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Nitobe Inazō : biography

1 September 1862 - 27 1933
was a Japanese agricultural economist, author, educator, diplomat, politician, and Christian during the pre-World War II period. 


Nitobe was a prolific writer. He published many scholarly books as well as books for general readers (see below). He also contributed hundreds of articles to popular magazines and newspapers. Nitobe, however, is perhaps most famous in the west for his work Bushido: The Soul of Japan (1900), which was one of the first major works on samurai ethics and Japanese culture written originally in English for Western readers (The book was subsequently translated into Japanese and many other languages). Although sometimes criticized as portraying the samurai in terms so Western as to take away some of their actual meaning, this book nonetheless was a pioneering work of its kind.

The reception and impact of Bushido: The Soul of Japan were quite different in Japan and the West, however, with Japanese scholars such as Inoue Tetsujirō and Tsuda Sokichi criticizing or dismissing the book. It was not until the 1980s that Bushido: The Soul of Japan reached the height of its popularity in Japan, and is now the most widely-available work on the subject of bushido. In the West, Bushido: The Soul of Japan has been a best-seller since the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and has been translated into dozens of languages.[ Oleg Benesch. "Bushido : the creation of a martial ethic in late Meiji Japan." PhD dissertation completed at the University of British Columbia, 2011.]

Nitobe's writings are now available in Nitobe Inazo Zenshu (the Complete Works of Inazo Nitobe), a 25 volume set from Kyobunkan, 1969-2001. His English and other western language work are collected in the 5 volume Works of Inazo Nitobe, The University of Tokyo Press, 1972.

Major critical essays on Nitobe's life and thought were collected in John F. Howes, ed. Nitobe Inazo: Japan's Bridge Across the Pacific (Westview, 1995). Full biography in English is: George M. Oshiro, Internationalist in Pre-War Japan: Nitobe Inazo, 1862-1933 (UBC PhD. Thesis, 1986); and in Japanese by the same author: Nitobe Inazo, Kokusai-shugi no Kaitakusha (Chūō Daigaku Shuppanbu, 1992). The most detailed account of Nitobe's life after his tenure in the League of Nations, available in English, is: Nitobe Inazo, The Twilight Years, by Uchikawa Eiichiro (Kyobunkwan, 1985). Six (6) critical essays on Nitobe's legacy are included in Why Japan Matters!, vol.2, edited by Joseph F. Kess and Helen Lansdowne (University of Victoria, 2005), pp. 519–573, 655-663.

His portrait was featured on the Series D of ¥5000 banknote, printed from 1984 to 2004.

The Nitobe Memorial Garden at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada is named in his honour.

A Second Memorial Garden has been built at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Early life

Nitobe was born in Morioka, Mutsu Province (present-day Iwate Prefecture). His father was a retainer to the local daimyō of the Nambu clan. His infant name was Inanosuke. Nitobe left Morioka for Tokyo in 1871 to become the heir to his uncle, Ota Tokitoshi, and adopted the name Ota Inazō. He later reverted to Nitobe when his brothers died.

Diplomat & Statesman

When the League of Nations was established in 1920, Nitobe became one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League, and moved to Geneva, Switzerland. He became a founding director of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (which later became UNESCO under the United Nations' mandate). His legacy in this period includes the settlement of territorial dispute between Sweden and Finland over the Swedish-speaking Åland Islands. In its resolution, the Islands remained under the Finnish control, but adopted complete disarmament (i.e., no military presence on the islands) and granted autonomy, averting a possible armed conflict (See also Åland crisis).

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine