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The Legendary Giants of Letters, Law and Economics

The Achievements of Three Pioneering Individuals Referenced in the President’s Speeches

President Makoto Gonokami, who is currently at the helm of the University of Tokyo, has repeatedly talked about the prominent researchers of the past at commencement and matriculation ceremonies, emphasizing the importance of inheriting and further developing their accumulated wisdom. Of these, here we have selected three great giants of the humanities, and asked researchers standing on the shoulders of these giants to comment on their monumental achievements.

Shinkichi Hashimoto (1882-1945)

Luminary of the Japanese linguistics world who unraveled the phonological history of the Japanese language

Understanding what kind of language Japanese is and how Japanese has evolved into its modern form is of great significance to us. Shinkichi Hashimoto is a pioneer noted for his research into solving such mysteries about the Japanese language.

Hashimoto was born in 1882 in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, Japan, coming from a long family line of doctors. After attending the Third Higher School, he studied in the Division of Linguistics at the Imperial University College of Letters (predecessor to the Faculty of Letters), graduating in 1906. Upon graduating from the College, he is said to have been awarded a silver watch by the Emperor.

Hashimoto’s most remarkable achievement was his breakthrough in explaining the phonological history of the Japanese language. In the course of his research on the man’yōgana (an ancient writing system used to represent the Japanese language phonetically) found in Nara period materials, he realized something important—that specific syllables in particular words are consistently represented by specific characters. For example, the phonetic sound of the character “子” (ko) can also be seen represented by the characters “古” and “故,” and the phonetic sound of the first syllable of “事” (koto), which is also ko, can be seen as “己” or “許.” However, despite both sets of phonetic sounds having the same pronunciation of ko in modern Japanese, in the man’yōgana such representative characters of “子” and “事” were not interchangeable. After due consideration, Hashimoto then came up with the idea that these two “ko” (子 and the one within 事) had different pronunciations and, thus, different vowels from each other. He saw a similar phenomenon in “ki” and “ke,” leading him to hypothesize that ancient Japanese had eight vowels (modern Japanese has five). Although there is a diverse range of opinions on what were the substantial differences between the eight vowels, it is clear with these eight vowels that ancient Japanese had more syllabic distinctions than its modern counterpart.

His second achievement is related to Japanese grammar. While there were many scholars prior to the Meiji period who had studied Japanese grammar, Hashimoto formulated a theory featuring a pioneering concept called “bunsetsu” (sentence segments), which demonstrated that any Japanese sentence could be broken down into separate units. His systematic description of Japanese grammar, in fact, laid the foundations of both the classical and colloquial grammar taught in Japan from junior high school onward.

From 1909 to 1943, Hashimoto worked in turn as a research assistant, an assistant professor, and finally as a professor at the Department of Japanese Linguistics, Faculty of Letters. During that time, in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck Japan and about 70% of the Department’s collections were destroyed by fire. Using the books and materials that remained, Hashimoto restored the huge collection. The Department’s accession record dating from around the year 1900, which Hashimoto is said to have rescued from the fire, is still preserved in the Department’s collection.
  • shinbunten
  • The Shin Bunten (New Grammar), a Japanese textbook written by Professor Hashimoto, laid the foundation for postwar Japanese language education.
    The photo shows its supplementary instruction book for Japanese language teachers titled Shin Bunten Bekki Jokyuyo (Supplement to New Grammar, Advanced Course) (published by Fuzambo, 1935).

Masayuki Tsukimoto

Masayuki Tsukimoto
Department of Japanese Linguistics
Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology

Kenjiro Ume (1860-1910)

The “Father of Japan’s Civil Law” who pursued the codification of Japanese and Korean laws

Provided by the Meiji Shinbun Zasshi Bunko, Faculty of Law
As Meiji-era Japan continued to aim high with its ambitions to become a first-class world power, Kenjiro Ume, a legal scholar, carried on with his nation’s hopes and expectations by making an influential impact across national boundaries. Ume was born in 1860 as a son of the domain doctor of the Matsue domain (currently Shimane Prefecture). He studied the basics of French law at the Ministry of Justice Law School (one of the predecessors of the University of Tokyo Faculty of Law). After graduating at the top of his class in 1884, he was sent by the government to study abroad at the University of Lyon in France. His four years of studies in Lyon came to fruition with a doctoral dissertation entitled “De la transaction” (“Of Transaction”) in which he candidly discussed the legal principles of “settlement agreements” found in legal codes spanning from ancient Roman law to the Napoleonic Code. His dissertation not only received the highest honor from the University of Lyon; his theory was often quoted in civil law textbooks in France and Germany as well. Thus, the name “Oumé Kendjirõ” came to be well known in European legal circles.

