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Meet Professor Ken Ruoff
Meet Professor Ken Ruoff

Ken Ruoff is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at Portland State University. In 2004, he was awarded the Osaragi Jiro Prize for Commentary, Japan's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, for the Japanese translation of his book The People's Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995 (Harvard East Asia Monographs, 2001).

In 2019, Ruoff published an updated version of his study of the monarchy in the postwar era covering developments through to the abdication of Emperor Akihito and the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito: Japan's Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945-2019.

The year 2019 proved to be a busy one for Ruoff because of the various imperial events.  After his book about the Heisei Monarchy (1989-2019) was published in Japanese in January 2019 『天皇と日本人 ハーバード大学講義でみる「平成」と改元』, Ruoff was asked by virtually every media in Japan, first and foremost NHK (Japan's equivalent of the BBC), to comment on imperial happenings.  Ruoff appeared on 5.5 hours of live interviews for NHK. 

Additionally, on the very day that he arrived in Japan in late June to debate the famous conservative commentator and manga artist Kobayashi Yoshinori about the role of the emperor in Japanese society, a 13-hour debate in Japanese over two days that was then compiled into the book 『天皇論「日米激突」』, far right commentator Yagi Hidetsugu accused Ruoff of conspiring with the Asahi Newspaper (Japan's equivalent of the New York Times) to put a "mixed-race emperor" on the throne by calling for a change in the law to allow women to ascend to the throne. This bizarre charge left many people shaking their heads, but it disgusted Kobayashi, who repeatedly denounced Yagi as a racist, asking over and over what would be wrong with a mixed-race emperor anyhow.  

Suddenly Ruoff found himself squarely in the middle of a national debate about the future of the imperial house, which was really a debate about the definition of what it will mean going forward to be Japanese, issues covered in all three of the books he published in 2019. 

Dr. Ruoff's 2010 book, Imperial Japan at its Zenith: The Wartime Celebration of the Empire's 2600th Anniversary (Cornell University Press, 2010), is a sweeping study of Japan in 1940. It was awarded the 2012 Frances Fuller Victor Award for Nonfiction. This book was also published in Japanese translation in December 2010 in the Asahi sensho series under the title 『紀元二千六百年 消費と観光のナショナリズム』.

In 2014, the Consul General of Portland presented Dr. Ruoff with a commendation for improving the understanding of Japan and also enriching the cultural life of Portland both through the programs sponsored by the Center for Japanese Studies and through his scholarship.

Professor Ruoff received his A.B. with honors from Harvard College in 1989, and his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1997. From 1994-96 he was a research fellow and then lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Hokkaido University. In 2004, he was a Visiting Fulbright Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at Kyoto University.

His present research interests include national heritage tourism of the far right and, in broader sense, the far right in postwar Japan. 
 

February 22, 2020 broadcast interview with Ken Ruoff on Asia Today with Jeffrey Bingham Mead

 


Japan's Imperial House in the Postwar Era, 1945-2019

Harvard University Press, 2019
 

With this book, Ruoff updates his classic study of the postwar monarchy through 1995 up through the end of the Heisei Era and the beginning of the Reisei Era in 2019.  Many Japanese continue to define the nation's identity through the imperial house, making it a window in 75 years of postwar history. This updated book examines recent developments, including the Abdication of Emperor Akihito and the heir crisis, which have brought to the forefront the fragility of the imperial line under the current legal system, leading to calls for reform.

For more details»

 

『天皇論「日米激突」』


This book, based on a 13-hour debate between Ruoff and Kobayashi Yoshinori, covers a wide range of topics, including the silliness of maintaining a male-only lineage in an era when gender equality is becoming the global standard.  It also responds specifically to Yagi Hidetsugu's hysteria about the possibility of a mixed-race emperor by asking what would be wrong with a mixed-race emperor.  The debate covered virtually every issue relevant to the contemporary imperial house. 

For more details»

 

『天皇と日本人 ハーバード大学講義でみる「平成」と改元』』
 

This book traces the history of the Heisei Monarchy (1989-2019) under Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, stressing that five themes characterized the era: 
(1) an unabashed support of the postwar system characterized by pacifism, democracy, and interna­tionalism; (2) efforts to compress the margins of society by reaching out to the most vulnerable members and also by extending a hand to others marginalized by geography and other factors; (3) efforts to bring closure to the postwar era by trying to heal the festering wounds of the war and of the imperial era in a more general sense; (4) demonstrations of pride in the best that Japan has to offer, but a pride tempered with a cosmopoli­tanism that clashed with simplistic nationalism, including in reference to views of Japan’s history; and (5) the unusually active and important role Michiko played.  The book includes with an examination of some of the causes that the new emperor and empress, Naruhito and Masako, have indicated an intention to lend their prestige going forward.  

For more details»

 

Imperial Japan at its Zenith:
The Wartime Celebration of the Empire's 2600th Anniversary

Cornell University Press, 2010

With this book, Ruoff uses the 2600th anniversary celebrations of the imperial dynasty (staged in 1940) to examine Japan's invention of a national history; the complex relationship between the homeland and the colonies; the significance of Imperial Japan's challenge to Euro-American claims of racial and cultural superiority; the role of heritage tourism in inspiring national pride; Japan's wartime fascist modernity; and, with a chapter about overseas Japanese, the boundaries of the Japanese nation. This book was awarded the Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction. 

For more details »

 

The People's Emperor:
Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995

Harvard East Asia Monographs, 2001

This comprehensive study analyzes numerous issues, including the role of individual emperors in shaping the institution, the manner in which the emperor's constitutional position as symbol has been interpreted, the emperor's intersection with politics through ministerial briefings, memories of Hirohito's wartime role, nationalistic movements in support of Foundation Day and the reign-name system, and the remaking of the once sacrosanct throne into a "monarchy of the masses" embedded in the postwar culture of democracy. The author stresses the monarchy's "postwarness," rather than its traditionality.

For more details »

 

Two Epilogues (updates covering imperial developments through 2009) that Ruoff wrote for successive Japanese versions of the book that have not been published previously in English are now available at the following web links:

2003 Epilogue »
2009 Epilogue »

 

『紀元二千六百年 消費と観光のナショナリズム』

Translation of Imperial Japan at its Zenith published by the Asahi Newspaper Publishing Company in its Asahi sensho series (December 2010). Includes an essay interpreting the significance of the book written by Professor Hara Takeshi. Translation by Kimura Takahisa.

For more details »

 

 

 

『国民の天皇 —— 戦後日本の民主主義と天皇制』

Originally published by the Kyodo News Publishing Company in 2003, and winner of the 2005 Osaragi Jiro Prize for Commentary awarded to the best book in the social sciences published the previous year, the Japanese translation of The People's Emperor has been available since April 2009 in the Iwanami gendai bunko series. Includes two updates on imperial developments since the English-language version was published in 2001. Translation by Kimura Takahisa, Takahashi Hiroshi, and Fukushima Mutsuo.

For more details »

 

 

Portland State University | Department of History
Cramer Hall 441-I
1721 SW Broadway
Portland, Oregon 97201

503-725-3991
ruoffk@pdx.edu

http://web.pdx.edu/~ruoffk/