1 – Kawabata Yasunari
Upon graduation, Kawabata and some other contemporary young writers created a journal titled “The Artistic Age.” Their contributions had opposed the long-established Japanese literary movement under the label of Naturalism. They pursued a less realistic approach in their writing, rejuvenating impressionist ideals and establishing themselves in Japan. One of his most acclaimed works, Snow Country, fully published in 1947 plays upon classical Japanese themes in the modern world and is considered his masterpiece. In 1968 he became the first Japanese author to obtain the Nobel prize in literature. He was found dead in 1972 from apparent suicide.
2 – Akutagawa Ryunosuke
Akutagawa’s second short story is probably his most famous, Rashomon, later having been created into a movie by Kurosawa Akira. His career soon after took form, especially after gaining the respect of one of his literary idols, Soseki Natsume, another University of Tokyo graduate and major force in the Japanese literary world. Akutagawa’s work has garnered him the title the father of Japanese short stories, and his namesake Akutagawa Prize is considered Japan’s premier literary award. He too committed suicide at the age of 35 after several years of declining health.
3 – Sato Eisaku
The 39th Prime Minister of Japan, Sato’s tenure lasted almost eight years from ’62 to ’74. During this time Japan experienced it’s first period of extensive growth following WWII. His pursuit of a peaceful Japan led him to denuclearize Okinawa which still houses a U.S. military base. This took place during the Vietnam War, in the midst of the Cold War, and with the proximity of The People’s Republic of China, the magnitude of this feat should not be misunderstood. In 1974 he received the Nobel peace prize along with Sean MacBride for his peaceful efforts, the first Asian to accept the prize.
4 – Kano Jigoro
The founder of judo, Kano was a short and light boy and was bullied throughout his schooldays. When arriving at Tokyo Imperial University, UofT’s old name, in 1877 he sought out a jujitsu teacher that was also a doctor due to hearing that jujitsu was dangerous. His concern with the dangers of the then prominent ‘throwing’ martial arts inspired him to study a wide variety of wrestling techniques including Western forms. He then created his own dojo where he not only professed the martial aspects of judo but the mental discipline he deemed necessary as well. Kano died in 1938 on a trip to promote judo for the Olympic Games, and the sport was introduced during the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.
5 – Masako, Crown Princess of Japan
Born Owada Masako, she is currently married to Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan. Having spent her childhood in Moscow and New York City as her father was a diplomat for Japan, she enrolled in the University of Tokyo where after she pursued a career in diplomatic relations as well. It was during this time that she had met the Crown Prince, of whom she was received with interest. She refused two marriage proposals but eventually accepted his third as she wanted to pursue a career as a diplomat. He had convinced her that a life in the Imperial Family had it’s own diplomatic responsibilities. Pressures to produce a male heir have been speculated to be the cause of her current health issues, as she has made little to no public appearances for several years.
6 – Koshiba Masatoshi
After graduating the University of Tokyo, Koshiba received his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Rochester. His award winning work focused on neutrinos. These are subatomic particles and it was understood that, after nuclear fusion transforms hydrogen into helium, neutrinos would emanate from the sun along with light and heat. They were thought to be invisible, but Koshiba’s experiments proved that they were not only visible, but far fewer neutrinos reached earth than was previously thought. This discovery, as well as discoveries in some of his later works, garnered him a jointly won Nobel prize in physics in 2002.
7 – Ueno Hidesaburo
Arguably the most famous professor who has come from UofT may not be recognizable by most if alone, however, when accompanied by his famous dog Hachiko, Ueno Hidesaburo becomes a familiar figure. This heartfelt relationship has been immortalized in statues both at the university and at Shibuya station. Professor Ueno commuted by train everyday for work and Hachiko would accompany him, and at the end of his day upon his return to Shibuya station, Hachiko would be waiting and they both would walk home together. One day Ueno passed away while lecturing, yet Hachiko still came to see him home for nine years until he too passed.
Todai Eizaburou Ueno and Hachi.