic in very few words that helped him stay intrigued through the entire lecture.
“Overall, I think it well pretty well and he is a great speaker and really understands the country of Japan across all facets of economy and politics,” said Outtara.
Schlesinger said he will continue to write about Japanese politics with plans to one day move back to Japan with his wife, so he can experience more of Japan’s culture as a non-journalist.
“There’s so much that is wonderful about Japanese culture like the restaurants and bars that give people that home away from home feeling and I guess that would be a good second life to pursue,” Schlesinger said.