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Pacific Basin Institute's Frank Gibney Talks About the 50th Anniversary Reprinting of His Classic Book

Published in 1953, Five Gentlemen of Japan: The Portrait of a Nation's Character provided a nation with insights into a country and culture that had recently been a mysterious and deadly enemy. Written by Frank Gibney, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer and now professor of history and president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College, the classic was reprinted by D'Asia Vu Reprint Library, in December 2003, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

Five Gentlemen was the book that "began to inform an entire generation about what had been to many an inscrutable Japan," says Richard Halloran, a former New York Times correspondent in Asia. "Over the years, a few books have equaled it, but none has surpassed it." "Many people remember [the book] as their first introduction to Asia and Japanese society."

"Really a series of snapshots taken at a particular time in history, the book...was extraordinary because it was the really first to describe the Japanese in Japan during and after the war and what they were dealing with," says Gibney. "It was one of the first three or four books about Japan and the Japanese to come out after the war."

The account of "the makers of New Japan" tells the life stories of a journalist, an ex-Navy vice-admiral, a steel worker, a farmer and Emperor Hirohito. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Japan was a poor, broken and troubled society. Many in both Japan and the West assumed that it would always be so. "But Gibney, who was a wartime intelligence officer and later journalist based in Asia, reported on Japan in such telling detail that readers can see in this book both the now forgotten atmosphere of that time and the basis for the 'Japanese miracle' to follow," explains the publisher. "He reported what it was really like at the time, how places looked, how people felt, what they knew and what they did not."

The author says he hasn't changed his mind about Japan in the intervening years. "Japan remains a very closely knit society of mutual responsibilities, obligations and associations," says Gibney. He does accede however, that "it might have been a bit more measured if I hadn't been 27 at the time."

Five Gentlemen of Japan is one of D'Asia Vu's first three books "partly because it was written so shortly after the war and because so few people knew anything about Japan, while he knew so much, says Douglas Merwin, founder of EastBridge Press (home of D'Asia VU). "The other remarkable thing about the book is that it has held up so well over time."

The goal of the D'Asia Vu Reprint Library is to republish classic books about Asia so that readers can "critically appreciate the range of views and how those views changed over time," explains Merwin. "We put a special focus on books that are effective in the classroom, books that make their many Asias vivid and personal."

Following Five Gentlemen of Japan, Gibney wrote eleven more books, including Korea's Quiet Revolution (1992), The Pacific Century (1992), and Japan: The Fragile Superpower (1975, 3rd ed., 1996). His edited books include Senso: The Japanese Remember the Pacific War (Sharpe, 1995) and, with Col. Hiromichi Yahara, The Battle for Okinawa (1995).

Gibney graduated from the U.S. Navy Japanese Language School and served during World War II as an intelligence officer in the Pacific theater and later in occupied Japan. He left the Navy in 1946 and became a Time magazine correspondent during the American Occupation of Japan. He first came to prominence reporting the Korean War in 1950, when he was Tokyo Bureau Chief for Time. He later edited at Time, Newsweek, and Life, before becoming publisher of Show in 1961. After joining the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1966, he spent ten years in charge of Britannica's business and editorial operations in East Asia. Since 1988 he has been an officer or director of the U.S. Pacific Economic Cooperation Committee.

Over the years, Gibney became a major interpreter of Japan to Americans and America to Japanese, known as a knowledgeable, genial presence in the PBS series "Pacific Century."

In 1979, he established the Pacific Basin Institute in Santa Barbara, California, which has served as a bridge between the United States and East and Southeast Asia for more than 20 years, sponsoring numerous interdisciplinary conferences, workshops and study groups that explore aspects of the growing Pacific community. In 1997, Gibney and PBI moved to Pomona, where the Institute and its unique Asia/Pacific film archive and production facilities play an integral role in the life and academic activities of the college. (More information on the Pacific Basin Institute and its events can be found at


Frank Gibney
The Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College
(909) 607-7467

Douglas Merwin
Publisher, EastBridge Press
(914) 592-8718