James Morley: In Memoriam

Former East Asian Institute Director James Morley died on Sunday, September 27, 2020. He was 99 years old. 

Professor Morley was a teacher, role model and friend. He was a mentor to generations of students throughout his long tenure at Columbia, which began in 1954 and lasted until his retirement as Professor of Political Science in 1991. In addition to his research and teaching work, he served for three separate terms as director of the East Asian Institute (renamed in 2003 as the Weatherhead East Asian Institute). In 1967, following his first term heading the Institute, he served as an assistant to the American ambassador to Japan at the US embassy in Tokyo, where he worked to strengthen the countries’ bilateral ties.

Professor Morley was a prolific scholar, and published such books as The Japanese Thrust Into Siberia, 1918 (1957), Forecast for Japan: Security in the 1970s (1972), Prologue to the Future: the United States and Japan in the Postindustrial Age (1974), and Japan’s Road to the Pacific War: Selected Translations from Taiheiyo Senso e no michi: Kaisen Gaikoshi (five volumes) (1976-1984). He also served as editor of such works as Dilemmas of Growth in Prewar Japan (1976) and Security Interdependence in the Asia Pacific Region (1986), among others. 

After breaking Japanese codes for the US during WWII, Professor Morley devoted his career as an academic to understanding Japan and to healing the US-Japan relationship. Recognizing his contributions, he was awarded the prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure, second class, by the Japanese government. He was also a recipient of the 1987 Japan Foundation Award for significant contributions to "the enhancement of mutual understanding between Japan and other countries."

Professor Morley is remembered for his warmth and generosity, and for inspiring and encouraging so many young East Asia scholars. The loss of Professor Morley is the loss of a great leader and a brilliant mind. He will be missed by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute community and by all who knew him. 

Photo Tribute

James Morley

"Jim, typically smiling, quizzical, and always there for you." Contributor: Carol Gluck.


"Jim was the mainstay of the East Asian Institute for years. Before and after he was director, he supported, encouraged, and energized faculty, students, and anyone else who came into his ken. Always welcoming, cheerful, and commonsensically ironic, Jim took time and care for all of us. He was a wonderful man. We owe him a lot. In the photo here, Jim is in the center with Gerry Curtis and Herb Passin on his left, a very young me on his right, taken maybe in Japan, maybe in the late 1970s." Contributor: Carol Gluck.


Photo was taken at Gerry Curtis's Retirement party. Featuring Bill Heinrich, Victor Cha and James Morley. Contributor: Bill Heinrich.


Jim Morley in 2015 at Winnie Olsen's award ceremony in New York City. Winnie was the publications person at the East Asian Institute. Contributor: Carol Gluck.

Victor Cha's Tribute

Written Tributes

My memories of Jim Morley are as both a wonderful teacher and a kind, delightful person. I learned a great deal from him during my years at Columbia three decades ago and I was always delighted when our paths crossed in subsequent years.

In 2004, when I was working on a study of the role of philanthropy in promoting the field of Japanese studies, Jim's name popped up repeatedly—from the impressive list of PhD candidates who received area studies fellowships from SSRC in the years immediately following the war, to the Ford Foundation records of a grant to Jim for a major project at Columbia on Japan's foreign relations in the early 1960s, to the account shared with me by a former Rockefeller Brothers Foundation official who recalled that he had been schooled in all things Japan by Jim and Herb Passin. And of course, Jim graciously shared his thoughts with me directly as well on the development of the field in which he played such an important part.

It was at that time that I realized he and I had lived in many of the same areas, although in different decades—from Bergen County NJ to Kakinokizaka in Japan, from summers spent on nearby lakes in the Adirondacks to neighboring towns in Massachusetts. Small world!

I know Professor Morley touched countless lives in the course of his career, and I hope his family takes solace in the memories shared here and those they hold dear in their hearts.

Class of 1990

In Fall, 1964, I was a senior in the College, and one day I was talking to my advisor Prof. Morley about what I might do with my life. He said, gee, my father was just saying the same thing (at age 80 as I remember), I told him that I was deeply into Japan—I had been there in the Army and studied a lot when I got back to school--but I had become disenchanted with my idea of going into journalism. “You could probably get a fellowship to study Japanese at the Interuniversity Center In Tokyo,” he said. “Really???” I replied. So the following September I set off for Japan with my wife Ruth and our two-month old son, effectively resolving my dilemma. Or I should say, that plus my decision a little later to apply to the Political Science PhD program at Columbia—never considered anyplace else—and Jim being able to scrounge around and get me enough financial support to do it.

