The Japan Academy

Founded in 1879

The Japan Academy was founded on 15 January 1879 with the aim of advancing education and science in Japan. This 1879 Academy, however, was called the Tokyo Academy. In 1906 the Tokyo Academy was renamed the Imperial Academy and it was again renamed in December 1947 when it adopted its present name of the 'Japan Academy'. Let us look now at a little more detail of this development in the Academy through the years.

The setting up of the Academy came a few years after the end of the Edo Period (1615-1868) [3]:-
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the country was unified under the Tokugawa family after years of civil unrest. The following years were ones of unprecedented peace and prosperity, prompting an increase in artistic, cultural and social development. ... The greatest growth was in Edo (modern Tokyo), the city established by the first Tokugawa shogun as his new capital. By 1720 Edo had more than a million inhabitants. The period of self-imposed national isolation came to a dramatic end in 1853 when four American battleships arrived in Edo Bay. The US demanded that it be allowed to trade with Japan, with the result that ports were slowly re-opened to foreigners. In 1868 external pressure combined with growing internal unrest and led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa shogun and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor.
During the Edo Period colleges were set up in Japan, the largest of which was the Shoheiko in Edo run by the Tokugawa family. This college became part of the University of Tokyo in 1877. The Bansho Shirabesho, the Institute for Researching Foreign Books, was founded in 1857. It was renamed YMsho shirabesho, the Institute for the Study of Western books, in 1862 and, like the Shoheiko, it became part of the University of Tokyo in 1877. The beginning of the Meiji Period in 1868 saw the emperor move to Tokyo which became the capital of Japan. At this time Japan was looking at the European models of education and learning, leading them to follow the European Academy model in establishing the Tokyo Academy in 1879. In fact they modelled their education system on that of the French but later began to use the German model.

The Tokyo Academy had a maximum membership of 40 when it was established in 1879. It quickly began publishing a journal with the first part of the first volume of the Tokyo Academy Journal being published in June 1879. The first President of the Tokyo Academy was Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901), an author and teacher who was an advocate of educational reform. He founded Keio University in central Tokyo in 1858 which was modelled completely on Western universities. After the opening of Japanese trade in the 1850s, he went on a diplomatic mission to the United States in 1860. Having learnt English he wrote an English-Japanese dictionary on his return using as a basis an already existing English-Chinese dictionary. Between 1872 and 1876 he published 17 volumes of a work entitled "On Studying". Fukuzawa Yukichi was President for less than a year for, in June 1879, Nishi Amane (1829-1897) became the second President. He was a philosopher who, like Fukuzawa Yukichi, believed strongly in introducing a European educational system into Japan. He had spent time in The Netherlands and was a founder member of the 'Meiji 6 Society', formed in February 1874, along with Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Meiji 6 Society aimed at bringing Western culture and education to Japan. He served as President of the Tokyo Academy until December 1880 but served a second term as President from June 1882 to June 1886. Kato Hiroyuki (1836-1916), also a founder member of the Meiji 6 Society, served as President between Nishi Amane's two terms, and later served as President for all but two of the 23 years from June 1886 to June 1909. In fact it was during his time as President, in October 1890, that the Statutes of the Tokyo Academy were officially declared.

