The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Culture > The study and stance of Sokichi Tsuda―50 Years After the Death of Sokichi Tsuda Exhibition―


The study and stance of Sokichi Tsuda
―50 Years After the Death of Sokichi Tsuda Exhibition―

Kenjiro Tsuchida
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

The value of the Sokichi Tsuda exhibition

The house where Sokichi Tsuda was born (Higashi-Tochii) owned by Minokamo City Museum

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Sokichi Tsuda's (1873-1961) death. To mark the occasion, Waseda University, along with Minokamo City in Gifu Prefecture, will hold a "50 Years After the Death of Sokichi Tsuda Exhibition". (Waseda University will host the exhibition from October 15- December 4, and Minokamo City from December 17 - March 4. The exhibition will have closing days in both cases.) Tsuda graduated from Waseda University and also worked here as a professor. Tsuda was born in Minokamo City.

Research works by Tsuda are still considered must-reads by researchers today. Also, academic history, cultural history and history of ideas left behind by Tsuda hold great historical meaning. From the significance of both these aspects, it can be said that it is an appropriate occasion to reconsider Tsuda.

Sokichi Tsuda the ideology historian

Research of National Ideology in Literature, manuscript by Sokichi Tsuda
Minokamo City Museum collection

Sokichi Tsuda is generally thought to be a positivist Japanese historian. It is even written that way in high school textbooks. But the true image of Tsuda will always be one of a researcher of the history of ideas.

Tsuda's major work is Research of National Ideology in Literature. This is a large collection of five volumes, and with revisions and amendments, it was never fully completed. Tsuda's first interest was contemporaneousness and how Japan started to enter modern times. In order to make this clear, he went back to ancient times and then wrote in the order from ancient to modern times. However, the essential part Tsuda wanted to write, the point of moving from early-modern to modern times, was left unfinished at the time of his death, and the final part of this work was completed from a collection of other writings. My former teacher, Professor Haruki Kusuyama once said when touching upon this topic, "that's the destiny of a scholar."

One more pillar of Tsuda's research that stood alongside his history of Japanese ideology research was the history of Chinese ideology. In order to reveal the characteristics of Japanese ideology, Tsuda felt that it was essential to take up the topic of Chinese ideology, which is considered to have a great influence. Tsuda's Taoist Ideology and its Unfolding, is a famous work that rewrote the history of Ancient Chinese ideology. Now, many newly discovered documents have been unearthed in China, and some of Tsuda's conclusions must be revised, but this book has lost none of its significance. Especially, in his methodology, idea units were extracted exceeding the ideology history of each school of thought and the methodology reconstructed the history of thought through dynamic mutual negotiation between those units. Therefore, his methodology can be meaningful when applied to the new materials of today.

Tsuda's ancient Japanese history research

Sokichi Tsuda and his wife Tsuneko Taken by Senji Sato Waseda University Library collection

By the way, books written by Tsuda relating to ancient Japanese history include, Research on Records of Ancient Matters and Chronicles of Japan, Mythological Japan Research, and Ancient Japan Research. This research became famous as the so-called "Tsuda Incident" when it was denounced for desecrating the dignity of the Imperial Family under Article 26 of the Publishing Law. Tsuda resigned from Waseda University after this. Tsuda wrote scathing criticism of Records of Ancient Matters and Chronicles of Japan, and said that the historical descriptions in these works include future fabrications and alterations, and was not created with the intention of telling the history of the nation, but to justify the origins and beginnings of the Imperial Family. This is clearly a historical incident, but this field is only a part of Tsuda's study, and by focusing on this incident results in a narrow view of Tsuda's image.

Tsuda in the Philosophy Department

Hegel, G.W.F.
Lectures on the Philosophy of History; tr. From the third German ed.by J. Sbree.
London. 1890 Waseda University Library collection

Tsuda became full-time faculty in the Department of History as a successor to Togo Yoshida, author of the well-known "Great Japan Geographical Dictionary", after his death. However, Tsuda spent much of his time in charge of Chinese ideology and ended up giving lectures on Chinese ideology history entirely in the Philosophy Department.

