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Shigenobu Okuma - A great man of Saga and modern times The release of "Biographies of the Great Men of Saga, Shigenobu Okuma"
(To be published January 2011)

Yoshitaka Shima
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

It is not well known that many men of Saga played active roles during the turmoil in Japan in the closing days of the Tokugawa regime in the Meiji period. During the Edo period, the Saga fiefdom was ordered by the Shogunate to patrol Nagasaki port on a yearly rotation with the Fukuoka fiefdom, with that burden weighing down the government of the fiefdom for generations. On the other side though, the fief of Saga was able to receive the latest overseas information from Nagasaki.

Toward the end of the Tokugawa regime many fiefdoms were impoverished and lost droves of young men through campaigns to restore the Emperor and overthrow the Shogunate. During this, lord of the Saga fiefdom, Naomasa Nabeshima, rearranged one third of his officials and conducted large scale severances, forcing through administrative and financial reform. On the other side of protecting and developing the farming population, he took the lead in modernizing the Saga fiefdom by developing industries such as pottery production, tea and coal, and conducting trade. In this way, Saga took in western technology and directed its ample finances toward next generation technology, creating research institutions for the technology called refining, and undertook research and development in steel, processing technology, artillery, steam engines and telegraphic communication. The Saga fiefdom also wasted no time in researching western medicine by importing variola vaccine and contributing to the eradication of smallpox, as well as making reverberators and producing steam engines and steam ships, and weapons such as the Armstrong Gun.

The Saga fiefdom actively promoted the Industrial Revolution in Japan, becoming the most modern influential clan. Supporting those moves were the people of Saga who believed in the future of Japan and fought hard to cut a new path toward a new era. Biographies of the Great Men of Saga is a series introducing the great achievements of people hailing from Saga who took an active part in constructing a new and modern state during the violent period in the dying stages of the Tokugawa regime in the Meiji era. Continuing on from Volume 1, Naomasa Nabeshima, Volume 2, Shigenobu Okuma, will be published by the Saga Castle History Museum in January 2011.

I have an uncle called "Shigenobu," and was constantly remained that he was named after Shigenobu Okuma. Because of this, I have carried an interest in Okuma ever since I can remember. I then went on to study at Waseda University, which was founded by Okuma, and now work at Waseda. Because my office is located near the bronze statue of Okuma, I get to see him every day, and I also frequently tell students of Okuma's exploits. Accordingly, Okuma holds a special meaning to me, and I can't stand him being called just plain "Okuma." I make it a custom to always call him "Okuma-san" when talking to students.

"The Japanese language is indeed important to the independence of the state. As is its writing. Following on immediately from this is education."
(Passage from Okuma's address at the opening ceremony of Waseda University)

In addition to serving in important posts as Prime Minister (twice), Minister of Foreign Affairs (five times), Minister of Finance, Minister of Agricultural Business Affairs, Home Minister and Privy Councilor, Shigenobu Okuma (1838-1922) was active on many fronts working as head of the Constitutional Progressive Party and the Constitutional Government Party, President of Waseda University and head of various organizations. Accordingly, he was the most well known figure in his birthplace of Saga, and by having a bronze statue of him in a full-dress uniform erected at the spot of his family home, he is revered as a great man of his native province.

But it isn't only Saga where he is thought highly of. In the front entrance hall of the Diet Building there is a majestic bronze statue of Okuma standing alongside Hirobumi Ito and Taisuke Itagaki, continuing the respect toward him as one of the pioneers of parliamentary government in Japan. There is also a statue of him dressed in a robe with a firmly-set mouth on in the grounds of Waseda University, and the name of Okuma the educator is not only known to staff and students at Waseda, but widely known by all around the country.

Because Okuma was recognized internationally as a foreign diplomat, foreigners continuously visited the Okuma residence. That tradition has continued since Okuma's death with heads of state from the world over visiting the Okuma Auditorium and giving lectures full of pride. Okuma is, without a doubt, a great man who was given birth to by modern Japan.

