Panelist Presentation

Japan’s Bridge Over the Pacific: Reflections on Nitobe Inazo and Globalization

Tsuneo Akaha, Ph.D.
Professor, International Policy Studies
Director, Center for East Asian Studies at the
Monterey Institute of International Studies
Monterey, California


Dr. Tsuneo Akaha

International Migration Report 2002 by the United Nations Population Division states: “Today the number of people residing outside their country of birth is at an all-time high of 175 million, more than double the number a generation ago.  The vast majority of migrants are making meaningful contributions to their host countries.” [1]   It also observes that from 1990 to 2000, the number of migrants in the world increased by 21 million persons, or 14 percent.  Forty-one percent of the world’s migrants live in North America, almost 35 million of them in the United States.

The growing migration is perhaps the single most important part of the phenomenon we call globalization today.  Migration is nothing new.  We know humans have migrated since the very beginning of their existence.  People have been moving both within and across national borders for centuries, the former known as internal migration and the latter as international migration.  What is “global” about migration today is that a huge proportion of the migrants now cross national borders and a substantial part of them settle permanently in the host countries. 

Today I would like to reflect on the importance of migration and the challenges and opportunities afforded by border-crossing individuals when they happen to find themselves at critical moments in history and in critical places of the world.  Not all of us are fortunate enough--or unfortunate enough, depending on our inborn or learned proclivity toward challenges of historic importance--to find ourselves at such points in history and the world.  Nitobe Inazo was such an individual.  Although he did not settle permanently in the United States, his personal, intellectual, and professional life was deeply rooted in the United States as well as his native country, Japan.  There is also a California connection, as we will soon see.

Nitobe Inazo (1862 - 1933) was an educator, a moralist, an essayist, and a diplomat who lived a vibrant but also tumultuous life in the turbulent world of great power rivalry and war.  His life of 70 years represented both the aspirations to peace, democracy, and development the world over and the contradiction between nationalism and international cooperation.  He touched the hearts and minds of countless people he met around the world, including his American wife, Mary.  He died in Victoria, Canada in 1933 shortly after Japan had walked out the League of Nations, in which he had served as an undersecretary general--the highest diplomatic post ever held by a Japanese. 

As a young student at Tokyo University, Nitobe was asked why he wanted to continue to study English, which he had begun studying at the Sapporo Agricultural College (present-day Hokkaido University).  He replied he wanted to become a “bridge over the Pacific.”  His intellectual legacy after his death has built a cultural bridge over the Pacific, but scholarly debate continues to this day about the multi-talented Japanese diplomat’s life, which was full of great achievements but also many seeming contradictions. 

Nitobe was born in 1862 in the provincial city of Morioka in northeast Japan, to a family of samurai lineage.  After schooling in Tokyo, he went to the Sapporo Agricultural College (present-day Hokkaido University) and studied agricultural economics.  The college was the first American-style institution of higher learning in Japan and was staffed by many American teachers.  This enabled him to study English.  He became a Christian, along with Uchimura Kanzo, his classmate who later became one of the most influential Christians in Japan and an outspoken critic of the authoritarian government and Japanese militarism and imperialism. 

In 1883 Nitobe entered Tokyo University to study English literature and economics.  After one year, he left the university to go to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where he studied in a seminar with, among others, the young Woodrow Wilson.  He continued his study in Germany and received a doctorate from the University of Halle in 1890.  As a result he became fluent in both English and German. 

While in the United States, Nitobe had become a Quaker, and on his way back to Japan in 1891 he married Mary Elkinton, the daughter of a leading Philadelphia Quaker businessman.  Nitobe had met her when he studied in Baltimore.

While teaching at his alma mater in Sapporo, he was also very active in religious activities, the formation of schools for working students, consulting with government officials, and even overseeing dormitories.  Exhaustion forced him to resign from teaching.  To recover his health, he and Mary moved to Monterey and stayed at the Del Monte Hotel (now the Naval Postgraduate School).  The couple stayed there for four years.  It was during this period that Nitobe wrote Bushido, the Soul of Japan, arguably the single most influential volume on Japan ever published in the English language. 

-- More on his book later --


Among Nitobe’s great achievements were his encouragement of the growth of sugar-cane in Taiwan to improve the economy of the island, which was under Japanese colonial control; the professorship in colonial policy at the University of Tokyo; the founding of the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation, which after World War II developed into UNESCO; the diplomatic service as undersecretary general of the League of Nations; and the post-retirement assumption of the chairmanship of the Japanese branch of the Institute of Pacific Relations.

