UW News

December 3, 2019

International studies professor Donald Hellmann to receive Japan government’s Order of the Rising Sun — highest honor for scholars

UW News

Donald Hellmann, UW professor emeritus in the Jackson School of International studies and of political science, has been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun from the Government of Japan, in recognition of his contributions in promoting academic exchanges and mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.

Donald Hellmann, longtime professor in the Jackson School, is being awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the government of Japan

Donald Hellmann

Hellmann, 86, teaches courses on Japanese government and politics, American foreign policy and the international relations of Northeast Asia. He joined the UW in 1967, chaired the Japan Program for several years, overseeing its expansion, and was director of the institute that would later become the Jackson School. He first visited Japan in 1961 supported by the Ford Foundation, and dedicated himself to research on postwar Japanese foreign policy.

A frequent author of papers and books on Japan, Hellmann’s 1969 book “Japanese Foreign Policy and Domestic Politics: The Peace Agreement with the Soviet Union” became a best-seller in its genre in Japan. University of California Press has recently republished the title as part of its Voiced Revived series, which brings “important and timeless works of scholarship” back into print to commemorate the publisher’s 125-year history.

The office of the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle announced the award Nov. 3 and he will receive the honor in a private ceremony this month. Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun has eight classes, or levels. Hellmann’s is the Order of the Rising Sun Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, which is the third class — the highest rank for scholars. He also received the Japan Consul-General’s Award of Commendation in January 2018.

Hellmann is one of several UW faculty members to receive versions of Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun. Others include Kenneth Pyle of international studies (and author of a recent book on post-World War II Japan); Mary Bernson, longtime director of the Jackson School’s East Asia Resource Center; Albert Kobayashi of mechanical engineering; Tetsuden Kashima of American ethnic studies, George Kakiuchi of geography; and Herbert Gowen, founder of Asian studies at the UW, in 1905.

UW Notebook asked Hellmann about Japan and its role in international relations.

Prof. Hellmann, how has Japan changed geopolitically since you first visited during the Kennedy administration?  

The Japan of the 1950s and early 1960s, while prosperous, was still operating under the shadow of defeat in World War II and the seven years of American occupation which had introduced radical political, economic and social reforms including one United States-written “peace constitution.”

Today, Japan has the world’s third-largest national economy — frequently described as “post-modern,” but not one word of the constitution has been changed and the same conservative elite has been continuously in power (e.g., Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather Kishi Nobusuke was also prime minister and his father would have been had he not had a fatal illness). 

What lies ahead for Japan in the 21st century?  

Japan brilliantly prospered during the Cold War as an elitist democracy in an American greenhouse, but during the almost three subsequent decades matters have been different. While still a rich country, the growth rate has significantly dropped. The conservative elite is still in charge, but has shown little capacity for innovative leadership domestically or in foreign policy. Finally, China’s dramatic economic and international successes has cast a shadow over Japan’s future and permanence of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

For more information, contact Hellmann at hellmann@uw.edu.

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