Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kenkichi Ichishima: The Chronicler of Waseda and Okuma

Yesterday, my son and I went to Ijimino in Shibata City, which is where the Ichishima family established the original family domicile in Niigata Prefecture. We went there to learn more about one of the great members of our extended family, Kenkichi Ichishima (who went by the pen name of Shunjo).

First, we visited his grave in the Ijimino Cemetery. His tomb, which is right next to our family tomb, was repaired by Waseda University last year. Earlier, in a special  ceremony in Shibata City, Waseda's president delivered a speech in commemoration of the one-hundred fiftieth anniversary of Shunjo Ichishima's birth.

Photo: Kenkichi Ichishima (1860-1944)
A teacher for only a short time, Ichishima later worked as Library Director and assisted with the university's management. He played a major role in fund-raising for the university's expansion. He also served as director of the Dainippon Bunmei Kyōkai (Japan Civilization Society) and chairman of the Japan Library Association. (Retrieved from Waseda University’s home page)

Next, my son, a Waseda University student, and I went to Ichishima Tei or the Ichishima Residence Museum, to see a special exhibition about Kenkichi Ichishima’s accomplishments that featured a newly erected statue in his honor. A duplicate statue was also erected on the Waseda campus.

According to Waseda University’s website, the men that congregated around Shigenobu Ōkuma, the founder of the university, and assisted him in both his political ambitions and in the founding of Waseda University, included “a galaxy of talented individuals.” Amongst them were the enthusiastic young students of Azusa Ono's Ōtōkai (The Gull Society), who graduated from Tokyo Imperial University (now called The University of Tokyo). With Sanae Takata as the leader, the group was sometimes called the “University Group of Seven.” Ichishima also belonged to the group, but he quit school and rushed to Ōkuma's aid when Ōkuma left public office in 1881.

From then until Ōkuma's death in 1922 (Taishō 11), Ichishima spent over forty years as one of Ōkuma's attendants. During that time, Kenkichi  Ichishima (who went by the pen name of Shunjō) was a prolific writer, and he left behind an extensive catalog of essays, records, and notes. He was something of a chronicler of Ōkuma and Waseda University.

Ichishima was born in 1860 (Manen 1), the same year that Chief Minister Ii Naosuke was assassinated in the Sakuradamon Incident. By strange coincidence, he died in 1944 (Shōwa 19) at the age of 85, the same age that Ōkuma died.

Ichishima's family were wealthy landowners from the Echigo Province (located in current-day Niigata Prefecture). When Issei Maeshima was appointed as a commissioner after the Meiji Restoration, he used the spacious Ichishima home as his official residence, and is said to have doted on Ichishima, who, after studying in Suibara, Niigata, moved to Tokyo and entered Tokyo University. There he became friends with Sanae Takata, Shōyō Tsubouchi, Kenkichi Okayama, Ichirō Yamada, Kinosuke Yamada, and Katsutaka Sunakawa. He joined the Ōtōkai (Gull Society), supported Ōkuma in establishing the Rikken Kaishintō (Constitutional Reform Party), and later devoted himself to the founding of Tokyo Senmon Gakkō (College) and the development of Waseda University.

Ichishima had an especially close relationship with Takata. Judging from the roles they played, their relationship was like that of the sun and moon.

Takata served as Waseda's president, as a politician who served in the Diet in the Kizokuin (House of Peers: the upper house of the Imperial Diet under the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, which was in effect from February 11, 1889 to May 3, 1947), and as Minister of Education.  Ichishima also served in the Diet as an elected member from Niigata Prefecture, but his career was cut short due to illness.

Thereafter, he supported Takata as Executive Director, Auditor, and Library Director of Waseda University. He also assisted with fund-raising and expanding the Waseda University Library.
During this period, he always walked in Takata's shadow, and in the general election during the second Ōkuma cabinet, served as Ōkuma's campaign director. When Takata was sick or traveling abroad, Ichishima took care of all of his duties. He was flexible and responsive—a literary man, uninterested in fame or fortune. During the so-called “Waseda Troubles,” Ichishima faced down attacks as head of the Takata faction. After Ōkuma's death, he handled all the planning and organizing for the funeral.