To add one more memory, in 1969 when we were back in Tokyo for research on my dissertation, Jim was special assistant to the ambassador at the embassy, and Ruth and I had a lovely fancy dinner there with him and Bobbie. They were both always very kind to us and Jim was my inspiration as to what it means to be a professor and an advisor to graduate students.

I started my PhD program at Columbia in 1966 with the intention of focusing on American Government and Politics. Though I had fulfilled my undergraduate language requirement in Japanese, I had no particular ambition to expand my knowledge of the country beyond an esoteric whim to achieve fluency in a demanding language. In my undergraduate days all my social science and humanities courses had been reassuringly “Western-centric.”

On enrollment day, I heard through the graduate student grapevine that Professor James Morley taught a great survey course on Japanese politics. I enrolled. Thank goodness. The encounter with Professor Morley in the classroom removed some of the mysterious alchemy of academic research, teaching and self-learning for me. He asked us in class “Why is this question so interesting about Japan, why so important?” He was always attentive and

encouraging when students thought aloud. I learned about comparative modernization theory. He encouraged me, as well, to take a pathway to interdisciplinary study of East Asia provided by the East Asian Institute. Professor Morley’s quiet support of my days as a graduate student did not waver. In my writings he probed and strengthened the arguments. With his recommendations I was able to get significant fellowship support for field research. And with a yet uncompleted thesis, he wrote on my behalf for an academic position at the University of Toronto. He was a true 先生。

Michael Wade Donnelly, Dr. David Chu Professor Emeritus of Asia Pacific Studies and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of Toronto

Japan was the 2nd country for my doctorate in comparative politics. I took Professor Morley's course on Japanese politics in 1963. I enjoyed that course very much and learned a lot. He also helped me prepare for my Ph.D. orals, but, unfortunately he was on sabbatical when I had them. He, and other scholars on Japan, influenced my teaching of Japanese history and politics.

Class of 1963


Jim Morley was one of three reasons I went to Columbia, the other two being Gerry Curtis and Hugh Patrick. I am certain there has never been a better place anywhere to learn about Japan than EAI when those three were in their prime. Even before I met Jim, he had already lent me a helping hand by setting me up with a research institute in Tokyo that provided both contacts and a little extra cash for an impecunious graduate student.

What was a revelation was Jim’s approachability and unfailingly upbeat nature. It made my day if I had a chance to talk with him or attend his class. When he asked me to be rapporteur for the Modern Japan seminar, which he somehow believed was an onerous task, I jumped at the opportunity: the more time I spent with him, the better. His classes were a joy to attend because he was genuinely interested in having a discussion, sharing what he knew and learning what his students thought.

We connected on many levels. I still have a note he wrote me after he borrowed Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, which he saw me carrying around. He told me how much he enjoyed reading it and that it had led him to reflect on his own upbringing, which apparently had been difficult. So, we ended up having a long talk about fathers.

I won’t say that Jim made me what I am, but he is one of a handful of people who kept me pointed in the right direction. For that, and for his humor, good sense, friendship, and interest in his students as human beings I will always be grateful.

The photo below was taken at Gerry Curtis’s retirement: Victor Cha and I are flanking Jim. I was so pleased he could come. Even more amazing was his stamina: he sat through and participated in the day’s panel discussion, was engaging through dinner, and then put the rest of us to shame by delivering the most thoughtful and humorous appreciation of Gerry. Without notes!

I will miss that twinkle in his eye!

When I came to Columbia in 1977-1978, for reasons I could never understand because I had made clear to what was then called USIS who had given me the scholarship and to GSAS, that my interest was the Soviet Union, the advisor who was assigned to me wanted me to work on a different topic altogether. Fortunately, I vaguely remembered reading a book in Singapore called Samurai in Siberia about the Japanese intervention in the Soviet Far East after the Bolshevik Revolution by one James Morley. After ascertaining that this was the same person who was then in charge of the East Asia Institute, I approached him and asked to be my supervisor and he very kindly agreed to this brash request from an new graduate student from an obscure country that had unceremoniously barged into his office. I don’t know why he agreed.

He showed me what scholarship could be and also the best side of Americans. You will recall that NYC in the late 1970s and in particular the Upper West Side of Manhattan were perhaps not the best introduction to America for someone who had never previously visited the US. I came to Columbia vaguely anti-American as I guess almost everyone in Southeast Asia was in those days because of the Vietnam War, and left Columbia with a much better appreciation of the US which like every country has its warts, but can also be capable of great generosity and only America, and in particular the WWII American generation, can produce a person like Morley. I think of him whenever the likes of your President depresses me.

