Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
America's Geisha Ally

America's Geisha Ally

Reimagining the Japanese Enemy

Naoko Shibusawa

ISBN 9780674057470

Publication date: 09/30/2010

During World War II, Japan was vilified by America as our hated enemy in the East. Though we distinguished "good Germans" from the Nazis, we condemned all Japanese indiscriminately as fanatics and savages. As the Cold War heated up, however, the U.S. government decided to make Japan its bulwark against communism in Asia.

But how was the American public made to accept an alliance with Japan so soon after the "Japs" had been demonized as subhuman, bucktoothed apes with Coke-bottle glasses? In this revelatory work, Naoko Shibusawa charts the remarkable reversal from hated enemy to valuable ally that occurred in the two decades after the war. While General MacArthur's Occupation Forces pursued our nation's strategic goals in Japan, liberal American politicians, journalists, and filmmakers pursued an equally essential, though long-unrecognized, goal: the dissemination of a new and palatable image of the Japanese among the American public.

With extensive research, from Occupation memoirs to military records, from court documents to Hollywood films, and from charity initiatives to newspaper and magazine articles, Shibusawa demonstrates how the evil enemy was rendered as a feminized, submissive nation, as an immature youth that needed America's benevolent hand to guide it toward democracy. Interestingly, Shibusawa reveals how this obsession with race, gender, and maturity reflected America's own anxieties about race relations and equity between the sexes in the postwar world. America's Geisha Ally is an exploration of how belligerents reconcile themselves in the wake of war, but also offers insight into how a new superpower adjusts to its role as the world's preeminent force.


  • America's Geisha Ally is a rarity: a sophisticated historical study that combines theory, archival research, and literary grace. Insightful and highly original, the book shows how popular culture reshaped the samurai and kamikaze villain into the innocent and seductive geisha and "oriental" child of the western imagination. How Americans came to terms with their victory over Japan is a marvelous counterpart to the literature on how postwar Japan came to terms with defeat.

    —Michael Schaller, University of Arizona


  • Naoko Shibusawa is Associate Professor of History at Brown University.

Book Details

  • 408 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press