An expert in U.S.-Japan relations, the USC College professor emeritus earned special recognition for advancing Japanese studies in various posts.
Gordon Berger, professor emeritus of history at USC College, received the 2009 decoration of The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays With Neck Ribbon, from the government of Japan on Nov. 19.
The honor recognizes his actions to further U.S.-Japan relations during 15 years of service as a former director of the USC East Asian Studies Center.
Berger, a native of New London, Conn., spent most of his youth in New Jersey. He went to Wesleyan University and became the institution’s first student to study Japanese.
In his junior year, he visited Japan for the first time and immersed himself in the country’s language and culture for one year.
After graduating in 1964, he went on to Yale University, where he received an M.A. in East Asian studies and a Ph.D. in history (with a concentration in Japanese history).
Berger joined the USC faculty in 1970 and was the first tenured specialist in Japanese history to teach at USC.
Until his retirement in 2008, he taught Japanese history at USC to more than 8,000 students and contributed to the Ph.D. programs of graduate students in various Japan-related fields.
He served for 15 years as director of the USC East Asian Studies Center and the USC/UCLA Joint East Asian Studies Center, building a foundation for the advancement of Japanese studies in Southern California and more broadly in the United States.
Under his leadership, the centers secured U.S. federal grant funds and enriched academic programs, graduate fellowships and a partnership between USC and UCLA.
Berger has served in numerous positions, including founding member of the Steering Committee of the Southern California Japan Seminar, director of the California Private Universities and Colleges student exchange program with Japan, consultant for the Japan Foundation and research fellow at the Ministry of Finance in Japan.
He was elected by his peers to a two-year term as chair of the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies.
Throughout his career, Berger has served as a conduit for mutual understanding between Japan and the United States, addressing a variety of research, teaching and outreach related to Japan.
He has carried out his personal and professional mission to inform Americans about Japan by lecturing about Japanese history in academic settings and by talking to interested groups and media about different dimensions of contemporary Japan.
Berger has provided orientation seminars about the United States to visiting businessmen, government officials, academicians and exchange students from Japan.
He is an avid fan of sumo, Japan’s national sport, and was for seven years the English-language commentator in Southern California for the TV program Ozumo Digest. In this role, he came to be known as Dr. Sumo.
Berger’s books include Parties Out of Power in Japan, 1931-1941 (Princeton, 1977) and an annotated translation of Kenkenroku: A Diplomatic Record of the Sino-Japanese War, 1894-95 (Princeton, 1982). He also contributed a chapter on Japanese politics in the 1930s to the seven-volume Cambridge History of Japan.
During his travels to Japan, Berger has made numerous presentations in Japanese and published extensively in Japanese academic journals and media outlets.
His academic study of Japanese political parties published in 1977 was later translated into Japanese under the title Taisei Yokusankai.