Dr. Jiro Yamaguchi, considered to be a leading expert in the world on contemporary Japanese politics, lectured to about 60 people last Thursday in the ballroom of the Smith Memorial Student Union. The event was co-sponsored by the Consulate-General of Japan and Portland State’s Center for Japanese Studies.
Introduced on Thursday as “Japan’s most famous political scientist,” Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hokkaido University and is often quoted in international media.
Hokkaido University is one of Japan’s most prestigious public universities and one of two universities in Japan with which Portland State has an exchange program.
Ken Ruoff, director of the Center for Japanese Studies, said Yamaguchi’s lecture served to further educate professors about politics in Japan, strengthen ties between the universities and establish Yamaguchi as a valuable contact.
“Professor Yamaguchi knows everyone who’s anyone in Japan,” Ruoff said. “Including the prime minister.”
Yamaguchi was briefed extensively on Oregon politics when he arrived so he would have something to take back to Japan with him.
Ruoff also taught at Hokkaido University and is currently working on a book about the ceremonies held throughout Japan in 1940 to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of Imperial Japan.
The Center for Japanese Studies has enjoyed unusual popularity, according to Ruoff. He said the Portland area demonstrates an enormous interest in Japanese culture and language. The interest in the program is mainly reflected in the enrollment numbers for third- and fourth-year language classes.
Pat Wetzel, director of the Institute for Asian Studies, said enrollment for third- and fourth-year Japanese language stays are up to about 25 to 30 students.
Yamaguchi attributes this interest to Oregon’s close economic relationship with Japan. He said there are more than 100 Japanese companies in the region and Oregon exports a lot of product to Japan. Because Oregon’s economy depends, to an extent, on Japan, Yamaguchi thinks people in the northwest United States should stay informed on Japanese culture, economics and language.
During his stay in Portland, Yamaguchi did some sightseeing in addition to meeting with various business and cultural groups. He spent Saturday in Bend and had plans to go to Los Angeles for two days after that, where he expected to meet with members of the Japanese studies program at the University of Southern California.
Yamaguchi’s lecture, “Is Reform Possible in Japan?” focused on the mechanisms and weaknesses of the standing political system in Japan, failed attempts at reform in the 1990s and the factors that could make reform in Japan possible in the near future.
Yamaguchi expressed his pessimism concerning the abilities of the politicians currently in power.
“In the short-term, Japan is in deep trouble. The political parties are not capable of handling economic challenges,” he said, adding that he sees the possibility for Japanese democracy to improve over time.
For more information on the links between Japan and Oregon, visit the Japan-America Society of Oregon Web site at www.jaso.org. To know more about the Center for Japanese Studies at Portland State and upcoming events, visit their Web site at www.cjs.pdx.edu.