When Tsuda first moved to the Department of Philosophy, there was a course specializing in Oriental philosophy. That was divided into Chinese philosophy and Indian philosophy before becoming a specialist course on China. This is where Tsuda's intentions were reflected. Tsuda held the belief that the Orient was not a single entity and that philosophy didn't grow in China. That is why the courses were designated as such. After Tsuda's resignation, the title reverted back to Oriental philosophy, and Tsuda's academic light continues to burn today as the Oriental Philosophy Course in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In the Philosophy Department, Tsuda had a close relationship with colleagues such as Saburo Kanyo. Tsuda does not quote a lot of Western literature in his research, but he was actually well read in it. Western books in which Tsuda had underlined parts or written notes are housed in Waseda University's Tsuda Memorial Room. Tsuda read a wide range of Western literature on philosophy, historical science, literature, folklore, anthropology, psychology, and art, as well as, of course, works related to ideology and history, but his love of literature and art also draws attention. The Western literature was in English, and he read English translations of Hegel, Nietzsche, Wundt, Homer, Dante, and Goethe. These heightened the effect of Tsuda's research. After rising early, Tsuda would read English art book and the bookshelves in his study were lined with many Western works.

Consistency of Tsuda's stance

In investigating Tsuda's observations, there is inevitably a lot of debate as to whether Tsuda's prewar views changed after the war. But in a response to a society that was turned on its head during World War II, Tsuda may have shifted the stress of his assertions, but his ideology stayed firm.

From his resignation from Waseda after being questioned about Publishing Law violations through his prewar critical documentation of Records of Ancient Matters and Chronicles of Japan, the journalism field, which had hoped for criticism of the Emperor from Tsuda after the war, was taken aback by Tsuda's vindication of the Imperial Family. However, Tsuda had explained the reason of the Emperor's significance as a "symbol" since pre-war periods. Tsuda, who was attacked by the prewar ultranationalist trend, received further criticism in the postwar golden age of the materialistic interpretation of history. We may take it upon ourselves to see that he chose the tough road, but to Tsuda, it was a faithful and natural stance toward his own study. I first encountered Tsuda's works when I entered university, and when I compared them to writings I had read by Tsuda's contemporaries over the prewar to postwar period, I felt fresh surprise at how extraordinary the consistency of Tsuda was.

Tsuda's pupils

Tsuda was idolized by his pupils. When I entered university, some professors who were direct pupils of Tsuda were still there. Those professors' sense of admiration towards Tsuda was true and they were different from those who simply get together for a famous people.

Tsuda also had numerous pupils from Asian countries such as Taiwan and Korea. They would enthusiastically present essays under Tsuda's guidance. Tsuda would embrace them kindly, and Tsuda's final pupil when he was still working, Professor Hong Sun Chang, retold an unforgettable story of Tsuda's kindness at that time in a lecture hosted by the Waseda University Oriental Philosophy Institute for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1990. When Hong was detained on suspicion of being part of the Korean independence movement, Tsuda gave him one of his favourite cigarettes.

My first supervisor at graduate school was Professor Naomi Kurita. Professor Kurita was a beloved pupil of Tsuda and served the childless Tsuda with selfless devotion. He stood by Tsuda through his adversity as a defendant and losing his job. Furthermore, he was not proud of such a loyal attitude to Tsuda. The professor's lively face when he talks of Tsuda is still planted in the back of my mind.

Minokamo City and Waseda University Cultural Exchange Program 2011Joint Exhibition
50 Years After the Death of Sokichi Tsuda Exhibition


Kenjiro Tsuchida
Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Professor, Faculty of Letters,Arts and Sciences, Waseda University. PhD (Literature). Graduated from the School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I at Waseda University and completed his doctorate at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Majors in Chinese ideology (chiefly Song Dynasty ideology) and Japanese ideology (chiefly Edo Period ideology). Major publications include The Formation of Neo-confucianism(Sobunsha, translated into Chinese and Korean), Sacred Teachings Digest・Collected Essays(Kodansha), Early-Modern Confucian Research Methods and Topics(Editor, Kyuko Shoin), and Pursuing Confucianism in the 21st Century(Editor, Waseda University Press).