RIP Ivan P. Hall (1932-2023), author of “Cartels of the Mind” and “Bamboozled”, and one of the last major postwar scholars of Japan


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Hi Blog.  It is with great sadness that I heard this morning of the passing of an old friend, Ivan Hall, aged 90, scholar of Japan and the world, and author of “Cartels of the Mind” and “Bamboozled“.  (Brief Wikipedia entry here.)

Notice of his death came from his nephew, and I will pass on his redacted announcement below.

I just want to say that Ivan and I spent a lot of time in Honolulu together in his last years, coming over to visit twice a year, and his work on Academic Apartheid in Japan got me into activism in Japan in the first place.  He’s one of the few people in my life I can call a mentor who took his mentoring seriously.

Now for the family notice:


Friday, February 3, 2023

Hi all.  My uncle, Ivan P. Hall (“Vani”), the last surviving member of my mother’s family, died yesterday in Hoenow, a remote suburb of what was once East Berlin, after a professional life spent primarily in Japan.

I’m Vani’s nephew. Though he lived overseas my entire life, he being childless and I being the only child of his only sibling, we were close. He would visit the U.S. every year at Christmas and we’d eat Indian food on the Lower East Side (he had served in the U.S. Information Service in the 1950s in Pakistan and in the future Bangladesh and taught me to love egg curry) and superannuated formal meals in the Princeton Club dining room. He supported me enthusiastically in my first career as a playwright – he acted in the first play I ever saw, as a five year old: a community theatre production of Arsenic and Old Lace in the Idaho mountains. (From a production of that farce he’d directed in South Asia in 1961, two of his then-college-aged actors went on to become Ambassadors and serve as Foreign Secretary, and a third became Foreign Minister and the drafter of Bangladesh’s Constitution.)

Vani and I had innumerable adventures together, traveling in New England, the American South and West, in Asia, and in South America. He contributed to adventures he didn’t even participate in – when my mother was taking my best friend and I skiing as 15-year-olds, before we set out Vani bought us a case of beer and helped us stash it in the trunk of my unsuspecting mother’s car. When I went to Indiana for a three-year MFA program, he gave me a cash gift that covered the shortfall between my fellowship and expenses.

When my mother was dying in 1996, Vani traveled from Japan to be with me by her side. He and I took a sleeper train together across the U.S. to bury her ashes in California.

Vani took delight in following our Noa exploits, though his favorite family member may have been my cat Shekhina, with whom he seemed to share some special plane of existence. (A family member said, “if we know for certain that anyone went to heaven, it’s Vani. He may be alone there. With Shekhina.”)

Vani was like no one anyone would ever meet, anywhere (unless they time-traveled or worked in a wax museum), a trilateral cultural Lawrence of Arabia; an anti-colonial colonialist, always aspiring to benevolence. A sweet, emotionally armored, voluble, lonely intellectual who today would probably be diagnosed as being on the spectrum. A seemingly effortless linguist, fluent in Japanese in addition to Continental languages, who, after retiring, took the opportunity to teach in China – in Chinese – in part “to buff up my Chinese.” Author of histories and politico-cultural criticism published in journals like The National Interest and in books published by university presses, W.W. Norton, and A.E. Sharpe, he wore many professional hats – cultural diplomat, university professor, U.S. Government official, journalist, cross-cultural impressario, musician. He recurred on a detective procedural on Japanese television in the 1970s.

Vani was brave, risking ostracization in his small world of Western Japan hands by publishing books calling out the Japanese for their persisting racism and cultural and intellectual xenophobia, and the West for its persistent myopia, naivete, and ignorance.

He engaged politically in multiple countries – bringing a landmark civil rights lawsuit in Japan and, after half a lifetime as a Rockefeller Republican, resigning loudly from his federal position in protest of Reagan policies.

His sense of humor was impish, at the end kiddingly upbraiding himself for his performance as a 90 year old: “would the Queen be behaving like this?!”

I miss him and I’m grateful I was able to know such a unique, loving man.  — Ivan Hall’s Nephew


So do I and so am I.

People who wish to pass their condolences or share their memories below of Ivan can put them in Comments below.  The family has given me permission to pass this information on to you, and will be sent a link to this blog entry.

Thank you again, Ivan, for being someone to so many of us.  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.



Ivan and me in Honolulu, Nov 4, 2014.

A rendering I did of Ivan in June 2020.  Acrylic on canvas.

Ivan in a former life.

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