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Commemorating "Shigenobu Okuma Exhibition—From Waseda to the World"

Daisuke Hoshihara
Waseda University Archives

Photo (1): Leaflet for the "Shigenobu Okuma Exhibition—From Waseda to the World"

Since 2003, Waseda University Archives has been compiling and publishing documents from Waseda founder Shigenobu Okuma. One initiative is restoring letters addressed to Okuma. These letters are in the possession of various institutions in Japan, including the Waseda University Archives. The process of comprehensively reading this enormous amount of historical documents allows us to understand various aspects of Okuma’s diverse personal relationships as well as his activities and those of the people around him.

Utilizing these historical documents as well as the letters contained in the Documents of Shigenobu Okuma, Waseda is hosting an exhibition until November 8 that traces aspects of Okuma’s life.

1. All roads in the world lead to Waseda –Shigenobu Okuma’s “private diplomacy”

Until he passed away, Okuma lived in a grand residence located near present day’s Waseda Auditorium. Okuma held great influence within modern Japanese society, being appointed high rank positions such as prime minister and foreign minister, and many people met with him at his residency every day. According to records, in 1912 alone, around 23,000 people visited the residence.

Foreigners were among the many visitors to Okuma's residence. Korekiyo Takahashi, a proponent of Japanese government bonds in England during the Russo-Japanese War, described Okuma as follows:

“Okuma is eager to welcome foreign guests. For this reason, visitors to Japan are embarrassed if Okuma does not invite them to his residence or show them his garden. An invitation from Okuma has an immeasurable impact, making foreigners feel proud and leaving a favorable impression. This has brought enormous benefit to Japan.”

Although Okuma’s relationships with foreigners are rarely mentioned in historical discussions, his social connections significantly influenced Japan's international relations.

This exhibition features many foreign guests including French businessperson Albert Kahn (1860–1940). Kahn made a great fortune from successful ventures into mining and started his own businesses in hopes to achieve world peace. One example was the "Archives of the Planet." He sent photographers to 60 countries around the world to photograph and film local everyday life, customs, architecture, nature, and more. Some of his films were well received when they were recently broadcast on the BBC. Japan was one of the countries featured in his films.

Kahn visited Okuma's residence with his photographers on December 28, 1908. On that occasion, Okuma invited the Ambassador of France, Korekiyo Takahashi, Kihachiro Okura, and other economic leaders in Japan, as well as Waseda University's executives, to hold a dinner party. There is a photograph of participants getting together under the eaves of a large study room (Photo (2)).

Photo (2): "The Okuma family welcoming foreign guests" (December 28, 1908)

Kahn is standing sideways to the left of Okuma in the photograph. On that day, they talked about their vision for the world for about two hours. Okuma later wrote about it as follows: "I felt like I was able to make a great friend, and was inspired by his profound and impressive vision" (From "Inspiration from non-Japanese" as contained in Okumahaku Hyakuwa (Count Okuma's 100 Stories)). Kahn also appeared to sympathize deeply with Okuma's vision and donated substantial funds to Waseda University. Kahn presented a silver sculpture to Okuma as "one of the fifty outstanding figures in the world."

Following a request from Kahn, Okuma arranged for a group of little girls to show him traditional Japanese games as hyakunin isshu (card game) and onigokko (tag). A color film taken at that time is currently stored in the Albert Kahn Museum, which shows Okuma walking around.

Other exhibits include a portrait sent to Okuma by Kang Youwei (1858–1927), a Chinese politician in the late Ching era, a calligraphic scroll written by Youwei to grieve for Okuma's death, and a photograph of Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925), a Chinese revolutionary leader, taken on February 25, 1913 when he visited Okuma's residence.

2. Fusion of the East and the West – Okuma’s social endeavors

Okuma was committed to various cultural projects, one of which was supporting private schools other than Waseda University. Educators aspiring to achieve new projects would come to the founder of one of the most prestigious private schools in Japan to ask for support. For instance, Koyata Torio, originally from Yamaguchi Prefecture, requested investment from Okuma for the establishment of Toitsugakusha (a school for youth education) and pleaded for a partnership with Waseda, saying it was "all but an ideal private school (Photo (3)). Many other educational institutions requested Okuma's assistance in regards their establishment and management.