"This is an ocean with a complicated society. What will be the compass to guide us over the seas?
Knowledge. While you have gathered necessary knowledge, it is still only the beginning.
Travelers on the voyages which will appear in the future can't be totally kept away from the compass and barometer.
What is that barometer? That is knowledge. You must take on every job with a book in hand.
You must always carry a book. Those who don't will fail immediately, finishing life unable to regain the power of society."
("Waseda Journal" Volume 5 July 1897)

In his 85 years of life, Okuma didn't succeed with everything. He also had many failures.

"In the history of politicians, they didn't succeed with everything.
There were also failures. Success failure happen by turns.
Some may fail more than they succeed.
Some may live life with nothing but failure."

In 1889, when Okuma was 52, he was heavily criticized during the treaty revision problem, and lost his right leg in a bomb attack. Although Okuma was always with a helper, it must have been extremely difficult for him to walk.

But despite these hardships, Okuma never let them get him down.

"If I believe that the policies I take up are in the best interests of the country, I will have no regrets if they fail. I am completely satisfied. Because I have splendid moral beliefs, they will appear occasionally. My life also lies in those beliefs."

Okuma continued to posses a positive outlook on life. By describing his "five conditions for longevity," as (1) never become angry, (2) never complain, (3) don't look back to the past, (4) put your hopes in the future, and (5) do well unto others, and by putting these into practice, Okuma intended to live for 125 years.

In the Saga Nabeshima fiefdom, there is a commentary written by Jocho Yamamoto called Hagakure, and for a long time, only the manuscript was passed down. In the Meiji era, there was a printed version, but this was incomplete. Then, in 1916, on Okuma's recommendation, a complete version, with a foreword by Okuma, was published. In the opening paragraph of Hagakure, four pledges are given and it is written that that must be chanted every day. (1) do not fall behind in bushido (the spirit of samurai), (2) be of help to one's master, (3) devote oneself to one's parents, and (4) do well to others with great compassion. Moreover, importance was especially placed on the fourth pledge in Hagakure, and has also said "courage that comes from compassion is the true thing."

In 1917, Okuma returned to Saga to rebuild his ancestral tomb, and said the following in a speech at the family temple, Ryutaizen Temple.

"Compassion is not only the root of the family system, but also the source of true bravery. This also lies in the fundamental principles of Hagakure, in which we have been raised for 300 years, with importance placed on compassion. The four pledges constitute the fundamentals of Hagakure.
It is due to the benefit of Nabeshima, Ryuzoji clan, that we are in important positions today in spite of our poor ability, especially due to the benevolent reign of the kind ruler, Kanson."

There can be no doubt that Okuma's motto of "do well unto others," has its roots in "do well to others with great compassion," from Hagakure." This became Okuma's absolute conviction and fundamental belief.

Because Okuma had this compassionate heart, many gathered by his side, and even today, after his death, he his remembered fondly.

(Excerpts from the introduction and conclusion of Yoshitaka Shima's "Biographies of the Great Men of Saga Shigenobu Okuma")

".Life is like a flowing river. Youth is the source of the river and old age is downstream. Water starts flowing from the source and obstacles in life can be represented by a 15meter waterfall, steep areas are torrent waters, it stalls at deepwater, and when life suddenly becomes free in the rapids, it may smash into the rocks, or overcome all the hardships and jump, run, be angry, laugh, argue, fight, have sudden break-ups and sudden reconciliations.
.Isn't this the same situation as youth setting their first goals and heading off into the world? But their ambitions and bravery are also enough to hold back the confident people of this world."
("Ancient Diaries of Lord Okuma" Waseda University Press)

"Biographies of the Great Men of Saga 02 Shigenobu Okuma"

Chapter 1 Short Biography of Shigenobu Okuma
Chapter 2 Politics is My Life
Chapter 3 Academic Freedom
Chapter 4 Reconciliation of the East and West
Abridged Chronological Record
Historical Sites Related to Shigenobu Okuma

Yoshitaka Shima
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Saga Prefecture. Graduated from the School of Law, Waseda University in 1976. Currently works as a professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University. Majors in modern Japanese history, comparative history of law, and Imperial Family history etc. Major publications include Shaping the Modern Imperial Household System, (Seibundo, 1994), A Short History of Waseda University, (Waseda University Press, 2003, and From the Ritsuryo System to the Constitutional System (Seibundo, 2009).