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"Shigenobu Okuma and Azusa Ono─Foundations of the University" Exhibition

Keita Kinoshita
Part-Time Contract Employee, Waseda University Archives

Shigenobu Okuma as a high official in the Meiji Government

Azusa Ono (by Yoshie Oka/Aizu Museum collection)

This year marks the 130th year since the foundation of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (Waseda University's predecessor) in 1882. To commemorate this, Waseda University Archives will host the "Shigenobu Okuma and Azusa Ono - Foundations of the University" Exhibition.

In the same way as the "founding father" Shigenobu Okuma, the name Azusa Ono, also known as the "founding mother", is associated with the Ono Azusa Hall and the Azusa Ono Memorial Awards etc. As can be seen at the time of Ono's death when Okuma said, "As a special friend as well as a benefactor of the school, this loss is more regrettable than me losing both of my arms," Ono, who served as one of those arms, was essentially "the founder of the school" (The Life of Marquis Okuma).

This exhibition, centered on Okuma, will display rare materials on Ono, and in addition, will hold a special display of the "Azusa Ono Documents" (entrusted to the National Diet Library Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room) owned by Kiichi Sakamoto of Fuzambo (formerly Toyokan Bookstore which was established by Azusa Ono). I would like to offer my gratitude to Mr. Sakamoto for his generosity.

Now I would like to introduce some of the materials on display.

Azusa Ono's handwritten diary Ryukyakusai Nikki owned by Kiichi Sakamoto

Ryukyakusai Nikki, The page of the day when Tokyo Senmon Gakko was opend. (National Diet Library Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room)

The diary consists of six volumes in all and covers the period from January 1879 to October 1885. Although there is about a year and a half omitted near the beginning, this includes the most important period of Ono's activities, and the process of the school's establishment can be followed in detail through this diary.

Okuma first appears in the diary in the entry on March 17, 1881.
"I wrote a fair copy of Jugi. Certainly, I hope to present it to Minister Okuma tomorrow. There is a poem, it goes like this. (The original is in Chinese characters and is translated below)".

Jugi refers to Ono's written opinion Konsei Jugi (to be on display). The Chinese poem has the meaning, "I have included a sense of patriotism in this work. The ten points may be rough. However, although there are many high-ranking officials in the Imperial Court, Your Excellency is the only who will listen to my opinion," and Ono's expectations as an "acquaintance" when visiting Okuma can be taken from this.

Ono presented Okuma with Jugi the next day and visited him on the 20th.
"I visited Minister Okuma in the afternoon. There we discussed many of the affairs in Konsei Jugi. The Minister also spoke unreservedly, talking in detail of the times we are in, making definite statements, as well as discussing the future. I also passionately argued against the decision not to adopt recovery measures. Okuma largely agreed with this line. After many hours of chatting, we retired at 10pm."

After this, Okuma appears in the diary frequently, for example, in May 1882 after the two had resigned from their posts, the only days when they didn't meet were on the 13th when Ono gave a speech at Meiji Hall, and on the 30th when she paid a visit on Okuma but he was absent, showing their strong relationship. Generally, Ono would make her way to Okuma's residence in Kijibashi (near the present day Chiyoda Ward Office in Tokyo), but there were also rare times when Okuma would pay a rare visit to Ono's house on the banks of the Sumida River, where they would both talk over a few drinks. On June 30 of the same year Ono writes, "Watched a play with Okuma and his friends. Today's performance was Koetsu Gunki." They had gone to see a play on the Takeda / Uesugi battle together. This is quite an interesting piece on the trends of the "Two Founders".

