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03 Jan 2019

It is with much sadness that we report the death of Professor Ronald Dore, aged 93, at his home in Grizzana Morandi, Bologna on 14 November 2018.

One of the outstanding figures of post-war Western scholarship on Japan, Ron Dore’s Japan story began at the School of Oriental Studies (SOAS) at the age of 17. What unfolded from that point onwards and the impact it had on the rest of his life, which we celebrate here, and which he recently declared* had been ‘a bloody good life’, is best told in his own words…†…:

‘…the real [Japan]  story [turned out to be] just a chapter of accidents:  the luck of being in the right place at the right time when an enthusiastic English teacher came into the classroom a few months after Pearl Harbor, waving a piece of paper about special courses in exotic languages to prepare for military intelligence work. “You should apply for this Dore. Anthony Eden read Persian at Oxford and look where he’s ended up.” The luck of being put on the Japanese course despite making Turkish my first choice….The luck of being so clumsy that when we were finally inducted into the army and were doing our basic training, I tripped over my rifle, injured a knee, went to hospital, got behind the draft and so was still available to be mobilized to teach expanded later courses when my chums had gone off to India. The luck of being introduced not just to the Japanese language, but also to Japanese sense and sensibility by splendid teachers, notably Frank and Otome Daniels.

The luck of being able to take an external London BA in Japanese while seconded to the staff of the School of Oriental Studies with all the pedagogic authority of a sergeant-major. The luck of being given the perfect PhD subject, going on my demob leave to catalogue the W.G. Aston library in Cambridge and coming across his copy of Hokusai’s account of his seventeenth-century education.  The luck of being born in those happy days when the fact that I never got that PhD was no obstacle to getting a university job. 

The luck of being nudged into taking my dabblings in sociology seriously when I discovered that all the Language and Literature jobs that I had vaguely been aiming for were filled, and the only one left was one curiously titled ‘Japanese Institutions’. The luck of belonging to an age when air travel was vastly expensive so that one went to Japan by boat, and having invested seven weeks in getting there tended to settle down for a while: hence the chance of two trips in the 1950s, to spend over three bachelor years immersing myself in Japanese life. ‘

*According to Maria Paisley, his ‘loving and beloved’ companion since the mid-1980s and mother of his son Julian.

…†From  The Collected Writings of Ronald Dore , Japan Library, 2002

Paul Norbury, publisher of his last book, Cantankerous Essays: Musings of a Disillusioned Japanophile , writes:

‘Working with Ron as one of his publishers in his later years required (unsurprisingly!), close attention to detail, tact and considerable patience. At times, our relationship echoed that of the traditional Japanese sempai-k ōhai ( master-student) relationship. But that was perfectly OK: there was never any question that it was a privilege to be associated with one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century. Our first project together was the republication of his 1958 study Life in Japan: A Study of a Tokyo Ward (Japan Library, 1999) for which he wrote an extended new introduction entitled: ‘Tokyo 1950 Revisited: An Astonishing Half-century of Change’. Allowing himself to step into the quick-sands of the astrologer’s compass, he concluded thus: ‘ So, let me prove to the reader that this is not, after all, just a typical old man’s jeremiad. I not only hope, I even believe, that the first decade of the twenty-first century will be better for most of us than the present one; better, certainly, for the Shiayama-cho children in those photographs, the shrieks of whose carefree play brightened my earnestly student days in 1950.’

This was followed in 2002 by his Collected Writings , quoted above, which comprised twenty-four essays culled from over five hundred papers and articles, prefaces and afterwords, in both English and Japanese, listed in the Bibliography (up to 2001), the first entry being ‘Poole Grammar School Overseas’ (Letter from Tokyo), 1950, and concluding with (in English) ‘Reform? The Dubious Benefits of Marketisation’ in C. Freeman, ed., Economic Reform in Japan: Can the Japanese Change? (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2001).

In May 2014 he emailed me out of the blue to ask if I would consider publishing a highly esoteric collection of essays (from the ‘Picketty Boom’ to ‘Human Progress?’) which he had entitled ‘O Tempora  O Mores : The disillusioned musings of a once-Japanophile Leftie.’ He also offered alternative titles including, ‘Cantankerous Essays’. I chose the latter. I subsequently became aware that I was not the first port of call and that the proposal had ‘done the rounds’. Nevertheless, I was drawn both to the humour and characterisations in his June-September 2014 diary entitled ‘Return of the Near-native’ (at this time he was giving serious thought to the idea of living out his last days in Japan) as well as to the broader notion of having a ‘final hurrah’, providing a platform for ‘concluding remarks’ by a voice that had inspired two generations and that would finally depart, with sadness for, rather than exaltation of the country that had been at the heart of his scholarship and which for so long had paid the bills.’

NISSAN INSTITUTE LECTURE : Thursday, 17 January 2019, from 2.00-4.30 pm. ‘Remembering Ron Dore: Reflections on his contributions to social science from his study of Japan’. Places can be booked at: