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close this bookScience and Technology in the Transformation of the World (UNU, 1982, 496 p.)
close this folderSession II: Technology generation and transfer - Transformation alternatives
close this folderScience and technology in Japanese history: university and society
close this folderKonji Kawano
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentI. Japan before the second world war
View the documentII. The change after the second world war
View the documentIII. The significance of ''the age of local communities''

I. Japan before the second world war

The most important problem facing a nation like Japan which began to modernize with eminent rivals before her as models was how fast the political unity and independence of the nation could be established. Compared with this urgent problem, other issues such as the political liberty of individual citizens or the freedom of ideas were regarded as far less important. In the process of the modernization of Japan, the circumstances just happened to fall in line. The Meiji government wanted the centralization of administrative power and invulnerable authority. But it took another fifteen years after the Meiji Restoration to achieve the original aim by oppressing the opposition parties and by suppressing agitation without mercy.

The authoritative centralized government decided to establish a government-subsidized national university called the "Imperial University" as an institution through which western science and technology could be introduced and in which government personnel could be groomed. The first Imperial University was established in 1878 in Tokyo. Originally it consisted of a Faculty of Law, a Faculty of Letters, a Faculty of Science, and a Faculty of Medical Science. In 1886, a Faculty of Engineering was added. Kyoto University was the second Imperial University and was established in 1898. It started as a college of science and engineering, and several years later a Faculty of Law, a Faculty of Medical Science, and a Faculty of Letters were added. These examples symbolize the government's policy regarding the aim of higher education in Japan, namely, for the practical purposes of rearing government personnel, for technological training, and for medical science. The humanities were taught at the Faculty of Letters, but they were weighted towards the classics, and were very Oriental in nature, with an emphasis on the philosophy and history of either China or Japan. In short, they inclined to be apolitical, anti-modern, idealistic, and moralistic.

The political implication of the establishment of the national universities for practical purposes was to reveal and support the government's position against the private universities which had been started by intellectuals and leaders of the opposition parties from the early Meiji period. Kelo University and Waseda University were established by such pioneers as Fukuzawa Yukichi and Okuma Shigenobu for the study of the humanities, particularly for the learning of foreign languages and other western-oriented disciplines such as economics and political science. But to the dismay of these private universities, the Meiji government took a hard line against employing any of their graduates, either in government or in teaching posts. This was a typical reaction of the Japanese government, which did nothing to encourage private educational enterprise and the development of the social sciences.

However, the policy of the centralized government of promoting education in science and technology, particularly in applied science, by establishing the national universities inevitably involved a contradiction that was self-defeating. The government had to encourage not only public enterprises but also private industries in order to accommodate all the graduates in applied science. Once private industries were firmly established, the national universities could not keep their privilege of being the sole supplier of graduates to them. The government was finally forced to recognize the rationale and role of private universities. The situation became undeniably apparent in the twentieth century, particularly after the First World War.

One of the most essential contradictions suffered was due to the fact that no one could limit the influence of the West in the realm of natural science. Scholarship claims universality. Even cultural events inherently Asian had to be investigated from a wider frame of reference. Therefore, even the traditional studies of the humanities proved to be no longer satisfactory unless they acquired western ideas and techniques. In particular, once western social science had been introduced into Japan, some courageous national university professors began to criticize openly the status quo of the social establishment. Inevitably there were cases of struggle between the government and universities over the appointment to a particular chair. Japan experienced quite a number of tragic lessons of this sort before the outbreak of the Second World War.