Did Professor Jigoro Kano Earn a PhD?

Jigoro Kano at Gakushūin, between ages 22-28
Jigoro Kano at Gakushūin, between ages 22-28 

Did professor Jigoro Kano earn a PhD?

TL;DR: No. For the details, keep reading!


I (Richard) address Jigoro Kano as "professor" when writing about him. I do so for two reasons. First, he was a professor at multiple schools in Japan, teaching academic subjects. Second, the tradition is Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a derivative of judo, is to address certain instructors as "professor." 

However, I have seen references to professor Kano as being "Dr. Kano." "Dr." in this sense does not refer to a medical doctor, or MD. Rather, it implies receiving a Doctor of Philosophy (referenced as a PhD, Ph.D., or DPhil, from the Latin philosophiae doctor or doctor philosophiae.)  I encountered this once in what I consider to be a reliable source, and other times in less-than-reliable sources. What is the evidence?

The Mat Ball Article

A 2005 article called The Accomplishments of Jigoro Kano by Mat Ball is probably the highest-profile document using the term "Dr." The first word is literally "Dr.":

"Dr. Jigoro Kano was born on October 28, 1860 to a family of wealthy sake brewers... 

He received his Doctorate from Gakushuin in 1885."

Gakushūin refers to what the book The Legacy of Kano Jigoro calls the "Peer's School" and what professor Syd Hoare calls the "Nobles College." Hoare describes the school as a place to "educate the sons of the aristocracy" in his book A History of Judo (pp 49-50).

Mr. Ball's article offers no references for his claim, and we will return to the Gakushūin shortly.

The Book Saving Japan's Martial Arts

A second reference to professor Kano earning a doctorate appears in the 2011 book by Christopher M. Clarke titled Saving Japan's Martial Arts. Clarke writes on p 118:

"In 1895, he received his Doctorate from the Gakushuin and began to change the old methods of academic teaching."

Mr. Clarke does not offer a citation for this claim. Note the 1895 date vice the previous 1885 date.

Kano's Education

Jigoro Kano in 1877
Jigoro Kano in 1877, Naoki Murata, Kodokan Judo Lecture, 28 January 2016

Professor Kano was highly educated and worked in the educational field, apart from anything to do with jūjutsu or judo. The book The Legacy of Kano Jigoro focuses on his role in education and is the source for the following statements.

Kano was a student at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages beginning in 1874 when he was 14. This school was a "preparatory school." After graduating in 1875, he enrolled in the Tokyo Kasei School, also in 1875.  

His college-level education began in 1877, when he joined the Faculty of Letters at Tokyo University as a first-year student. As noted in Legacy, "He was in the first class in the history of Tokyo University, which formed that year through the consolidation and reorganization of Tokyo Kasei School and the Tokyo Medical School." 

At Tokyo University Kano specialized in politics and political economy, graduating in 1881 with a bachelor of arts degree. As noted in Brian Watson's book Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano, professor Kano said the following of his education:

"Majoring in politics and economics, I eventually gained a degree. I also studied philosophy and English literature... Immediately following graduation, I enrolled as a special-student on a further one-year course in philosophy."

Legacy says of this time that "Kano's academic pursuits during that extra year of schooling included continued research on moral science and aesthetics, studies of Chinese classics under Nakamura Masanao (1832-91), and explorations of Western philosophy with Fenollosa and other members of the faculty. He completed his specialist course in 1882."

That was the extent of professor Kano's formal academic education. In a private conversation with lecturer and scholar Lance Gatling of  The Kano Chronicles®, Mr. Gatling noted that Kano "had the equivalent of a master's degree." That was the result of his extra year of schooling at Tokyo University, but he did not have a doctorate.

Kano at Gakushūin 

Jigoro Kano at Age 28
Jigoro Kano at Age 28 [sic, "promising"], Naoki Murata, Kodokan Judo Lecture, 28 January 2016

Professor Kano held several roles at the Gakushūin, even if it had nothing to do with earning a PhD. Returning to Legacy, we read that Kano became an instructor of political science and finance at Gakushūin in 1882. This was his first job as an educator. In 1885 he was promoted to being an administrator and professor. The following year, 1886, he was promoted again to professor and assistant principal. 

Legacy reports on p 76 that "Kano got along well with the first two Gakushūin presidents.. but eventually butted heads with [his third president], Miura Goro. After heading abroad in 1889 and returning home in 1891, Kano promptly left his position at Gakushūin." 

Mr. Gatling also notes that, at the time indicated, "the Gakushūin had no PhD programs. Kano never studied there."

Therefore, we can dismiss claims of earning a doctorate via Gakushūin in 1885 or 1895. What could cause this confusion?

Japanese Titles and Translation

Jigoro Kano in 1881
Jigoro Kano in 1881, Naoki Murata, Kodokan Judo Lecture, 28 January 2016

It's possible that translation errors are one source of the idea that professor Kano earned a doctorate. The event which prompted the entire investigation began with a question I asked Mr. Gatling concerning the following passage from page 88 in Legacy:

"The  Ministry of Education denied any antagonism on its part, saying, ‘This rumor has no grounds whatsoever. The higher normal school has its own curriculum, so Dr. Kano  would never have suggested such a thing in the first place.’” 

The source was cited as "Monbu tokyokusha no danwa, A discussion with Ministry of Education officials, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 30, 1902."

Mr. Gatling owned the Japanese edition of Legacy and checked the corresponding section of the book to see if Kano was called "Dr." in the same passage. It did not. It appeared to be a translation error.

Mr. Gatling noted that Kano was referred to using the following terms:

Kanō shihan - master Kanō, for school and judo
Kanō gakkōchō - school principal Kanō
Kanō Kodokanchō - Kanō, head of the Kodokan, usually shortened in jūdō context as kanchō 
Kanō shi - Mr. Kanō

Mr. Gatling said that newspapers covering political affairs rarely, but when appropriate, referred to Kano as "Kanō Kizokuingiin," meaning "member of the House of Lords." The Emperor nominated him in 1922 and Kano became a member later that year.  

Mr. Gatling noted that "hakase" would be the Japanese term one might apply to a PhD holder.


Kano at Age 31
Jigoro Kano in 1890, Naoki Murata, Kodokan Judo Lecture, 28 January 2016

Professor Jigoro Kano may not have been a PhD, but he was highly educated and a real academic professor. 

Following his time at the Gakushūin, he served three terms as a school principal at the Higher Normal School and Tokyo Higher Normal School, from September 1893-August 1897, from November 1897-June 1898, and from May 1901 to January 1920, according to Legacy. This is in addition to anything he did in judo!

By the way, if you encounter the claim that "In his lifetime, Jigoro Kano attained a doctorate degree in Judo, a degree equivalent to the twelfth dan, awarded to the originator of Judo only," there is no academic merit to this statement, as shown by the research in this post. 

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Note: All of the images in this post are derived from this lecture by the late Naoki Murata, 8th Dan. It seems he followed the Japanese tradition to describe a newborn baby as being "one year old," whereas that same baby would not be a year old until the following year on his or her birthday. This results in "age inflation" in Western eyes, although in the Japanese sense the baby would be in his or her "first year" upon being born.


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