Maruyama, Member of First US Olympic Judo Team, Awarded Japanese Order of Rising Sun

By Ernest Pund | May 01, 2013, 3:11 p.m. (ET)

 1964 Tokyo Olympics (from left to right) George Lee Harris, Jim Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (courtesy of Bruno Carmeni's Judo Blog).

Paul Maruyama, a member of the United States’ first Olympic judo team that fought at the very first Olympic judo competition in 1964 in Tokyo, has been awarded the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun.

The Gold Rays with Rosette, as it is called, is a deeply prestigious award bestowed by the Japanese emperor. Thousands of people a year receive the award but few of them, only about 40 this year, are non-Japanese.

Maruyama’s father and uncle both were honored with the Imperial Decoration, but they both were Japanese citizens. Maruyama is a U.S. citizen.

Maruyama noted that he is now honored to belong to another, very small group of recipients. He is the third member of that first U.S. Olympic Judo Team to receive the award. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, retired, also competed on the first Olympic Team, and received the Order of the Rising Sun, as did Yoshihiro “Yosh” Uchida, who coached the first U.S. Olympic Judo Team. Uchida is founder and coach of the San Jose State University Judo Club. Now a National Training Site of USA Judo, the SJSU club has produced the likes of Olympic Bronze Medalists Mike Swain and Marti Malloy.

“So here are Yosh and Ben and myself, and from one Olympic team. That’s significant, a credit to that first U.S. Olympic Judo Team in 1964,” said Maruyama.

The Gold Rays and Rosette is awarded for a broad range of contribution and cultural service, and the Consulate General of Japan in Denver noted the breadth of work done by Maruyama toward promoting Japanese-U.S. relations.

Perhaps most significant in respect to the award, said Maruyama, is that he is a co-founder and president of the Japan America Society of Southern Colorado. He is also a founding member of the John Manjiro Whitfield Foundation and played a key role with the organization hosting the largest ever grassroots cultural exchange of people between the two countries.

Maruyama, who lives in Monument, CO, was one of the first Japanese language instructors at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the first Japanese language instructor at Colorado College where he teaches now.

And, of course, he was a member of the U.S. Judo Team at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 and later coached Olympic Teams in 1980 (which the United States boycotted) and 1984.

Maruyama’s father was recognized posthumously. He assisted Japanese escaping Manchuria where 1.7 million were trapped after then Soviet forces invaded at the end of World War II. His uncle was a school principal and leader in education in Japan.

“It is humbling,” said Maruyama, “for me to be in that club, so to speak.”