Japanese government honors UMass Boston professor
UMass Boston Professor of Political Science and Institute for Asian American Studies Director Paul Watanabe has been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, by the Japanese government for his deep and longstanding “contributions to enhancing the social status of Japanese Americans in the United States.”
The honor is one of the highest civilian awards that the Japanese government confers. Higher honors are generally reserved for current and former heads of state and other leading government officials.
“I am honored, humbled, and proud of this recognition,” Watanabe said.
The Order of the Rising Sun honor, conferred last month, is the most recent recognition of Watanabe’s work on behalf of Asian Americans. It follows President Barack Obama’s 2015 nomination of Watanabe to serve as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and his 2012 appointment as chairman of the U.S. Census Bureau’s new National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations.
Watanabe, as a political science professor and former department chair, is on speed-dial for many reporters and media outlets looking for succinct analyses of the political issues of the day. On campus he is better known for his work as director of the Institute for Asian American Studies and having led several Honors College Colloquiums to Manzanar, a Japanese American internment camp in California, where Japanese Americans were kept against their will behind barbed wire fences and armed guards following the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“The students come from a variety of different fields – sciences, social sciences, and humanities – and are bringing their own perspective to what happened during the internment,” Watanabe said during a December 2015 interview. “Some are looking at poetry and plays that deal with some aspects of interment, while others are dealing with what happened to Japanese towns like Little Tokyo, the economic impact, and health challenges.”
Of his recent award from the Japanese government, Watanabe said, “It brings together my passions – my Japanese roots and my Japanese American community, my professional activities, and the privilege to work with so many supportive colleagues at my home for nearly 40 years at UMass Boston.”
“Paul’s contributions in and outside the classroom, to research as director of the Institute for Asian American Studies, and to his community locally and internationally is exceptional,” Interim Provost Emily McDermott said. “He exemplifies the passion, the dedication, and the commitment to UMass Boston that is shared by so many faculty and which makes this university such a great place to learn and achieve.”