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50 Years After His Death: The Soukichi Tsuda Exhibition

Tokio Shinkawa
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Portrait of Soukichi Tsuda, November 1946 (Owned by Waseda University Archives)

This year (2011), marks 50 years since the death of Soukichi Tsuda. Therefore, Waseda University, which is Tsuda's alma mater and where he researched and taught, and Minokamo City Museum, Gifu Prefecture, which is located in Tsuda's hometown, have decided to jointly organize a memorial event. Waseda University will hold a special exhibition, 50 Years After His Death: The Soukichi Tsuda Exhibition, from October 15 (Saturday) to December 4 (Sunday). This will take place on the 10th floor (125th Anniversary Room) of Building No. 26, the Okuma Memorial Tower, and the 2nd floor (Tsuda Memorial Room) of Building No. 2. During this period, on November 26 (Saturday), several panelists will gather in the Ono Memorial Hall and a forum is planned that will inquire about Soukichi Tsuda. Next, Minokamo City Museum, Gifu Prefecture, will hold a special exhibition about Tsuda from December 17 (Saturday) to March 4, 2012 (Sunday). During this period, various events are planned which will be organized in cooperation with Minokamo City Museum or the Dr. Soukichi Tsuda Honor Society.

Freeing Soukichi Tsuda from inside Textbooks

Most Japanese people learn about Soukichi Tsuda (1873-1961) through high school textbooks. At the present time, according to Read Again - Yamakawa Japanese History (Yamakawa Shuppansha) which has been published in many versions as an adult textbook, Tatsukichi Minobe, Kunio Yanagida, Kitarou Nishida, Hajime Kawakami and also Soukichi Tsuda, are the leading figures behind the advance of "empirical research from the standpoint of liberalism" in various fields of humanities and social sciences in the Taisho period (1912-1926). Of these people, Tsuda is described as having "advanced empirical research of ancient Japanese history, such as the formation process of the myth of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki. (Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) = a collection of myths concerning the origin of Japan; Nihonshoki. (The Chronicles of Japan) = myths and ancient history of Japan.)

However, various different opinions are anticipated in relation to this explanation. For example, the scholarship of Tsuda was not particularly a product of the Taisho period. Furthermore, this scholarship also reached Chinese ideology research and it can be said that describing the developmental history of the national ideology of Japan from a perspective of literature was rather a sphere of Tsuda. Furthermore, Tsuda understood that the Kojiki and Nihonshoki were not all myths. Even with empirical research of Japanese ancient history, through philological criticism of Kojiki and Nihonshoki, the Japanese "National" Theory of Tsuda which confronts modern history should be understood.

Well then, what was Soukichi Tsuda all about? These memorial events are an attempt to free Soukichi Tsuda from within textbooks like those previously mentioned.

In Front of the Extensive Collected Works

In approaching the Soukichi Tsuda who lived, of course, all 33 volumes of the Complete Works of Soukichi Tsuda (the second complete works have 35 volumes; Iwanami Shoten, both) become an important clue. In addition, the personal documents of Tsuda are also very useful. These are in the possession of Waseda University, Minokamo City Museum or various other organizations. Some of these (including incomplete documents) will be presented at these memorial events. These will be collected together and a comprehensive exhibition catalog publication is planned.

However, it is highly exceptional for academic researchers to have the enormous complete volumes of works, which reaches 35 volumes. Along with the amount of material, to read through all these volumes is a next to impossible task. In addition, although the writing style and terminology is simple, the long-winded sentence structure that makes free use of multiple layers of hypothesis and paradoxes and keeping track to the end of this logical development is never that easy. Accordingly, there is room for misunderstandings and misinterpretations toward Tsuda in here to arise. Besides this, the changes and vicissitudes of the times that Tsuda lived in make it even more difficult to get an early understanding of the man.

Growing Up in a "Normal Age"

The Meiji era (1868-1912), Taisho era (1912-1926) and Showa era (1926-1989) that Tsuda personally lived through have also been called by Tsuda himself the "Age of War" and was a "Special Age" and not a "Normal" Age. After Japan's defeat in 1945, it would appear different to this, but to Tsuda this was the "Special Age" that had changed to a different form and continued on, the same as with the Showa era. To the contrary, it was the period of growth after the year in which Tsuda was born, 1873, that could be called the "Normal" Age which avoided being a "Special Age."

This first half of the "Normal" Meiji era can be called the period of adjustment at the closing days of the Edo period (1603-1868) and the Meiji Restoration (1868) and was a time when there was still no hint of nationalism. There were also no loud calls for "national polity." At Bunmei Elementary School, which Tsuda attended, his teacher Mr. Moritachi gave a lectures on the Japanese unofficial history of Rai San'you (1780-1832) and this was wide ranging, covering character criticism, history of all times and places and Japanese poetry. This was the first opportunity for Tsuda to learn about the history of Japan (without the the Kojiki and Nihonshoki eras) and was a most enjoyable time.