Photo (3): Koyata Torio's letter to Shigenobu Okuma dated January 9, 1903

This exhibition sheds light on Okuma’s connections with Doshisha University, Japan Women's University, and Joshigakuin (currently, Joshigakuin Junior and Senior High School). According to historical documents, Kajiko Yajima (1833—1925), the first director of Joshigakuin, visited Okuma for the first time in August 1894 with a letter of introduction from her nephew, Soho Tokutomi. Since then, Okuma actively supported Yajima's activities. Okuma offered a large donation to the Yajima-led Kyofukai, Japan Christian Women's Organization, and allowed the Organization to host a garden party at his residence. Probably because of this involvement, Okuma appeared to be frequently invited to events held at Joshigakuin. The exhibition displays a letter from Yajima requesting Okuma and his wife’s presence at a graduation ceremony (dated March 26, 1901) and a group photograph taken on the day of the graduation ceremony (Photo (4), Kajiko Yajima sitting second to the right of Okuma).

Photo (4): "Joshigakuin Advanced Course Graduation Ceremony" 1911

Other exhibits include a photo of the Antarctic Expedition Plan Presentation Meeting (July 5, 1910), an editorial diary for the Fifty Years of new Japan (Kaikoku gojunen shi) owned by University of Tsukuba Library, and other valuable materials and photographs tracing Okuma's social endeavors.

3. Modern Japanese historical treasure – The story behind the Documents of Shigenobu Okuma

We can learn a lot thanks to the enormous amount of materials left at Okuma's residence. The exhibition introduces some examples of how the materials have made their way to the present day.

Shigenobu Okuma passed away on January 10, 1922. The dialogue exchanged on March 2, about two months later after his death, between Ayako Okuma and Kenkichi Ichishima is detailed in his diary below. (Sogyodo Nisshi Diary No. 24 by Kenkichi Ichishima, owned by Waseda University Library).

“The Countess [Ayako Okuma] contacted me to inquire about large volumes of important documents in a store room of the Count [Shigenobu Okuma] and whether they should be burned or if I would prefer to check and select which documents would be used for the count's biography. I asked the countess not to unnecessarily burn the documents, and offered to sort them out.

This was when Ichishima discovered there were numerous valuable materials at Okuma's residence. Ichishima and others sorted out the materials, most of which were donated to Waseda University and are currently stored as the "Okuma Documents" in the Waseda University Library. Okuma’s family gave 19 other documents to 19 people that had close relations with Okuma. Each of them received about a dozen of letters sent to Okuma in 1928 (owned by Waseda University Archives "List of Letters Donated in September 1928").

This was not revealed to most people other than those involved. However, during the process of compiling the Documents of Shigenobu Okuma, it was found that the materials given to Sanae Takata, Kenkichi Ichishima, Masatada Shiozawa, Reishiro Nakano, and Giichi Masuda had been stored in Waseda University Library and Archives. The exhibition gathered documents that were distributed to Okuma’s family around 90 years ago. The materials given to Takata will be exhibited for the first time ever. There is a very valuable scroll on which a letter to Okuma is affixed, along with the scroll's paulownia box on which messages are hand-written by Sanae Takata, Kenkichi Ichishima, and Yaichi Aizu.

Other exhibits include silverware presented from Hirobumi Ito and a photograph of Okuma, both of which are generally not shown to the public. We hope that all visitors will gain more interest in Shigenobu Okuma and have the opportunity to explore aspects of modern Japan.

Waseda University Archives

2015 Autumn Special Exhibition: "Shigenobu Okuma Exhibition—From Waseda to the World"

Thursday, October 1, 2015 – Sunday, November 8, 2015
* Closed on Oct. 4 (Sun), Oct. 11 (Sun), Oct. 25 (Sun), Nov. 1 (Sun), and Nov 6 (Fri).
125th Anniversary Room, 10th floor of Okuma Memorial Tower, Waseda University
10:00 – 18:00 * Admission free
Waseda University Archives

Daisuke Hoshihara
Waseda University Archives

Contract Staff of Waseda University Archives. Part-time Lecturer of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University. Doctor of Philosophy. Specialized in Japanese modern history. Author of Shinpei Eto and the New Meiji Government – Basic Research on State Formation in the Early Meiji Era (2011) and Shinpei Eto – The Biography of a Great Man from Saga (2012)