At a May 12 ceremony, the government of Japan recognizes former UCLA Center for Japanese Studies Director Fred Notehelfer for his contributions to history and Japanese studies in the United States. He is one of 70 non-nationals to receive the Order this year.
I think they politely ignored my first book.
Fred Notehelfer, the founding director of the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies and a UCLA emeritus professor of history, on May 12, 2009, at the Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles was decorated with one of the highest honors conferred by the Japanese government. He received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, for his contributions to Japanese studies and academic and cultural exchange between Japan and the United States.
"I've always told my graduate students that this would never happen," Notehelfer said in a telephone interview. "I think they politely ignored my first book." The 1971 book, Kotoku Shusui: Portrait of a Japanese Radical (Cambridge), was about an anarchist who was executed in 1911 for alleged participation in a plot to kill the emperor.
Notehelfer (left) on Tuesday with Junichi Ihara, the consul general of Japan in Los Angeles
During four decades of teaching at UCLA, Notehelfer went on to write studies of two influential Americans in Japan "and other people who were perhaps less threatening to the imperial institution." More broadly, he studied Japan's transformations in the 19th and 20th centuries and its emergence as a modern nation-state. He directed the Center for 16 years and co-directed a Southern Californian consortium for East Asian studies for 20 years.
"I started my career as a painter," he said, "and [the scholar and former U.S. Ambassador] Edwin O. Reichauer and a few others convinced me that with my background, having been born and raised in Japan, that I really should do something on Japan."
After trying to pursue both careers through the mid-1970s, Notehelfer "gave up painting and concentrated on my Japanese history and on developing an infrastructure for Japanese studies at UCLA."
Now retired on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Notehelfer is painting again. He also enjoys Japanese literature and works of history that he had read "cursorily" while under pressure to publish articles.
Notehelfer is one of 70 non-nationals from 32 countries to receive the Order of the Rising Sun this year. Other non-Japanese recipients include Kenyan Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai (Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun), for raising awareness among the Japanese people about environmental protection, and film director Clint Eastwood (Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays With Neck Ribbon), for contributing to mutual U.S.-Japanese understanding in his productions.
For more on the award and Notehelfer's legacy at UCLA, see coverage in The Daily Bruin.