Shaping of scientific psychology in Japan

Tadasu Oyama
University of the Air, Chiba, and Nihon University, Tokyo, Japan

Tatsuya Sato
Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan

Yuko Suzuki
Tohoku Women’s Junior College, Hirosaki, Japan

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Japanese scientific psychology began with Y. Motora’s lecture on pyschophysics at the University of Tokyo in 1888. He had just received his PhD under G.S. Hall at Johns Hopkins University, in the USA. He became the first professor of psychology in 1890 and founded the first psychological laboratory at the University of Tokyo in 1903. He studied many psychological problems, including attention, experimentally and theoretically. One of his first students, Matataro Matsumoto, founded the second psychological laboratory at Kyoto University and then succeeded to Motora’s position in Tokyo. Matsumoto was interested in experimental studies of human performance and their applications. He trained many able psychologists and organized the Japanese Psychological Association in 1927. Some of his students founded more psychological laboratories in major universities of Japan. They introduced psychological tests, Gestalt psychology, and behaviourism in the 1920s and 1930s. Psychoanalysis was introduced through mainly nonacademic roots and became familiar to Japanese psychologists in the 1930s. After World War II, a strong influence of American psychology came to Japanese psychologists who had already trained in scientific methodology. The areas of research and applications have been greatly widened and the number of psychologists has increased rapidly up to the present day. Promotion of international interactions and indigenous traditions are both expected.

La psychologie scientifique japonaise a commencé avec de cours les Y. Motora sur la psychophysique, à l’Université de Tokyo en 1888. Il venait tout juste d’obtenir son PhD sous la direction de G.S.Hall au Johns Hopkins University. Il devint le premier professeur de psychologie en 1890 et fonda le premier laboratoire de psychologie à l’Université de Tokyo en 1903. Il a étudié plusieurs problèmes psychologiques, dont l’attention, expérimentalement et théoriquement. L’un de ses premiers étudiants, Matataro Matsumoto, a fondé le second laboratoire de psychologie à l’Université de Kyoto, puis succéda à Motora à Tokyo. Matsumoto s’intéressait aux études expérimentales sur le rendement humain et à leurs applications. Il a formé plusieurs psychologues et a mis sur pied en 1927 l’Association Japonaise de Psychologie. Certains de ses étudiants ont fondé d’autres laboratoires dans les principales universités du Japon. Ils ont introduit les tests psychologiques, la théorie de la Gestalt et le behaviorisme dans les années 1920 et 1930. La psychanalyse a pris ses racines dans le monde non universitaire et est devenue familière aux psychologiques japonais dans les années 1930. Après la deuxième guerre mondiale, les psychologues japonais, qui étaient déjà formés à la méthodologie scientifique, ont été fortement influencés par la psychologie américaine. Les domaines de recherche et d’application se sont diversifiés et le nombre de psychologues a augmenté rapidement jusqu’à aujourd’hui.


Map of Japan


After the long closure of the country since the early 17th century, Japan reopened its doors to Western countries on the occasion of Meiji-Reform in 1868. The new Japanese government and progressive peoples were very eager to learn Western sciences and technology. Western psychology was first introduced to Japan in that time (Azuma & Imada, 1994; Kido, 1961; T. Sato & Mizoguchi, 1997; S. Wundt, 2000).

In 1875, Amane Nishi, who was one of the introducers of wide-ranging Western knowledge, translated an American theologian, Joseph Haven’s, Mental Philosophy into Japanese in the name of Shinrigaku. It means the science of mind. This Japanese word became to mean “Psychology” later, and continues to be used in this sense. The same word is used in China with a slightly different pronunciation.

In 1877, the University of Tokyo was founded as the first Western-style university in Japan. There, in its general education, Masakazu Toyama taught psychology, using books written by Alexander Bain, William Benjamin Carpenter, and Herbert Spencer as textbooks (Kuwata, 1942). But Toyama was a generalist of Western sciences, not a specialist in psychology.


In those days, a highly motivated and very bright young man called Yujiro Motora, who had received some Western knowledge at Doshisha English Academy in Kyoto, wanted to learn more and had an opportunity to go to the USA in 1883. He studied philosophy at Boston University for 2 years and then stayed at Johns Hopkins University as a graduate student from 1885 to 1888. G. Stanley Hall had just founded a psychological laboratory there in 1883 after his stay at Wundt’s laboratory in Leipzig. At Johns Hopkins, Motora learnt psychology, philosophy, mathematics, pedagogy, and political sciences (T. Sato, Takasuma, Mizoguchi, & Nishikawa, 2000). He worked with Stanley Hall in an experimental study on touch sensitivity and published a paper in the first volume of the American Journal of Psychology (Hall & Motora, 1887). This study was concerned with the Weber’s law on the dermal sensitivity to gradual pressure changes and was cited in Wundt’s (1902) Grundzüge.