In June 1906, during Kato Hiroyuki's third term as President, the Tokyo Academy was renamed the Imperial Academy and its functions expanded to bring it into line with academies in the United States and Europe. For example its membership was increased from 40 to 60 [2]:-
In addition to providing reports and proposals in response to government inquiries, in 1911 the Academy established the Imperial Prize to recognize and encourage superb creative research. At the same time, the Academy convened general meetings in which the latest scientific advances were introduced and reported. Compiling such state-of-the-art information, it issued bulletins and published papers and disseminated them. While working in these ways to contribute to the promotion of science, the Academy also joined the Union Académique Internationale (UAI) [in October 1919] and set about on a vigorous program to promote international academic exchange, thus taking upon itself the weighty role of representing Japan's academic community both at home and abroad.
The first part of the first volume of the Proceedings of the Imperial Academy was published in March 1912. In 1920 the Imperial Academy created the National Research Council [1]:-
... to serve as the body to have specific responsibility for dealing with the various international matters of interest to Japanese science.
In May 1925 the maximum membership of the Imperial Academy was increased from 60 to 100 and, during World War II, in March 1942, the first part of the first volume of the Transactions of the Imperial Academy was published in Japanese. During the war the National Research Council became the body to advise on war related research [1]:-
At war's end, the Imperial Academy felt that it had the right and the duty to see to it that the war-bloated National Research Council was either replaced or reshaped. Moreover, at least some members of the Academy realized that they were themselves seen as being superannuated folk who had in large measure lost touch with the world of active scholars; accordingly, plans were initiated to enlarge the Academy's membership in order to bring in a substantial number of younger, more active, scholars. In March 1946, entirely at Japanese Initiative, a 'Reorganization Committee' of thirty people was formed; ten members were from the Imperial Academy, ten from the National Research Council and ten from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. These thirty people had as their objectives (1) to eliminate overlapping functions of the three organizations; (2) to strengthen the Imperial Academy by increasing its membership; and (3) to revise or reorganize or integrate the research activities of Japan. This group found it possible to reach agreement quickly on the following plan:

(i) Dissolution of the National Research Council;

(ii) Enhancement of the activities of the Imperial Academy by increasing the size of the Academy; the proposed scheme envisaged electing 150 new members for limited terms; those already belonging to the Academy, who were elected for life, would remain members;

(iii) Appropriate revisions of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, giving it responsibility for carrying out plans developed by the Imperial Academy.
Japan at this stage, however, was under Allied occupation and the plans were not liked by the Allies who set up another committee, the Renewal Committee. The fascinating discussions are fully described in [1]. In December 1947 the Imperial Academy was renamed the Japan Academy. In January 1949 the reorganisation compatible with the wishes of the Allies was complete and it became an institution, with maximum membership of 150, attached to the Science Council of Japan. On 24 March 1956 the laws and statutes of the Japan Academy were promulgated and it became independent of the Science Council of Japan. These laws are still today the ones under which the Academy operates. The first law states the aim of the Academy [5]:-
The Japan Academy shall be established for the purpose of extending preferential treatment to distinguished scholars in recognition of their outstanding academic achievements and, in compliance with this law, of performing activities deemed necessary for the advancement of science and learning.
The eighth law gives the activities of the Academy [5]:-
(i) Awarding Prizes to specially excellent treatises, works, or other scientific achievements.
(ii) Editing and publishing Transactions and Proceedings containing papers presented or introduced by the Members.
(iii) Executing other activities that would be appropriate for the Japan Academy to perform in order to encourage academic researches.
The Japan Academy has two Sections: (I) Humanities and Social Sciences; (II) Pure Sciences and Their Applications. Section I has three Subsections: Literature, History, Philosophy; Law, Political Science; and Economics, Commerce. Section II has four Subsections: Pure Sciences; Engineering; Agriculture; and Medicine, Pharmaceutics, Dentistry.

We end with the following quote from [2]:-
In 1974, the Academy's newly constructed Assembly Hall was inaugurated. In January 1979, a ceremony to commemorate the Academy's 100th anniversary was held in the Hall in the presence of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan. In addition, the 100th award ceremony of the Imperial Prize and Japan Academy Prizes was commemorated in 2010. This juncture spurred the addition of new components to the Academy's program as Japan's centre of profound scholarship, including holding public lectures and conferring such new awards as the Duke of Edinburgh Prize and Japan Academy Medal.

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References (show)

  1. B C Dees, The Allied Occupation and Japan's Economic Miracle: Building the Foundations of Japanese Science and Technology 1945-52 (Routledge, 2013).
  2. About, The Japan Academy.
  3. The Edo Period in Japanese History, Victoria and Albert Museum.
  4. History, The Japan Academy.
  5. Law, The Japan Academy.
  6. Organization, The Japan Academy.
  7. Past and Present Presidents, The Japan Academy.

Last Updated September 2018