The Spirit of Nitobe Inazo

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About Inazo Nitobe

Who comes to mind when you think of someone associated with Hokkaido University?

There are William Smith Clark who was the first vice president of Sapporo Agricultural College (SAC), Sato Shosuke who served as the president/dean for more than 30 years, Miyabe Kingo who was a world-famous botanist, Uchimura Kanzo who was a Christian thinker, Arishima Takeo who was a novelist in the Shirakaba group and Nakaya Ukichiro known for his research on artificial snow, and the list goes on and on. Some may think of astronaut Mori Mamoru or Suzuki Akira who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Nitobe Inazo is another person who should be in the list.

The Monument in Honor of Dr. Nitobe Inazo is on the Sapporo Campus of Hokkaido University. The university gives the Nitobe Award to undergraduate students who achieve outstanding academic performance, and has an undergraduate program called Nitobe College to foster global citizens. The university library has a collection of 1,500 books called the Nitobe Inazo Collection. How is Nitobe Inazo associated with Hokkaido University? What did he achieve? These things are surprisingly unknown.

Nitobe entered the second class of Sapporo Agricultural College, the precursor of Hokkaido University, in 1877 and graduated in 1881. With the status of assistant professor of Sapporo Agricultural College, he went to Germany in 1887 to study, and he became a professor in 1891 after he returned to Japan holding that position until 1898. He was at SAC for four years as a student and eleven years as a teacher (his actual teaching tenure was for seven years). Looking at his social activities outside Sapporo Agricultural College, Nitobe was also an educator who opened the Enyu Night School for underprivileged children and advocated the expansion of opportunities for women to receive higher education.

He was also known as a writer who wrote many books including Bushido: The Soul of Japan. Nitobe, who also served as the Undersecretary-General of the League of Nations, is still highly evaluated as one of the most internationally-minded persons in modern Japan. He was also a scholar of colonial studies. He lectured on colonial studies at Sapporo Agricultural College, Kyoto Imperial University, and Tokyo Imperial University, and fostered many famous scholars in the field.

It can be said that Nitobe was a central figure in Japan’s colonial studies, which provided the academic pillar of support for Japan when it expanded its colonies and its rule/control in Asia. Nitobe himself was directly involved in the colonial rule in Taiwan as a high-level bureaucrat for the Japanese colonial government; and commented on Japan’s advance into the Korean Peninsula and Mainland China.

Among the descriptions of Nitobe Inazo as a historical figure, there are some filled with praise for his humanitarian activities, such as the establishment of Enyu Night School, while others fiercely criticize him for being a colonialist who was deeply involved in Japan’s colonial rule. In reality, however, both of these aspects are part of Nitobe, and such a multifaceted nature makes Nitobe Inazo a very interesting person.

Inazo Nitobe,17,in Sapporo Agricultural College in 1879 (owned by Hokkaido University Library)
Inazo Nitobe,24,in Johns Hopkins University in 1886 (owned by Hokkaido University Library)