Frank Gibney, 81; Authored Seminal Books on Japan

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 13, 2006

Frank Gibney, 81, a journalist, author and commentator who wrote seminal books on Japan, helped expand Encyclopaedia Britannica's operations in Asia and started a research organization focused on trans-Pacific relations, died April 9 at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. He had heart ailments.

Working for naval intelligence during World War II and as a postwar Tokyo bureau chief for Time and Life magazines, Mr. Gibney saw firsthand the pivotal events of East Asian life during the mid-20th century.

His debut book, "Five Gentlemen of Japan" (1953), was among the first to depict humanely the wartime enemy through portraits of a journalist, a naval officer, a steelworker, a farmer and Emperor Hirohito.

Writing in the New York Times, reviewer Elizabeth Gray Vining, a Quaker schoolteacher who tutored Japan's Emperor Akihito, noted the lack of caricature in Mr. Gibney's book. This was so distinct from films and other propaganda of the era that painted the former wartime enemy as bucktoothed devils.

The book proved enduring. Richard Halloran, a former Times correspondent in Asia, once said: "Over the years, a few books have equaled it, but none has surpassed it."

Mr. Gibney's other volumes included "Japan: The Fragile Superpower" (1976), which contrasted American and Japanese cultural and business traditions; "Miracle by Design: The Real Reasons Behind Japan's Economic Successes" (1983); and "The Pacific Century" (1992), which charted the rise of Pacific Rim culture.

The last was turned into a 10-part public television series that featured the author. The series won a News & Documentary Emmy Award for historical programming.

Frank Bray Gibney was born in Scranton, Pa., on Sept. 21, 1924. He was raised in New York, where his father was a restaurateur. While at Fordham Preparatory School, he won an oratory contest and a scholarship that allowed him to attend Yale University.

While studying Latin and Greek, he was recruited by the Navy for his language abilities. He was ordered to master Japanese and sent to the Pacific to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war.

"My only knowledge of Japan was derived from the daily scare headlines in the newspapers and from my recollection of the Mr. Moto detective stories in the Saturday Evening Post," he wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2003.

His naval experience and his cultural intercourse with the Japanese during the postwar U.S. occupation shaped his later career.

While with Time Life, Mr. Gibney was one of the first news correspondents in Korea when major conflict arose there in 1950. He was nearly killed when the South Korean army prematurely detonated a bridge during the frenzied evacuation of Seoul.

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