Wednesday, September 19

Professor in Japanese studies receives award

Dr. Fred Notehelfer, the driving force behind the establishment of UCLA’s Center for Japanese Studies, will be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government in a Los Angeles ceremony today.

The Order of the Rising Sun is one of the most prestigious of the decorations awarded by the Japanese government and are given twice a year to individuals both Japanese and foreign from a variety of fields.

Notehelfer has been designated by the emperor because of his contributions to U.S.-Japan relations, said Miriam Stenshoel, a representative of the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles.

Notehelfer said that since he was born and raised in Japan, the country was, in many ways, “in his blood.”

However, when he first began his studies at Harvard University, he was hoping to become a painter. It was not until he was approached by Dr. Edwin O. Reichauer, a noted Japanese scholar and former U.S. ambassador to Japan, that he began to reconsider.

Reichauer was a professor at Harvard at the time, and urged the young student to consider studying Japan, given his background with the country.

After changing his focus of study, Notehelfer went on to complete his doctorate studies at Princeton University before coming to UCLA in 1969.

“At the time, there was a very small department of Asian language and culture. … There was practically nothing in Japanese studies,” he said.

Notehelfer and a group of colleagues fought for the creation of a center for East Asian studies without much success until 1987, when a new report showed an influx of East Asian students to UCLA. It was later decided that the university should develop a program for East Asian studies.

When the department was officially established in 1991, Notehelfer was named as its first director.

“He basically founded the center. … He went through all sorts of bureaucratic hurdles. It was a great accomplishment,” said Mariko Bird, the center’s assistant director.

In addition to his work in founding the center, Bird said that Notehelfer taught as a professor of Japanese history for 35 years before his retirement last year.

“It was a wonderful experience working with him,” she said. “As an administrator, he is an extremely organized and fair person.”

Herman Ooms, a professor of Japanese history at UCLA, worked closely with Notehelfer for many years.

Ooms called Notehelfer a flexible collaborator and said that he was “very concerned with the development of students.”

In addition to teaching and directing the center, Notehelfer also released various publications about Western perceptions of Japan, Ooms said.

He added that these publications are part of what has made Notehelfer’s work so important to Japan.

“The Japanese government nowadays is very interested in Japan’s international relations,” he said.

Donald McCallum, a professor of art history, worked as a colleague of Notehelfer’s after the two arrived at UCLA in 1969, and said that there was very little available in the way of Japanese studies when they first came to the university.

“He worked very hard to get the Japanese studies center established,” McCallum said.

McCallum said that Notehelfer’s personal character was imperative in the foundation of the center, describing his colleague as “enthusiastic but determined.”

“Enthusiasm by itself doesn’t help very much,” McCallum said. “You have to have constant pressure to make sure the administration is supportive.”

McCallum said that Notehelfer’s work helped extensively to foster exchange between Japan and the West.

“By establishing the center, he’s able to send people from UCLA to Japan for research and bring scholars from Japan to the United States.”

Bird said that, largely because of Notehelfer’s efforts, the center has come to be one of the world’s leading Japanese studies centers.

The center offers many graduate fellowships for graduate students from across the globe to come to the center to take advantage of its many programs and research opportunities, she said.

“We’re doing all of that thanks to (Notehelfer),” she added. “His contributions have been tremendous.”

Though Notehelfer said he was very grateful to be honored with the Order of the Rising Sun, he also said that he shared the award with many others who fought with him to expand East Asian studies at UCLA.

“I’m a symbolic recipient of something that is much bigger,” he said.

Notehelfer, who retired in March of 2008, said he looked forward to pursuing other interests, including a return to painting.

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