Emperor Akihito to honor Hebrew U. prof for Japan studies

Prof. Ben-Ami Shillony will be the first Israeli recipient of the Japan Foundation Award for Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange.

By DEVORAH POLAK
October 20, 2010 05:52
2 minute read.
Hiroshi Shigeta

Hiroshi Shigeta 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

“The Japanese and the Jewish cultures are two of the most successful stories in modern history,” says Prof. Ben-Ami Shillony, who will be honored at a ceremony in Tokyo on Monday.

Shillony, professor emeritus of Japanese Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will be the first Israeli recipient of the Japan Foundation Award for Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange. This prize honors the person who contributed the most in the sphere of Japanese studies and the promotion of international exchange between Japan and other nations.

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Shillony immigrated to Israel from Poland in 1948 and began studying history and philosophy at the Hebrew University. In 1965, while browsing an Israeli newspaper, he came across an advertisement for a scholarship for studies in Japan. He had always been interested in Asian religious and political history, but the dearth of such classes at Hebrew University in the ’60s prevented him from turning that interest into something more substantial.

Shillony applied for the scholarship and received one of the two offered world-wide.

He spent the next two years studying in Japan and quickly fell in love with the language and culture. Shillony was encouraged to discover that Japanese society as a whole was very admiring of the Jewish people.

“Many Japanese believe that the Jews control the world and are exceedingly intelligent. Instead of leading to anti-Semitic rhetoric, the Japanese feel it is in their best interest to stay on the Jewish people’s good side,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Shillony then spoke about a group of Japanese dignitaries who had visited the Hebrew University and brought with them The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a gift, believing that the book was actually a compliment to the Jewish people and their alleged global power.

Shillony attributes the Japanese philo-Semitism partly to Shinto, indigenous Japanese beliefs where spirits roam the world and exact punishment from people who treat them badly and reward those who treat them well. Some Japanese believe that Europe is being treated poorly by the Jews today because of the wrongs perpetrated against the Jews in the Holocaust.

Shillony said Japan was very welcoming to Jews during World War II, opening its doors to refugees when other countries did not.

While there are very significant cultural differences between Japan and Israel, Shillony said the two peoples are similar in that they both have been on the front lines of most of the world’s achievements.

Japanese representatives will be attending this week’s OECD tourism conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma).

This will not be the first award Shillony receives from Japan. In November 2000, Japanese Emperor Akihito, through Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Shigeta, presented him with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Star.

This time, however, he and his wife, Lena Shillony, professor emeritus of French literature at the Hebrew University, will be granted an audience with the emperor and empress.

Shillony’s numerous publications include Haha naru tenno (The Emperor as a Mother Figure), Revolt in Japan, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan and The Jews and the Japanese: The Successful Outsiders.


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