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Prof. Shima casts a new light on modern Japanese history and legal history focusing on historical figures that have fallen into oblivion

Prof. Yoshitaka Shima
Faculty of Social Sciences

For over two years, Prof. Yoshitaka Shima has been writing a column entitled "Waseda Now and Then" for our CAMPUS NOW. He now talks about his study on modern Japanese history and legal history including his study on historical figures relating to Waseda.

Focusing on historical figures that have fallen into oblivion

I specialize in modern Japanese history and Japanese legal history. While reexamining the formation of modern Japan with reference to historical data, I want to cast a new light on historical figures and facts that have been overlooked or have fallen into oblivion.

As you know, the Meiji Restoration brought about the rapid modernization of Japan and the process has been described with a clique of Satsuma and Choshu elite who dominated the government and their activities. In the background, however, there were people who supported or opposed the government. Among such people, I'm now very interested in Taneomi Soejima, who was born, as I was, in Saga.

After his considerable contribution to the Meiji Restoration, Soejima served as Foreign Minister, the first Foreign Minister that led a mission to Beijing, displayed his diplomatic acumen. But, in 1873 (Meiji 6), he lost a political battle and fell from power. Although he returned to government service as jiko (imperial tutor) in the Imperial Household Ministry, there was even a conspiracy planned to prevent Soejima from joining the government. Soejima himself tried to resign but, dissuaded by the Emperor, serves at the Court all his life.

Until his late years, a lot of people visited Soejima at his home in token of respect for his preeminence in character.

The Meiji Emperor's letter to dissuade Soejima from resigning

The Meiji Emperor's letter to dissuade Soejima from resigning

It is humans that make and change history and laws. That is why I devote my efforts to the study of historical figures.
Eto's ceremonial court dress

Eto's ceremonial court dress

I've already published the first three volumes of Complete Works of Taneomi Soejima and the total number of the volumes will be eight or nine. Studies on Soejima will also take much more time, perhaps ten years or so. In this way, I've devoted my efforts to the study of historical figures because I believe it is humans that make and change history and laws.

Although it is difficult to understand the subtle complexities of politics as I've not been a politician, it is possible to try to understand a political figure and his views by carefully reading historical data left in our hands. And when we finally understand them or see them in reality, it is one of the true crowning moments in life.

I'm also interested in Shimpei Eto, who was also born in Saga and junior to Taneomi Soejima by several years. I visited his children and grandchildren at their home to take photograph of historical data, which I'm now reading carefully. Although started his career as a low-rank samurai called teakiyari, Eto was appointed to Minister of Justice but he also fell from power after the political battle in 1873 (Meiji 6) and, in the following year 1874 (Meiji 7), was executed in the Saga Rebellion. I also learn a lot from his life full of vicissitudes.

I want to elucidate aspects of the history by conducting a careful study on interesting figures.
Handgun Eto possessed when arrested

Handgun Eto possessed when arrested

It is important in studying history, of course, to see the age from multiple viewpoints. So, in the first semester of my course for undergraduates, I focus on Kowashi Inoue, one of the important officers of the Meiji government, and describe its formation from his viewpoint. In the second semester, on the other hand, I talk about Chomin Nakae, leader of the Freedom and People's Rights Movement, and provide a criticism on the Meiji government from Nakae's viewpoint.

It is well known that Kowashi Inoue worked on the drafts of the Meiji Constitution, which was promulgated in 1889 (Meiji 22), and explained it at the Privy Council. However, its original draft was completed as early as in 1874 or 1875 (Meiji 7 or 8). Recently, my graduate student discovered the document. That means, Inoue continued efforts for over ten years to carry out his own idea, persuading politicians and appealing to the public. He did achieve a feat. His determination and enthusiasm for carrying it out are really surprising.

Chomin Nakae was politically in opposition to Inoue and is well known for his radical criticism of the key officers of the Meiji government but admired Inoue alone for his seriousness and thoughtfulness.

There are a lot of other politicians I want to study, for example, Tesshu Yamaoka, who triggered the bloodless surrender of Edo Castle, Li Hung Chang, who shake hands with Soejima at Tianjin, and Takato Oki, Minister of Justice and Eto's successor. I'm going to continue ceaseless, assiduous efforts in research on lesser known historical figures and facts.

Prof. Yoshitaka Shima / Faculty of Social Sciences

Graduated from Waseda University, School of Law, in 1976; received his PhD from Kokugakuin University, Graduate School of Law in 1982. Associate Professor at Meijo University, Associate Professor at Waseda University and currently Professor at Waseda University in modern Japanese history and Japanese legal history. Books he wrote or edited include Kindai koshitsu seido no keisei (Origins of the imperial institution in modern Japan, Seibundoh), Genroin kokken'an hensan shiryo (Data prepared for the draft of the Constitution by Genroin in the Meiji Era, Kokusho Kankohkai), Taneomi Soejima Zenshu (Complete Works of Taneomi Soejima, Keibunsha), vols. 1-3, and Waseda Daigaku Shoshi (A Brief History of Waseda University, Waseda University Press).