Anyway he and later Gerry Curtis also evoked an interest in Japan that complemented my interests in the USSR and China and actually that broad way of looking at the region — I will never forget Professor Morley’s seminar on the international relations of East Asia — stood me in good stead when I decided to abandon academia for the foreign service. He visited Singapore once that I know of in the late 1980s and I like to think I did something to interest him in Southeast Asia.

We exchanged greetings every Christmas — his being that very American letter detailing his and his family’s activities. and mine, alas, just a few scribbled lines on a card. I had visited him at Columbia and also entertained him a few times when I was at the UN and also visited him in NJ, but had not seen him in person since the late 1990s.

I had intended to visit him in 2017 when I was visiting Cambridge Ma and had been in touch to arrange it. But that was the year of a particularly heavy snow-fall in the Cambridge area and as I had to get back to Singapore so the trip did not materalise.

The death of a man who lived so long and who had done so much to change so many lives for the better should not be regarded as a tragedy. Rather, it is an occasion for reflection and rededication to what he lived by.

Joanne and I had great affection for Jim, in different ways. She was his student, and she can recall that experience in her own words. I knew him as a colleague. He was Institute director when I came to Columbia as a very young, wet assistant professor in 1971, and later he was my department chair. Of course I remember him and Bobby having people over to their house in - I believe Tenafly, right? - for dinner. Faculty behavior was very formal then, as I recall, compared to what it is today. At least it seemed that way to me as a young person who probably felt even younger than I really was, and Jim and Bobby seemed so grown up even though they were only in their 40s then. So too on campus, where Jim seemed hugely authoritative. But always so supportive.

The thing I remember most vividly is kind of a long story, but let me try to tell it relatively briefly. He and I were included on a group trip to China in 1973 called the "New York State Educators' Study Tour." How that came about is another long story; let's skip it. Anyway, the tour guides kept us under tight control the whole time (this was before Mao died) - but one day they let us off the bus for a short time in Hangzhou, and I wandered around, saw a huge wall poster on the wall of a building, and took some photos of it. That night the guides came to the hotel and said that a tall, bearded young foreigner in shorts had been seen taking some photos of an internal matter, and was that me? I said yes. They said this is an internal matter and not for publication, so please give us your film. (Remember film?) I said, okay, I will, but may I please finish this roll, I have a limited number of rolls and I just started this one, and you can remove those particular photos after I finish the roll. The guide said okay. Next day Jim and I and others were allowed to hike (or take a walk) in a scenic area and I finished up the roll and handed it in.

For reasons I still do not understand, some malfunction in the cranking mechanism of my camera (remember cameras?), the roll did not contain the photos I had taken of the wall poster. This sounds incredible, but it's true - I simply did not have the pix I took of that wall poster, whether on this or any other roll of film; when I got home and developed all my film those pix were not there. If it sounds like I protest too much, it's because I know the story seems incredible.

And so it was. The guides were furious, and threatened not to allow the tour to continue until I handed over the real, correct roll of film. Was I such an imperialist that I thought the Chinese were too dumb to know that I had switched rolls of film on them? Etc.

At this point my group of colleagues split. One faction believed I was lying, and they urged me to come clean. They were concerned about what might happen to us, alone behind the Bamboo Curtain. Would the regime treat us as spies? Expel us? The other faction was, as I remember it, Jim. Jim stood by me. He believed me. He was my senior colleague, I was in my second year as a nobody assistant professor, stuck in this totalitarian country, where we didn't know what might be done to us as a consequence of this inexplicable mechanical event. Jim was unwavering in his trust in me. It meant a great deal to me.

The rest is anticlimax. I stuck to my position out of a lack of any alternative, and Jim stuck with me. The crisis went on for a couple of days and then the guides, unable to force me to hand over the nonexistent photos, stopped talking about it and we went on with the rest of the trip. When they saw us off at the border station at Lo Wu, the senior guide did make some disparaging remark about me but we were able to cross over to the Free World without punishment.

I've always been so grateful to Jim for his trust in me. Why did he trust me? Was it out of institutional loyalty? Protectiveness for a young person? A more benevolent view of human nature than most people hold? Certainly it let me know that I in turn could trust him, which was a feeling I know shared by numerous people, because he was an honest and reliable person.

