The Future of Japan: The Imperial House as a Window into Changing Definitions of What it Means to be Japanese
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - 6:00pm
The Future of Japan:  The Imperial House as a Window into Changing  Definitions of What it Means to be Japanese

The PSU Center for Japanese Studies Presents

A talk by Professor Kenneth J. Ruoff, Portland State University 

Co-sponsored by the PSU Department of History

February 25, 2020 | 6 pm
Room 327/8/9 Smith Memorial Student Union
1825 SW Broadway

Free and Open to the Public


After his book about the Heisei Monarchy (1989-2019) was published in Japanese in January 2019, History Professor Ken Ruoff was asked by virtually every media in Japan, first and foremost NHK, to comment on imperial happenings including the abdication of Emperor Akihito and the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito.  In this talk, Ruoff will alternate between explaining experiences such as what it is like to work in the world of live television (Ruoff appeared on 5.5 hours of live interviews for NHK), and the significance of the imperial house, which is how Japanese define what it means to be Japanese.  

The year 2019 was not an average one for Ruoff. 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 a book, 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.   What was it like to debate Japan's most famous cartoonist/social commentator, viewed by many as right of center, and then to be featured in a cartoon (manga) by Kobayashi?  What it is like to do battle with the far right, which does not play by polite academic rules?   Along the way, Harvard University Press asked Ruoff to update his landmark study of the monarchy in postwar Japan (the Japanese version of which was awarded Japan's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize), and the updated version came out under a new title in December of 2019. This makes this book talk very timely.  

Copies of all of Ruoff's books in Japanese and English will be on sale for cash.