Antti Leppänen has written about the controversy in Korea over Yonsei’s acceptance of money from the Sasakawa Foundation. See Hankyoreh’s english editorial on the “outrageous excuses” of the university in response and how there is the danger that “the academy risks becoming a den of profiteers instead of a hall of scholarship.”
Sasakawa Ryoichi, d. 1995, is a rather nasty right wing figure. There is so much about the man, it is hard to know where to start. He associated with wartime racketeering in occupied China, was a leader of the black uniformed fascist 国粋大衆党 (New York Times obituary uses the English “Patriotic Masses Party”), the owner of a private air-force of 20 bombers for use in wartime China, made a famous 1939 bomber flight to Italy in order to pose for pictures with Mussolini (who he allegedly described as a “a first-class person, the perfect fascist and dictator.”), single-handedly dominated postwar boat racing and gambling, was a friend, financial supporter and advisor to the Moonies, and had elaborate ties to the underworld. He spent three or four years in Sugamo prison as a Class A war criminal suspect (there is a claim by his supporters that he volunteered to be included, I don’t know the facts) and was apparently cellmates in Sugamo prison with former Prime minister Kishi Nobosuke (mug shot) and had very close connections to the infamous underworld figure and right-winger Kodama Yoshio. I’m also interested in rumors he was connected somehow to my favorite traitorous villain Kawashima Yoshiko, the adopted Manchurian princess known as the “Beauty in Man’s Attire.” Sasakawa served in the wartime Diet from 1942 and one of his two brothers was an LDP Diet member. Ryoichi continued various right wing and anti-Communist activities throughout his life. According to the NYT obituary, in 1978 he said in an interview that, “All my critics are red, or jealous, or else spiteful because I didn’t give them money.” If you want to read more, in 1997 his prison diaries were published and are still in print, there are some articles here, and this hilarious article about him in the Newsletter of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation called “Ryoichi Sasakawa – who makes us question what the Japanese should be”
However, the foundations established in his name pour money into Japan related research as well as humanitarian projects all over Asia and Africa. Antti admits to accepting Sasakawa money to work on his PhD thesis and I too have accepted the “tainted” war criminal’s money in 1997 along with a Danish friend of mine through a Scandinavia-Japan culture scholarship they offer. This money helped defray our living costs at the Inter-University Center in Yokohama where we both studied Japanese.
I have to confess I was somewhat uneasy about accepting the money at the time, but I don’t think I would have any doubts about it today. Ethical issues like this related to funding arise in many situations but despite the despicable ideas and actions of the original source of the money, I think this is probably one of the clearer cut cases for me. Like many other projects funded by his money, we are not obligated in any way to continue, support, or I believe even remotely legitimate the ideas and actions of the man. Unlike Jimmy Carter, who apparently also got quite a bit of money and support from the man to support his policies, none of us need to go jogging with the deceased scoundrel to show our gratitude.
In Learning Places and History’s Disquiet, scholars such as Harry Harootunian have discussed the many problems associated with academic funding and area studies in general. While I don’t agree with all aspects of this critique, it brings up important questions. I have recently heard a number of disturbing stories related to funding ethics involving certain Asia related programs in the US where some supporting institutions influence research topics, ask that their favorite (and occasionally controversial) native academics be given visiting scholar support, and in many other ways force professors or departments to participate in the legitimation of certain nationalistic or extremely politically charged mandates. Staying just on the US side, I cited one small example of the close connection between the US military and China academic studies in the US that I came across in my own studies on my own blog here.
I don’t think we have that kind of case with Sasakawa money, at least not some of the scholarships that Antti and I have taken advantage of. This is, however, and important issue and one which especially touches academic programs doing research on a particular country or region. Your own anecdotes and thoughts are welcome.