Moreover, Tsuda, who was born in a family with samurai ancestors of the Owari clan that had returned to farming, was not forced to share particular ethics and morals, superstitions and beliefs from his father. In the armor box of his family there was a tailcoat. However, this does not mean that he was especially covered in affection by his family. Tsuda had no deep friendship with the other children in the village and it seems that he led a solitary existence when growing up.

Nevertheless, especially in this "Normal" Age prior to the "Special Age," he was free of influences around him and this was the budding of Tsuda's scholarship that thinks freely.

Living in the "Special Age"

A symbol of what Tsuda called the "Special Age" was the publication law violation prosecution case where it was alleged imperial dignity had been desecrated. This was around 1940. Indeed, Tsuda at that time dealt with this incident in all sincerity and greatly affected the perception and evaluation of him that was later connected with this. However, for Tsuda himself, this was neither an epoch-making incident nor a turning point.

Drop of a Wave, July 10, 1896, (Owned by Waseda University Library)

Tsuda's own epoch was first of all obtained around 1897 when he was in his mid-twenties. Discerning between the realms of "madness," "refinement" and "scholarship" and putting "philosophical considerations" and "literary tastes" into the background, he could "stand in the real world." Standing in this "real world" means that he decided to make a living as a specialist of the scholarship of history. At the same time, a sharp reaction to various current problems is shown and revolution, destruction and bombs can be seen that should reform and rebirth the human nature of the whole country and the vigor of the nation that is being undermined by decadence and corruption. While agonizing, in this same period of history, then at least defiantly confronting oneself, Tsuda made the decision to continue living in this "real world." For Tsuda himself, this was surely the epoch-making point in his life.

However, it was more than 15 years later that this epoch-making period come to a head in shape and bore fruit. This was from 1913, with the publication of New Research into Ancient History, to 1916, when Research of Our National Ideology Expressed in Literature: The Era of the Aristocrat Literature was published. The scholarship of Tsuda that confronts the "Special Age" and the scholarship of Tsuda that stands in the "real world" first found its form here and this was also the last moment of an epoch making period that had continued for more than 15 years.

For example, with the unprecedented criticism of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, is it possible to say that there was no awareness of revolution, destruction and bombs? In the description of the developmental history of national ideology, can it be said that the mission of scholarship that stands in the "real world" was not remembered? Moreover, the theory of the symbolic emperor system that formed the core of Tsuda's beliefs was explicitly stated in this period, but it was more than 30 years later that this emperor system philosophy specified in the new constitution was brought up. On the other side of the criticism of Kojiki and Nihonshoki, there was this construction of this symbolic emperor system theory, but this was the conviction of Tsuda that continued to challenge the "Special Period."

Furthermore, right in the middle of this great epoch that lasted for over 15 years, it is necessary to add that he obtained his ideal wife (student). His wife, Tsuneko (Tsune), had discovered her lifelong significance in making a fair copy of her husband's manuscripts, and she shared a diary. It is not an easy thing to distinguish between their handwritings.

The Perpetual Student

Directly after the war in 1946, Tsuda held lectures about the state of scholarship and students in front students that filled the Okuma Auditorium of Waseda University. Among these lectures, he expressed the following points of view. Students are under the impression that it is one's duty to learn from existing knowledge and theories and that furthermore they settle for the acquisition of a narrow range of knowledge or they are even unaware that this is a narrow range. This is the same with general intellectuals and is something that is established from elementary school education onward. It is especially because of this that there is a weakness and deficiency in Japanese culture. These statements and wake-up call are still in use the same as ever in the 21st century. The "Special Age" and the age that is not "normal" is far from over, rather it is like it is gaining in severity.

On the other hand, Tsuda also spoke of the fact that even though he was growing old, he was a perpetual student. In this he included the idea that the expectations and aspirations for students should be limitless. These thoughts and beliefs have truly become fixed after the experience of his own epoch-making period that lasted for over 15 years. 50 Years After His Death: The Soukichi Tsuda Exhibition and the related events will introduce this world of Tsuda and will ask questions back.

Commemoration photograph of Soukichi Tsuda being awarded the Order of Culture (In front of Okuma Auditorium), November 4, 1949 (Owned by Waseda University Archives)

Tokio Shinkawa
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Professor in the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. PhD in Literture. After enrolling in a Doctoral Program of the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, he became a lecturer at Oita University, Assistant Professor at Japan Women's University and got present position. His major works are Japanese ancient history, Asian culture and metahistory. His many publications include Ancient Japanese Ritual and Representation, External Trade and Buddhism in Ancient Japan (Yoshikawa Kobunkan, both), Battle over Taoism (Taishukan Shoten) and A History of Prince Shotoku (Kodansha).