Kajinosuke Ibuka was born in Aizu in 1854. The Ibuka family was one of the nine distinguished samurai families of Aizu. Kajinosuke’s father, Takuemon, was the Aizu Domain’s greatest intellectual, serving as principal of the domain’s academy, Nisshinkan. In 1868, at the age of 14, Kajinosuke himself enrolled in Nisshinkan, but when the Boshin War broke out that year, the Aizu Domain became embroiled in a fierce battle with the government forces, as a key member of the alliance between the domains of Mutsu, Dewa, and Echigo.
While he was slightly too young to join the Byakkotai (White Tiger Unit), a group of young teenage samurai who formed part of the Aizu military, Kajinosuke accompanied his father to Niigata, where he engaged in armed combat. He subsequently served as page to Aizu’s feudal lord Katamori Matsudaira while fighting in the siege of Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle. Within the castle walls, he would have witnessed horrific scenes, with the casualties piling up as the cannonballs of the new government’s army rained down on the castle. Young Kajinosuke unflinchingly fulfilled his duties nonetheless and in doing so, encountered amid the billowing clouds of gunpowder smoke gunnery instructor Kakuma Yamamoto’s younger sister, Yae Yamamoto, who, attired in men’s clothing, had herself taught the Byakkotai members how to shoot. By the traditional system of age reckoning (whereby newborns are considered one year old at birth and a year is added to everyone’s age on New Year’s Day), Yae was 24 and Kajinosuke 15 at the time.
Memories of scenes witnessed on the battlefield
Kajinosuke survived the bloodshed of the 18-month Boshin War. Courageous Yae Yamamoto, too, survived, despite the loss of her father. However, their memories of scenes witnessed on the battlefield greatly influenced the course of both Kajinosuke’s and Yae’s lives thereafter. Yae later met and married Jo Niijima (also known as Joseph Hardy Neesima) in Kyoto, where the couple dedicated themselves to the founding and development of Doshisha. She again saw military service during the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, this time as a volunteer nurse. Both her service in nursing and education and Kajinosuke’s dedication of his life to the development of Meiji Gakuin and Christian education were the result of the tremendous impact of their youthful experiences in Aizu. It is surely no coincidence that Aizu, disdained for its treachery and condemned to bear the fate of a loser, produced a number of individuals who took on a new moral code and undertook work requiring abundant benevolence.
Union Theological School, where Ibuka continued his studies as one of the first cohort of students. Tokyo Union Theological School evolved into Meiji Gakuin in 1887. The new institution’s first president was James Curtis Hepburn. Ibuka became the school’s vice president and went on to study in the U.S. at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. After returning home, he was appointed as Meiji Gakuin’s second president, with his inauguration ceremony taking place on November 6, 1891. Kajinosuke Ibuka was still just 38 years old. However, Ibuka enjoyed the great trust of his predecessor. When Hepburn personally handed the key to Meiji Gakuin to him on the stage, he had this to say about Ibuka. “Kaji, the first character of Mr. Ibuka’s given name, means ‘rudder’ and this describes him to a T. I have fitted a new rudder to the ship that is Meiji Gakuin. I know that he will steer an unerring course, no matter what the direction in which he chooses to take this ship in the future.”
Pursuing the repeal of a ministerial order
For 31 years until he stepped down as president in 1921, Ibuka constantly played an active role in the vanguard of Christian education in Japan, rewarding Hepburn’s trust in him. One event of particular note during his time as president was the issue of the Ministry of Education’s Order No. 12 of 1899. This order prohibited the provision of religious education at schools accredited by the Ministry of Education, forcing institutions to choose between ceasing religious education or relinquishing their accreditation to become a vocational college. Giving up accreditation meant that a sharp drop in the number of applicants was a foregone conclusion, as it would lead to the loss of eligibility for the deferment of conscription and for enrollment in colleges of higher education. Some schools actually did ensure their survival by ceasing to offer Christian education. However, not yielding an inch, Ibuka continued to provide religious education and also began campaigning for the directive’s repeal. Two years later, in May 1901, he succeeded in regaining the privileges that Meiji Gakuin had temporarily lost—eligibility for deferment of conscription and enrollment in higher schools. It would probably be fair to say that Meiji Gakuin would never have existed in its present form if it had not been for the president’s struggle at that time.
The large ginkgo outside the main gate bequeathed by Ibuka
Today, a large ginkgo tree stands resplendent beside the bus stop outside Meiji Gakuin’s main gate on the crossroads side, sticking out into the road from the sidewalk. In fact, the place where this ginkgo stands was once within the precincts of the Meiji Gakuin campus and the tree itself belonged to the school. Back in 1921, during Ibuka’s final year as president, the City of Tokyo was planning to widen the road. The municipal authorities asked Meiji Gakuin to give up part of its land. Ibuka acceded to their request for the sake of the city’s development, but in return obtained a promise that they would not fell the large ginkgo, to preserve the scenic beauty of the neighborhood. He sought no compensation for the tree. Without this commitment, the ginkgo would surely have been felled by the city. Looking down at the people who pass by Meiji Gakuin’s main gate, the tree provides shade in which to rest in summer, while in late autumn, its bright yellow leaves are a joy to behold. This magnificent ginkgo tree is Kajinosuke Ibuka’s legacy to us.