How 'Professor Godzilla' Learned To Roar | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

How 'Professor Godzilla' Learned To Roar

Play associated audio

Hendrix College, a small school outside of Little Rock, Ark., is about to get a new president. His name is William Tsutsui, a Princeton-, Oxford-, and Harvard-educated economist, but he's best known for a certain expertise that has landed him the nickname Professor Godzilla.

Tsutsui first heard the infamous roar of the radioactive monster lizard when he was 8 years old, living in the tiny college town of Bryan, Texas.

"Unlike many Japanese-Americans, I've not ever had the experience of living in a place with a large Asian-American community," Tsutsui says. "So I've never lived on the West Coast, I've never lived in Hawaii; so for me it's really been, in a way, a very lonely experience."

Tsutsui was an only child and biracial; his dad was Japanese, and he had an Anglo mom. There was only one other Asian-American family in Bryan. He felt like an outlier, he says, and was bullied so much he had to be transferred to a different school.

But everything changed one day, as he lay on the shag carpet in his parent's bedroom, watching a big old Sylvania TV set.

"I see this huge Japanese monster dragging his scaly feet through Tokyo, and I thought, 'That is so cool, I want to be that monster,' " he says.

Life became more fun.

"I just wanted to wrestle with my friends in the same way," he says. "I'd be Godzilla and James would be Rodan, and we'd have this epic battle of monsters on the playground at Davey Crocket Elementary School in Bryan, Texas."

Tsutsui went on to become an economist and wrote books about business and banking in Japan. Most recently, he was a dean at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

"For a long time, I thought I had serious work, but I realize all the books that I wrote about Japanese history, most of the people who read them were my relatives," he says. "Whereas I wrote about a giant rubber monster rampaging through toy cities in Japan, and tens of thousands of people read it. So I'm actually real proud to be known as the guy that studies Godzilla."

His first book on the giant lizard, called Godzilla On My Mind, earned him his nickname, recalls Tsutsui's wife, Marjorie Swann.

"Often his students had trouble pronouncing his last name ... so they'd call him Professor Godzilla," Swann says.

It wasn't always easy being the wife of Professor Godzilla, Swann says, and had to draw a firm line in the sand about how much Godzilla was allowed in the house.

"Bill has an entire office full of Godzilla toys. So he has to have very large, professional offices to take up all the Godzillas," she says.

Paul Dunscomb, a former student, recalls the lengths Tsutsui would go to to acquire Godzilla paraphernalia. Dunscomb did his dissertation in Japan.

"He actually sent to me his bank card and passbook, so I could draw on funds to basically buy for him Godzilla-related merchandise," says Dunscomb, who has known Tsutsui for nearly 20 years.

"It is one of the things that certainly defines him as a human being, the fact that he has this outsized love for a 50-meter, radioactive lizard," he says. "In many respects, I think he's been a real pioneer."

The way Tsutsui sees it, Asians were not really known in this culture for being leadership types, and Godzilla spoke to that view.

"Godzilla clearly was the boss; he was in charge, he was the hero, he was the focus of these movies," he says. "And I think from that I perhaps have taken some lessons about leadership and stepping forward and asserting myself."

As the new boss of Hendrix College, Tsutsui's planning to make his mark by putting a giant inflatable Godzilla out on the quad for his inauguration next spring.

Copyright 2014 KERA Unlimited. To see more, visit


Fresh Air Weekend: Toni Morrison, Ross Macdonald's Crime Fiction, Will Forte

Nobel laureate Morrison reflects on her life and her regrets; Maureen Corrigan reviews a reissue of four of Macdonald's 1950s novels; SNL alum Forte discusses comedy and Bruce Dern's acting advice.

PepsiCo Swaps Diet Drink's Aspartame For Other Artificial Sweeteners

The company says Diet Pepsi consumers are concerned about aspartame. But the Food and Drug Administration has long affirmed that the sweetener is safe in amounts commonly used by beverage companies.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy On Gun Control, Vaccines And Science

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was officially sworn in this week. His confirmation was held up for more than a year because of comments he made about gun violence. Murthy talks with NPR's Scott Simon.

As Health Apps Hop On The Apple Watch, Privacy Will Be Key

The notion of receiving nutrition advice from artificial intelligence on your wrist may seem like science fiction. But health developers are betting this kind of behavior will become the norm.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.