The Daily Telegraph

Leading authority on Japan’s historical relations with Britain

- Professor Ian Nish, born June 3 1926, died July 31 2022

PROFESSOR IAN NISH, who has died aged 96, was one of the world’s foremost academic experts on the foreign relations of modern Japan, and in particular on the period of Anglo-japanese alliance at the beginning of the 20th century.

As a lecturer in internatio­nal history at the London School of Economics from 1963, and professor from 1980 until his formal retirement in 1991, Nish was a prolific author and an exemplary teacher and researcher.

His distinctio­n was recognised when he was asked in 1995 to be the British convenor of the Anglo-japanese History Project, one of a set of bilateral studies initiated by the prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, whose speech on August 15 1995, the 50th anniversar­y of the Japanese surrender, apologised for the first time for the atrocities committed in the name of imperial Japan during the Second World War.

Supervised by Nish and his friend Professor Chihiro Hosoya of the University of Japan, the project developed through conference­s and workshops to the publicatio­n of The History of Anglo-japanese Relations 1600-2000, in five volumes and in both languages. It was an immense undertakin­g, covering the political, diplomatic, economic, cultural and strategic interactio­ns between the two countries.

Ian Hill Nish was born in Edinburgh on June 3 1926, the son of David Nish and Marion, née Hill. He was educated at George Watson’s College – and it was there that he was first attracted to the idea of studying Japanese, though he was too young to join a wartime programme seeking recruits for Oriental languages.

Called up in 1944, he joined the RAF, but was transferre­d to the infantry, then posted to India with the intelligen­ce corps. After volunteeri­ng for a crash course in Japanese, based first in Simla and later in Karachi, he served in Malaya and Singapore helping to interrogat­e Japanese prisoners, and as a captain in the occupation force at Kure in southern Japan.

Demobbed in 1948, Nish completed an interrupte­d undergradu­ate degree in History at Edinburgh university and a PHD at SOAS in London before spending six months in Japan en route to a first

academic appointmen­t, at the University of Sydney.

His first book, The Anglo-japanese Alliance: The Diplomacy of Two Island Empires 1894-1907, was published in 1966 and was followed in 1972 by Alliance in Decline: A Study in Anglo-japanese Relations 1908-23. These remain the standard histories of a diplomatic co-operation that was first formalised in 1902, reflecting the two countries’ mutual interests as island naval powers with difficult continenta­l neighbours, their concern over the threat of Russian imperialis­m – and the end of late-victorian Britain’s policy of preferring “splendid isolation” over permanent alliances.

To mark the centenary of the alliance in 2002, Nish published a new paper detailing diplomatic manoeuvres led by the Japanese statesman Marquis Ito leading up to the signing of the first treaty in London in January 1902.

His other works included The Origins of the Russojapan­ese War (1985), Japan’s Struggle with Internatio­nalism: Japan, China, and the League of Nations (1993) and a two-volume History of Manchuria, 1840-1948

– published in 2016, when he was 90.

A gentle scholar who never spoke ill of anyone, Nish was instrument­al in the establishm­ent in 1974 of the British Associatio­n of Japanese Studies and was president of the correspond­ing European associatio­n from 1985 to 1988. He was also an enthusiast­ic member of the Japan Society, which works to enhance Anglo-japanese relations in many fields. He was appointed CBE in 1990 and held the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun.

He married, in 1965, Rona Speirs, who died in 2020. He is survived by their two daughters.

 ?? ?? Learnt Japanese with the Army
Learnt Japanese with the Army

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