Soon after Ume’s return to Japan in 1890, he was appointed by the government as a professor of the Faculty of Law at Imperial University, and took charge of giving lectures on Civil Law. Ume then became involved in the “Minpoten Ronso” (dispute over the Civil Code), urging the adoption of a code drawn up by a French legal scholar, Gustave Boissonade. When the adoption of the code was delayed, he was appointed as a member of the committee to prepare a new draft, the Investigation Committee of Codes, together with two other Imperial University professors, Nobushige Hozumi and Masaaki Tomii. They were tasked with compiling the new Civil Code.

Their newly-drafted Civil Code of Japan was enacted in 1898. Most of its provisions still remain in effect to this very day, 119 years after enactment, regulating many aspects of daily life and business relations in modern Japan. The Essentials of the Civil Code, consisting of 5 volumes, was written by Ume right after the enactment of the Civil Code. This work, which describes the thoughts and ideas of the code drafters, was considered by law students to be a must-read.

Having gained Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito’s trust through his compilation of the Civil Code, Ume concurrently took up multiple governmental posts, including Director General of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture and Director General of the Legislation Bureau. In 1905, Ito, as the Resident-General of Korea, then invited Ume to become legal advisor to the Korean Protectorate to conduct research on local customs and codify laws for the Protectorate. Ume continued to operate both inside and outside of Japan with his boundless versatility until his death in 1910 in Keijo (Seoul, Korea) of typhoid fever at the age of 50. Throughout his lifetime, Ume never stopped pursuing the ideal form of law, foreseeing the future societies of Japan and Korea.
  • shinbunten
  • Next to the School of Law Building on the Hongo Campus
    stands a monument and a Japanese Ternstroemia planted
    in 2009 in memory of Professor Ume.

Akihiko Tsujimura

Akihiko Tsujimura
Kobe Gakuin University Faculty of Law

Hirofumi Uzawa (1928-2014)

The great master of economics who became “immortal”

Professor Hirofumi Uzawa was a great master of economics whose influence lives on to this day. He made enormous contributions to academia at the dawn of mathematical economics, thereby becoming an internationally-renowned star of the economic world. Uzawa also served as a professor at Stanford University and the University of Chicago. His achievements in the field of Macroeconomic Dynamics are worthy of a Nobel Prize.

However, in 1968, at the prime of his career, Professor Uzawa returned to the University of Tokyo. There, his attitude toward mathematical economics turned entirely negative. In fact, it was this severe criticism that led to Professor Uzawa’s reputation becoming immortalized.

To quote Professor Uzawa: “Mathematical economics is useless in its present state. We have only one model to describe economics, and it is an inhuman market principle that pursues economic efficiency while ignoring social conditions. With this kind of principle, we won’t be able to have deep insights into economics from a social science perspective, nor will we be able to use the scientific approach to develop a suitable analysis.”

Professor Uzawa called this a “Crisis of Economics” and forced us to confront it. I will never forget the furious look on his face when he said, “At the request of the U.S. government, a number of economists were tasked with calculating the cost-benefit ratio necessary to kill Vietnamese.” Seeing these economists who so eagerly twisted the truth to pander to the government, Professor Uzawa must have sensed a crisis occurring in the field of economics.

Today, poverty, education, medical care and the environment are cutting-edge areas focused on in economic studies. To address these areas, there have been great strides in the advanced development of Game Theory, Mechanism Design, and Empirical Microeconometrics. As it turns out, strangely enough, these areas coincide with what Professor Uzawa called the “social common capital,” the area that he considered to be the most important in economics.

In Professor Uzawa’s words, “Carelessly introducing economic efficiency to the social common capital will cause societal confusion. The social common capital must not be controlled by bureaucratic governance, and we must prevent foolish professionals from pandering to power.”
We should also bear these points in mind when evaluating the university system. The Crisis of Economics is a pressing social issue which we must continue to address in earnest.
  • Professor Uzawa was also known for his long, hermit-like beard. He attracted considerable attention when he appeared on the poster of the May Festival in 1987, dressed as a book-reading angel.

Hitoshi Matsushima

Hitoshi Matsushima
Graduate School of Economics

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