PSU historian wins ‘Japanese Pulitzer’

It was 6 a.m. and the baby had been crying most of the night the phone rang. Professor Kenneth Ruoff was groggy and required a minute to let it all sink in.

The caller said that Ruoff’s book, "The People’s Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995," received the Jiro Osaragi Prize for Commentary, Japan’s equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize.

After learning he had won the prize he had to decide, at that minute, if he was going to accept it and travel to Japan to receive the award.

"It was the classic telephone call informing you that you had won a big prize," he said.

Ruoff will travel to Japan Jan. 23 with Portland State President Daniel Bernstine to attend the awards ceremony Jan. 27 at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

The prize is awarded for the best books published in Japan in the social sciences realm. It is named after Japanese Author Jiro Osaragi (1898-1973), who was one of the most famous writers in postwar Japan. Nine other individuals also received the award this year in other areas of study and will join Ruoff in the ceremony.

"It’s a fantastic development," Ruoff said. "There are many people who are deserving of this prize."

He will receive recognition for his work and his award of two million yen (approximately $19,000), at a ceremony that may be attended by close to 1,000 people.

Ruoff’s popularity in Japan is growing at an incredible rate, as well, and he has been contacted a number of times to do additional research and writing in Japan. He will also lecture about the Japanese monarchy on national television, which will reach millions of viewers in Japan. Sales of his book are also high.

Ruoff stresses that this was a collective process and many people in the history department helped and supported him in his writing of the book.

It’s a work of history, not just for Japan, but for the United States as well, Ruoff said. He went on to explain that it represents the strength of the history department at PSU and can benefit those studying or interested in history in general and Japan in specific. The book looks at both sides of the monarchy, right and left, and gives an understanding of how both sides influenced Japan to be what it is today.

"There’s a lot to be said about studying a group of people whose values you don’t share, rather than focusing on the history of liberalism," Ruoff said.

The book can be found at most local bookstores.