In 1932, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the 70-year-old Nitobe on a punishing 11-month speaking tour of North America to sway public opinion in Japan's favor.  When he returned to Japan to report to the Emperor on his trip, he learned that Japan had walked out the League of Nations, which had reprimanded Japan for its instigation in 1931 of the infamous “Manchurian Incident,” the Japanese army’s plot to justify its control of northeast China. 

In August 1933, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs again sent Nitobe, as the head of the Japanese delegation, to the conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations in Banff, Canada, again hoping that the Japanese head delegate would be able to soften the international criticism of Japan’s action in Manchuria.  Following the conference Nitobe went to Victoria where Mary was waiting for him.  Early in September, he spoke in Vancouver at a dinner sponsored by the Japanese Consulate and then returned to Victoria.  A few days later he entered the Royal Jubilee Hospital with what appeared to be a minor complaint.  His condition deteriorated and he died in the early evening of October 15.  A quickly convened memorial service in Vancouver two days later attracted 750 mourners. [2]  

Now to Bushido: the Soul of Japan.  The book was first published in English in 1900.  Within a few years of its publication, it was translated into German, Polish, Bohemian and Marathi (a language used on the Indian subcontinent), and later into French, Norwegian, Hungarian, Russian, Chinese, Greek and Arabic.  By 2000, the book had been translated into more than 30 different languages. 

When the book was first introduced to President Roosevelt by a Japanese friend from his Harvard days, the president was so impressed with its prose and its contents that he bought another 30 copies and distributed them to his cabinet members, other colleagues, friends and acquaintances, and urged them to read it. [3]   The book favorably influenced the president’s agreement to mediate the peace treaty between Russia and Japan at the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.  His successful mediation led to his winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. [4]  

The book is an introduction to the core values of traditional Japanese society, which Nitobe believed was based on the samurai’s code of ethics.  Nitobe describes those values in eloquent language, drawing comparisons with the religious and philosophical traditions of other civilizations, including all great Western philosophers, Judeo-Christian teachings, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.  In the exploration of the main religions and great schools of philosophy from around the world, he both elevates the code of bushido to the same level as the ethical and moral principles of other great civilizations and renders understanding of Japanese culture possible to those who come from those other civilizations.  In this sense, he idealizes bushido.  By idealizing it, he also simplifies it.  He also places bushido in the context of and in the language of our universal search for good person and good society.  Hence the appeal of his exposition to people of many languages.


Had Nitobe not studied English as a young student in Sapporo, would he have become involved in the world of diplomacy, as he was at critical moments of history?  Had he not studied what today we call development economics, would he have studied at Johns Hopkins, met Mary, and become a Quaker.  Had his dedication to teaching and myriad social activities not failed his health, would he have gone to Monterey, California and written the book on bushido?  And, finally, had he not written that book, would President Roosevelt have felt compelled to mediate between the Russians and the Japanese or win the Nobel Peace Prize?  The answers to these questions are “probably not.”

What does Nitobe’s legacy teach us about the challenges we face in the age globalization?  Essentially globalization challenges us to re-examine our lifestyle, our individual values, and our collective, communal values.  Globalization both unites and divides us.  At the same time that it brings us closer, globalization also diversifies us. 

We are not all as fortunate or unfortunate as Nitobe Inazo in the sense of being at the forefront of world diplomacy.  But we are more fortunate than he in that today plain citizens like ourselves can and are crossing all kinds of borders--geographic borders, economic borders, technological borders, language borders, and cultural borders.  This provides us with an opportunity that only privileged people like Nitobe used to enjoy in the previous centuries.  As we cross our borders, can we be as brave as Nitobe and dedicate our talents to the teaching of others and to the learning from others?

[1] Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, International Migration Report 2002, New York: United Nations, 2002, p. 1.  (ST/ESA/SER.A/220) 

[2] Some of the information about the life of Nitobe is drawn from the excellent essay by John F. Howes of Obirin University, Japan, entitled “Japan’s New Internationalism and the Legacy of Nitobe Inazo,” Occasional Paper #5,

Lecture presented for Annual Dorothy and David Lam Lecture Series, October 21,

1993.  ( 

[3] Sato Masahiro, “Nitobe Inazo and Bushido,” Jan/Feb 2002. (

[4] Ibid.