According to Inazo Nitobe (author of "Bushido: The Soul of Japan") timelines written in Japanese, he was awarded honorary degrees from "University of California" (Kariforunia Daigaku, カリフォルニア大学) in March of 1933, and from the University of Geneva (Jeneba Daigaku, ジェネヴァ大学 or セネヴァ大学), but I cannot find any mention of these by Google searching in Japanese, English, or French. It's clear that he was awarded honorary degrees from John Hopkins, Brown, and Haverford, but I can't find evidence for the UC and Geneva ones.

At that time, did the collective University of California give out honorary degrees as one entity, rather than each individual schools giving them out? If not, which one did Nitobe get it from?

When did Geneva award one to him?

What degrees did he get from UC and Geneva? For example, doctorates in law, sociology, or...?

  • 1
    What timeline are you basing this on? How is it sourced? Because certainly not all Japanese timelines of Nitobe make these claims.
    – Semaphore
    Nov 4, 2014 at 11:33
  • I am looking at chronologies published within 7 different books checked out from the Hokkaido University library, as well as timelines found on websites. None of the Japanese books give any citations for the content of the chronologies. Two of the books feature the UC honorary degree, none include the Geneva one (I found that on a university library website: lib.kobe-u.ac.jp/das/jsp/ja/…) but English-language academic journal articles agree that he received a total of 5 honorary degrees in his lifetime.
    – seijitsu
    Nov 4, 2014 at 12:11
  • Are you sure it is five honourary degrees? I checked a few random sources and it seems like it should be five degrees including honourary ones.
    – Semaphore
    Nov 4, 2014 at 13:20
  • According to this, 5 honorary ones, but it's possible that it could be mistaken: friendsjournal.org/life-japanese-quaker-inazo-nitobe-1862-1933 He earned his undergrad degree from Sapporo Agricultural College and his doctorate from Bonne (no masters). Then he received a 2nd doctorate from Kyoto University which is not considered honorary though there is no evidence that he wrote a thesis for it Then John Hopkins, Brown, and Haverford would bring the total number of degrees to 6, leaving the UC honorary degree claimed in 2 of the published books that I have here unsolved.
    – seijitsu
    Nov 4, 2014 at 14:07
  • That's not an academic journal; it is a magazine. Perhaps the author (a lawyer?) worded it poorly or misunderstood. Also, I meant five doctorates in my last comment; that matches your count.
    – Semaphore
    Nov 4, 2014 at 14:46

2 Answers 2


Universities (at least in the US) tend to give those out to famous people as favors for lecturing there. As such, having an "honorary" degree doesn't really mean a whole lot. There wouldn't be much incentive for making up a false story about somebody receiving one.

It appears he did a speaking tour of the US in 1911, and did speak at several universities, so that would be a good place to start looking. I found a dissertation someone did on his speeches from that tour specifically, but it doesn't appear to be available online. My google-fu was only strong enough to ascertain that he did at least talk about California some in the talks.

The only reference I could find to Geneva was that he was there in 1920 when the League of Nations was inaugurated, and became an Undersecretary General for 6 years. It wouldn't be at all surprising if he found some time in the intervening 6 years to speak at the University, nor would it be at all odd for them to give him an honorary degree as part of the deal.

  • He spoke at CA universities on that speaking tour, and spoke at various venues to promote the League while he was working in Geneva, but what I'm looking for is any concrete info on the 2 claimed honorary degrees: a credible citation for either of them, which UC gave one, when they were given, what degrees were they (doctorates[?] in what subject/s). I'm writing a chronology of Nitobe's life for publication, so I can't mention these in it if I can't find any reliable citation. To mention 3 of his honorary degrees but to not include all of them (if he did receive a total of 4 or 5) is uneven.
    – seijitsu
    Nov 4, 2014 at 23:56
  • I personally agree that an honorary degree for lecturing on a speaking tour doesn't mean much, but Japanese people seem to think it does because it evidences that universities abroad respected Nitobe's educational level (he was one of the earliest Japanese to attend college, to learn English, to use knife and fork, to study abroad) so a bachelor's from a Japanese college alone was prestigious; to be confirmed as competent by "first-world" universities added to that. I'm baffled at why which degrees he received is so hard to confirm - they're not effective as honors if no one knows of them!
    – seijitsu
    Nov 5, 2014 at 0:03
  • I'd suggest trying to get hold of that dissertation I linked then. It's quite possible he mentioned it in the opening remarks of the speech at the college that did it. At worst, that should get you the names of the exact colleges he gave the speeches at.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 5, 2014 at 13:51

I found the answer on page 267 in: Oshiro, George M. “The End: 1929-1933.” In Nitobe Inazô: Japan’s Bridge Across the Pacific, edited by John F. Howes, 253–78. Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1995.

“His last major appearance to a wider audience was an address to the Institute of International Affairs at Pasadena. He gave an address entitled, ‘A Japanese Tribute to Abraham Lincoln.’ For his work with the Institute, Nitobe was honored, on March 1st, 1933, with an Honorary Doctorate of Law — his fourth —from the University of Southern California.”

The source provided by Oshiro is “Letter received from Paul Christopher, University Archivist, University of Southern California, March 19th, 1985.”

USC is not part of the University of California (that is, the UC system), so Nitobe did not receive an honorary doctorate from the University of California.

I have not found anything to support Nitobe having had received an honorary doctorate from Geneva, but perhaps 『新渡戸稲造事典』written by 佐藤全弘 and 藤井茂 and published by Kyobunkwan in 2013 would contain the definitive answer to that.

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