Dear all,

I am sorry to share with you the sad news that Tetsuo Najita, the Robert S. Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in History, East Asian Languages and Civilizations and the College; former Chair of the History Department; and former Director of CEAS, passed away in his home in Hawaii on Monday, January 11, 2021.  He was 84 years old.  Professor Najita was a towering figure in the field and distinguished himself through his scholarship, teaching, mentoring of graduate students, and service.  He worked tirelessly to fundraise to support Japanese Studies at UChicago, creating endowments for CEAS that continue to support research, teaching, and graduate education at the University of Chicago today.  

Amanda Woodward, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, shared her thoughts with colleagues about Professor Najita's long and illustrious career at the University of Chicago:

"Professor Najita joined the Department of History of the University of Chicago in 1969 and was a member of the faculty until his retirement in 2002. His work as an historian sought to recoup and to explore the agency of ordinary people, commoner-intellectuals in Osaka, or farmers in the modern period as they negotiated social and political forces of their time. His many publications on Japan’s early modern and modern intellectual history include Hara Kei and the Politics of Compromise (1967), which was awarded the John King Fairbank Prize in East Asian History, and Visions of Virtue: The Kaitokudô Merchant Academy of Osaka (1987), which won the Yamagata Bantō Prize. After his retirement, he continued his work. In 2008, he published a new work in Japanese on the topic of “doing intellectual history,” and in 2009 the University of California Press published his work, Ordinary Economies in Japan: A Historical Perspective, 1759-1950.

Professor Najita also dedicated much energy to supporting the Japan Studies program and the Center for East Asian Studies. As Center director from 1974-1980, he played a leading role in building up the Japanese Studies endowment. He also was an important figure in the History Department and the Social Science Division. He was Master of the Social Science Collegiate Division from 1984-1987 and Chair of the History Department for 1994-1997 and in Spring 2001. In 2007, the Japan Committee of the Center for East Asian Studies created the Najita Lecture Series to commemorate his many achievements. The first speaker was Nobel Prize Winner Oe Kenzaburo." 

On behalf of the entire community at the Center for East Asian Studies, I extend our sincere condolences to Professor Najita's beloved wife, Elinor, their doting children and grandchildren, and extended family and friends.  In keeping with his wishes, we understand that a public service will not be held. The University's Center for East Asian Studies and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, however, will be launching a tribute website to share memories and photos to honor the legacy of Tetsuo Najita.  The Association for Asian Studies has also published a beautiful tribute to our dear colleague. 

In sadness,

Susan L. Burns
Professor of Japanese History,
East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College
Director, Center for East Asian Studies
Senior Advisor for the Social Science Collegiate Division

Read the UChicago News Tribute on Tetsuo Najita by clicking here.