Draft manuscript of Azusa Ono's If I was a Concerned Party October 7, 1881 owned by Kiichi Sakamoto

Okuma's Political Era by Azusa Ono (Waseda University Library collection)

After Okuma presented his opinion on the Constitution (Hirofumi Ito's handwritten manuscript will be on display) to Left Minister Prince Arisugawa, he accompanied the Emperor on his tour of the Tohoku region. On July 29, Ono, a bureaucrat on the Board of Audit, went to see off Okuma who was leaving his office, and with the Hokkaido Development Commission transfer of government property incident, their dissatisfaction with the han-dominated government grew stronger. On September 4, while Okuma was still away, Ono wrote, "The likes of the Satsuma-clan are self indulgent and profit for themselves, and the Choshu-clan go along with this to keep the peace. The government conducts mostly private dealings, extreme justice is lost." Ono then vented her anger with the words "the world is already rotten," and on the 24th of the same month began to write her secret essay titled If I was a Concerned Party.

The aim was, using people's outrage toward the transfer incident, to propose an immediate rearrangement of the constitution and government, with Ono passionately saying, "This will be a decisive battle with our opponents." Ono completed this late at night on October 7, and entrusted it with someone to give to Okuma in Utsunomiya.

However, Ono further touched up the essay, and on the night of October 11, when Okuma returned to Tokyo, had revised the manuscript. At exactly the same time, Cabinet ministers and vice-ministers were meeting the Emperor, who had returned to Tokyo, conspiring to expel Okuma, but, of course, Ono had no way of knowing this. The next day, Ono promised to have "tomorrow's quiet talk" with Okuma when she leaves the office, and completed If I was a Concerned Party that night (Waseda University Library collection).

That following day, on the 13th, Ono finally learnt of Okuma's dismissal. She got exasperated, and while she initially obeyed Okuma's advice "not to quit straight away," Ono handed in her letter of resignation on the 21st.

After her resignation from public office, Ono established the Constitutional Reform Party under Okuma (April), which progressed onto the establishment of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (October). In comparison to the Satsuma-Choshu influence Ono shows in If I was a Concerned Party, she changed into an indomitable fighter with a spirit of defiance which flowed into Tokyo Senmon Gakko.

Azusa Ono's November 9, 1885 letter to Shigenobu Okuma
Waseda Archives collection

November 9, 1885 letter from Ono to Okuma

Ono, who put everything into the unforgiving work of school, professional writing and managing a bookstore, developed hemoptysis. Regardless, in August 1885 while bedridden, she completed the final volume of her greatest work, Kokken Hanron [Outline of the Constitution] (to be displayed). She wrote a letter to her mother who was worried about her: "I will never die unless I admire the life of Prime Minister of Japan. The disease of my body also fears my attitude." However, in the autumn, her condition worsened.

On top of this, Toyokan Bookstore, which Ono opened with the aim of popularizing good books, had hit hard times. Ono, who was already at the end of her means in debt with her customers, sent a letter to Okuma on November 8, repeatedly apologizing while asking for a loan of 150 yen (to be displayed). At that time, lesson fees at Tokyo Senmon Gakko were 1 yen, so 150 yen was a huge amount of money. As we can see when Ono wrote, "due to exhaustion I got rest two or three times, and finally I finished writing," she was in a critical condition when she wrote the letter.

In response, Okuma sent the money to Ono immediately, as requested in the letter. A grateful Ono sent this letter with a promissory note. In the letter, she repeated the phrase "cash on hand", but this was a rare poor choice of words for the methodical Ono. This is the last letter from Ono to Okuma in existence, and possibly the final written correspondence between Ono and Okuma.

Two months later on January 11, Ono died of tuberculosis at the young age of 33.


Through materials on display at this exhibition we have seen a part of the relationship between Okuma and Ono. Furthermore, there will also be a diverse range of materials such as the manuscript of the speech in which Ono sang out the "independence of learning" at the inauguration ceremony of Tokyo Senmon Gakko, a letter to Okuma showing delight in the flourishing number of students wanting to enter the school, and a letter to Okuma containing the bitter advice to temporarily close the School of Law.

These reveal Ono's character and her ideas, and tell us untold stories in the background. This is the appeal of real materials. I would like you all to attend this exhibition and think about the relationship between the "Foundations of the University".

Exhibition information