Japan Foundation honors local poet, U.S. professor

A Japanese poet and an American scholar specializing in Asia affairs were named Friday as recipients of a prestigious annual award for distinct contributions to cultural exchanges between Japan and the world, award organizers said.

The Japan Foundation Award was presented to Makoto Ooka, who has been involved in the development of “renshi” (linked verse), and Gerald Curtis, a political science professor at New York’s Columbia University and a key U.S. commentator on Japan politics, at a Tokyo hotel.

Ooka, 71, is a literature graduate of the University of Tokyo who once taught at Meiji University in Tokyo, chaired the Japan Contemporary Poets Society and received several awards, including the Cultural Merit Award in 1997. His works have earned him a reputation as a “cultural emissary” for Japanese culture and literature abroad.

Curtis, 62, a professor of political science at Columbia University, has been named by Newsweek magazine as one of the 10 leading scholars on Asia in the United States.

A social sciences graduate of the University of New Mexico, Curtis is a columnist and adviser to the Chunichi Shimbun and Tokyo Shimbun. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the U.S.-Japan Foundation.

Described by the foundation as “one of the world’s most prominent political scientists knowledgeable about Japan,” Curtis has studied in Tokyo and has taught at Keio University. His major writings, including “Policy-making in Japan: Defining the Role of Politicians,” reflect his expertise on Japan.

Also Friday, the Japan Special Foundation Special Prizes were awarded to three groups: Tokyo-based Japanese Mothers for Foreign Students Movement of the Tokyo YWCA; the Old Japan Students’ Association, based in Thailand (OJSAT); and a Japanese studies department of an institute of Warsaw University in Poland.

Founded in 1961, the Tokyo-based group has been engaged in volunteer work to help exchange students, providing each with a foster Japanese mother to help them cope with life in Japan.

The Bangkok-based OJSAT, founded in 1951, has gathered together former exchange students to Japan to promote Japanese culture in Thailand.

The Department of Japanese and Korean Studies in Warsaw University’s Oriental Studies Institute, founded in 1919, has made great contributions as the “core Japanese studies organization” in Poland and central Europe, according to the foundation.

The Japan Foundation, an organization under the Foreign Ministry that promotes international exchanges, confers two kinds of awards to individuals and organizations each year in recognition of outstanding contributions in fostering cultural exchanges and mutual understanding between Japan and foreign countries.

Japan Foundation Award winners each receive 5 million yen, while special prize recipients each get 2 million yen.