His book, "Imperial Japan at its Zenith" (Cornell University Press), explains how Japan’s cult of the emperor fueled support for the militarism that set the stage for World War II.
Ruoff is one of three finalists for the Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction. Literary Arts will announce winners at a ceremony April 23.
The book reveals new details that challenge the conventional wisdom that the Japanese people were unaware of their nation’s march toward war. The year before Pearl Harbor, for example, Japan honored Emperor Hirohito with elaborate celebrations and staged events that traced back imperial rule 2,600 years to the first emperor, who was descended from a sun goddess according to Japanese myth.
Oregonian writer Richard Read said in his review: “Perhaps all societies, to some degree, mythologize their founding fathers. Ruoff shows how Japan went to extremes in its colonial heyday, inventing elaborate stories glorifying its divine imperial lineage to boost patriotism and justify colonial conquest.”
Ruoff is a Portland State history professor who directs the university’s Center for Japanese Studies. His previous book, “The People’s Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995” was awarded Japan’s literary equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.