Years ago - ten? more? - Joanne and I were in the Boston area and we went by to visit him in Natick. Bobby had already passed. Jim was determinedly cheerful, vigorous, and busy. He was writing a history of the town, and had some leading role in a community garden that he showed us. He was of remarkably sound body and mind. We were impressed and wanted to visit again, but we don't have much occasion to go to Boston, and we never did.

I have had a happy time at Columbia and liked a lot of my colleagues, but Jim was one of the ones I liked the best.

He was genuinely my mentor in various ways. I owe what I am today to Prof. James W. Morley, a great tutor, listener, and adviser of life. I can still recall a pleasant and relaxed mood in a seminar room where we freely discussed Japan's foreign policy with my colleagues. I could picture him smiling in a large study in his old historic stone house in New Jersey together with his beautiful handwriting.  He was one of the most excellent teachers I had and was a gentle, respectful, warmhearted, decent, empathetic person.

Hiroshi Ohta, Professor at Waseda University

Jim was a long time mentor. His influence began in my first year of grad school when I took his ‘seminars’ (with about 40 others) in Japanese politics and Japanese foreign policy. He was an advocate for my first published article; he helped me wend my way through the transformation of my thesis into my first book; and he was instrumental in landing my first academic position at Cornell. My only opportunity to reciprocate came when EAI moved into the then new IAB in summer 1971. Temperatures were dreadful but the air conditioning was not working correctly; however, the huge windows were designed to remain shut….until I discovered how to open them with a scissors, letter opener and duct tape. My office suddenly enjoyed cool breezes and Jim was the first to applaud my mechanical ingenuity….and to demand that I open his. I happily did so, but a few weeks later, the Indian prime minister was scheduled to speak on the plaza. Jim was unpleasantly stunned when the Indian secret service detail came rushing into his office, convinced that the window had been pried open to allow a sniper to pick off their distinguished boss. The lack of heavy armaments in Jim’s office got him off but he never again asked me for help outside of our joint academic interests. 

T.J. Pempel, Jack M. Forcey Professor at University of California, Berkeley

Jim was my academic adviser, mentor and friend. I owe him a lot. When he invited me and some others to his home after our graduation, he asked me to taste white wine on the rocks. I told him it was very tasty. He later confessed me that it was sake on the rocks! One more thing to learn from him!? Ever since, I love drinking sake on the rocks, which tastes really like white wine! You are dearly missed, Jim.

Love, Hiro

Gerald Curtis in Conversation with James Morley

Read the full interview from December 18, 2015 here.

Gerald L. Curtis was the sixth director of the East Asian Institute and a former student of Director James Morley. Curtis received his PhD in Political Science from Columbia in 1969. 

Required to take a seminar on US foreign policy, Curtis signed up for one taught by James Morley and Dorothy Borg. “I had no idea that Morley was a leading Japan specialist and Borg an eminent historian of US relations with East Asia. The two of them changed my life.”

After reading Curtis’ seminar paper, Morley encouraged him to enter the PhD program and study Japanese. A year after entering, Curtis found himself in Tokyo, enrolled for the 1964-65 academic year at the IUC. “Tokyo was a vibrant, exciting city, the Center’s teachers, in particular Takagi Kiyoko sensei, Mizutani Osamu sensei, and Mizutani Nobuko sensei were inspiring, and I made friendships with fellow classmates that endure to this day.” Curtis credits the launch of his career and success to Professor James Morley. “James Morley was my mentor and eventually I succeeded him as the Japanese politics specialist in Columbia’s Political Science department.”

Director James Morley's Legacy

James W. Morley was the fourth director of the East Asian Institute, and served for three terms (1964-1967; 1970-1973; 1984-1987). Ruggles Professor Emeritus James Morley died September 27, 2020. He was 99 years old.

Professor Morley was an authority on international politics in the Asia Pacific region and Japanese foreign policy. He was a model and mentor to generations of students throughout his long tenure at Columbia, which began in 1954 and lasted until his retirement in 1991.

Professor Morley's government service included work as chairman of the U.S. Educational Commission in Japan and special assistant to the U.S. ambassador to Japan in 1967-69. In 1967, he also was a consultant to the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for implementation of the International Education Act of 1966. He was a consultant to the Department of State from 1970 to 1973 and in 1976 he was Bicentennial Lecturer to Japan on the invitation of the Fulbright Commission, the International House of Japan, and the Japan Foundation. He was active in the Japan Society, the Asia Society, and the Council on Foreign Relations and he served on committees of the United Nations Association, and the Atlantic Council of the United States. 

Learn more about his legacy here.