(From “Episode—Ōkuma Shigenobu (Episodes in the Life of Shigenobu Ōkuma)”)
Retrieved from

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Direct Talk with Sanjo’s Mayor about Equal Rights

At a meeting convened by the Sanjo Women’s Forum this morning, I had a chance to participate in a “direct talk” about equal rights issues with Sanjo Mayor Isato Kunisada at the Gender Equality Office in Sanjo City. Kunisada-san, who was once the youngest city mayor in Japan, is now in his late-30s and is planning to run once again in the upcoming city election.

Admirably, he is willing to talk with anybody about any agenda.

While I am not an active member of the women’s forum, I have been interested in gender-related issues for many years and am an equal rights activist. Certainly, then, if there is one thing that needs to be discussed by the citizens of our city, it is how to further improve the status and rights of women.

I often hear it said that many people in Japan, especially those in rural areas like Sanjo, have very traditional and conservative views regarding occupational and homemaking duties. In a nutshell, working women spend a lot more time than men on household chores, child care, shopping, elderly care, and so on.

After the enactment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1986, the number of female workers increased, but even today, many more females work part-time or as temporary employees. Furthermore, few women hold supervisory roles, even in city hall.

Another area of concern is the field of education. For instance, in a field with one of the highest rates of full-time female employment in the country, you will find less than ten female principals for the one hundred senior high schools in Niigata Prefecture.

I believe government must lead the way on this issue. Unfortunately, our talk with the mayor did not lead to concrete proposals to enhance the status of women in our area, but we did agree to hold a follow-up meeting soon to deepen our discussion.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Who pays 100 dollars for a nail clipper? - Me!

SUWADA’S fancy nail clippers, which actually look more like nippers, fly off the shelves. In fact, I bought a very expensive pair myself. However, according to the information I learned about its edge and usability, I won't ever have to buy another one.

You may be asking yourself, “Who on earth is SUWADA?” Actually, it’s a company named SUWADA Blacksmith Works, Incorporated. The president is Mr. Tomoyuki Kobayashi, an up and coming whiz, who chairs the “Japan Brand Committee” at the Sanjo Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He is also an active member of the “Sanjo Japan” group, which is exclusively composed of manufacturing companies whose origins are in the city. The members of this group go overseas together to place their products on international exhibition. One of the biggest events for the Sanjo Japan group is to display their traditional and state-of-art products at the International Trade Fair held in Ambiente, Frankfourt in Germany.

SUWADA also specializes in the sale of Bonsai shears and pliers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Relics of an Ancient Civilization?

The Yoshinoya area, where Isurugi Shrine is located, is also noted for its archaeological sites. On my way back home from seeing the great work by the Michelangelo of Echigo, I visited an excavation site (as shown in the photos). Though the findings have not been confirmed, the shards of earthenware and other unearthed articles were said to be from around the year 1000 during the Heian Period. They reminded me of the shards I dug up around my hometown during the summer breaks of my childhood.

The Michelangelo of Echigo Part 2

Another great work by Uncho
I went to see another great work by the “Michelangelo of Echigo, ” Ishikawa Uncho.  (Echigo is a former name of Niigata Prefecture). Earlier last month, I had joined a tour to view his greatest works on display at Honjoji Temple, the Head Temple of the Hokke Sect, located in Sanjo City. However, many of his masterpieces are possessed by some of the other notable temples and shrines across Echigo.

This time, I visited “Isurugi Shrine” in Yoshinoya in Sanjo City’s Sakae area. It is famous for its devotion to medicine. It also possesses one of Uncho’s finest works from the latter part of his career.

It was a sweltering, hot day, and I sweated a river while fighting a squadron of mosquitoes as I climbed the hundred narrow and steep steps leading to the small, but highly dignified shrine. However, as you can see from the photo below, it was well worth the effort. The sculpture, located at the entrance of the shrine, features a dragon, waves, turtles, carps, and Fu Lions. The dragon appeared to me as if it were about to jump off the beam onto which it was carved and fly away.