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Internationalist in prewar Japan : Nitobe Inazō, 1862-1933 Oshiro, George Masaaki


Nitobe Inazō (1862-1933) ranked among the elite in prewar Japan. He had won early fame, before he was forty years old, as a scholar and a master of the English language with his book Bushido, the Soul of Japan. Subsequently, his career as an administrator in Taiwan, headmaster of the prestigious First Higher School, a scholar of Colonial Policy at Tokyo Imperial University, a noted writer of popular literature for youth, and later Under Secretary-General at the League of Nations and Japanese Chairman of the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) made him a well-known personage both within Japan and abroad. He was constantly in the public's eye, and was frequently invited to address diverse audiences on inter-cultural topics. But after his death in Victoria, British Columbia in 1933, his work fell into obscurity. Most Japanese in 1985 do not know who he is, except for the fact that his portrait now adorns the 5000 yen note. There are several published biographies of Nitobe, in Japanese and in English, but thus far, no one has attempted to reconstruct his career upon an investigation of primary materials. Therefore, much of the facts concerning his life are inaccurate, as they stem mainly from anecdotes published after his death. Though Nitobe authored over twenty books--in English, Japanese, and German--and hundreds of articles, only one work, Bushido, has survived the ravages of time. He was not, in my opinion, a "thinker" who held and expressed subtle and profound thoughts. Rather, he was a man of action who, by his behavior, influenced a great many people, especially the young. For this reason, I deal only summarily with his ideas. Scholars disagree on Nitobe's importance in history. His many disciples still adore him as a great man who contributed much to the development of internationalism and liberal thought in postwar Japan. But many others see him as a misguided moralist and reactionary who buckled when he encountered militarism within his country in the 1930s. This dissertation is a biographical study of Nitobe. It is divided into three main parts: Part One, "The Making of the Internationalist" deals with the first 44 years of Nitobe's life. Part II, "Educator East and West," which focuses on Nitobe in middle age, examines his activities as a charismatic Japanese educator during the late Meiji and Taishō periods; and in Part III, "Diplomat in International Limelight" the focus is upon the activities that Nitobe engaged in during the last 14 years of his life. The theme that runs throughout the dissertation is the "internationalist." Except for the Introduction and Conclusion, I utilize a narrative style. I have relied upon diverse sources of information, including archives in Japan and North America, as well as interviews and letters with people who knew Nitobe personally. I portray Nitobe as a man who, early in life, became obsessed with achieving honors for himself, on the one hand, and a place of respect among the leading nations of the world for his country, on the other. He was a highly idealistic man who, nevertheless, acted always in a pragmatic way. Ideals were things to be worked for. In a world of conflicting values and demands, Nitobe knew that ideals realize themselves slowly. His actions, thus, whenever they appear to be a compromise of his higher principles, have to be seen in light of the circumstances that surrounded him.

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