Motora got his PhD in 1888 with a dissertation entitled Exchange, considered as the principle of social life, which was rather theoretical (S. Kodama, 1990). When he came back to Japan in the same year, Toyama, as the Dean of College, asked Motora to teach psychophysics as a lecturer at the University of Tokyo. It was the very first lecture on an advanced topic in psychology in Japan.

From 1889 to 1891, Motora published a series of papers entitled “Psychophysics” in Tetsugakukai Zasshi (Journal of the Philosophical Society) supposedly based on his lecture of the same title. In the 8th paper of the series, he described his span of attention experiment using a kymograph, probably the first systematic psychological experiment in Japan. Attention was one of his main theoretical and experimental topics through his academic life. Later he developed the training method of attention. In his training, children should keep their attention on a rotated drum seen through a flat rectangular aperture and to point to every small area of an instructed colour, red for example, in a random matrix of various colours on the drum, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Motora’s apparatus for attention training. A: Front view. B: Inside view

Figure 1.
Motora’s apparatus for attention training.
A: Front view, B: Inside view. Symbols (a to l) indicate different colours.
From Motora (1911).

According to Motora, most children with poor school achievement are not mentally retarded, but suffering from instability of attention. He stated that his training method increased children’s school achievement, and published a German paper on his study (Motora, 1911). He can be considered as one of the pioneer researchers of cognitive psychology and learning disability (LD) in the present terminology. In his 9th to 12th papers on psychophysics, Motora also presented statistical studies on rhythms on Japanese classical poems and experiments on word associations in young men. These facts indicated that psychophysics in Motora’s terminology was so wide as to correspond to scientific psychology, and that his interest was also wide enough to cover various aspects of psychological processes. He published a brief textbook, Psychology, in 1890. It was the very first textbook of scientific psychology in Japan.

In 1890, Motora received a professorial chair and taught students majoring in psychology, using one or two rooms for experiments. In 1903, he was finally successful in establishing a small building as his laboratory. It was the first psychology laboratory in Japan, while Motora called it a psychophysical laboratory. Matataro Matsumoto, one of the first students of Motora, assisted him greatly in its planning. There were six experimental rooms, an apparatus room, a lecture room, a workshop, a library, and a professor’s office room, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The first psychological laboratory, University of Tokyo

Figure 2.
The first psychological laboratory, University of Tokyo.
A: Chronometry room;  B: Dark room;  C: Vision room;  D: Library;  E: Apparatus room;  F: Lecture room;
G: Chronometry room;  H: Sound-proof room;  I: Audition room;  J: Work shop;  K: Professor’s office.
From Hidano (1998), reprinted with permission of the Society of Japanese Psychological Review.

Only a few classical instruments from that time now remain in the University of Tokyo. All were imported from Germany or France; a Hipp’s chronoscope, a kymograph, three tuning forks, etc. (Oyama & Sato, 1999). Fortunately, we have an old photographic album of experimental psychology that was edited by the Department of Psychology at the University of Tokyo and published in 1910 (N. Osaka, 1999). Thirty-seven pictures are included in it.

They are of standard psychophysical experiments such as two-point limen measurement, reaction time experiments, and some psychophysiological experiments using a plethysmograph and a pneumograph. It should be noted that one of the pictures taken as early as 1910 shows measurement of galvanic skin reaction (GSR), or electrodermal activity (EDR).

Motora attended the 5th International Congress of Psychology at Rome in 1905 and presented a paper on the Idea of ego in the Eastern philosophy. This paper was reflected his experience of Zen meditation at a Buddhist temple, though he was a Christian, indicating the return of his interest from the Western to the Eastern culture (T. Sato et al., 2000).

His great book Shinrgaku Gairon (Principles of psychology) was published in 1915 after his death. It presented his theoretical system.

As we have shown, Yujiro Motora established scientific psychology in Japan. He was a strictly scientific experimentalist and a theorist on mind-body problems at the same time.


Matsumoto studied psychology as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Tokyo under Professor Motora from 1890 to 1896. Then he went to Yale University and worked with E.W. Scripture. Matsumoto (1897) was the first to use a sound cage in the study of auditory space perception (Boring, 1942). In 1899, he received his PhD from Yale University, presenting a dissertation entitled Research on acoustic space. Then he went to Leipzig to stay for 1 year and came back to Japan to become a professor of the Tokyo Higher Normal School and also to teach experimental psychology at the University of Tokyo as a lecturer.

Matsumoto assisted Professor Motora in experiments on reading and writing performance efficiency, comparing two kinds of Japanese letters, katakana and hiragana, for standardizing formal Japanese letters. As we have already mentioned, he also assisted Professor Motora in planning the first psychological laboratory, collecting experimental instruments. In 1906, he went to Kyoto to open the second psychological laboratory in Japan as the professor of Kyoto University. In 1913, he came back to Tokyo to take over the chair of professor shortly after Motora’s sudden death.

Matsumoto was interested in objective and chronometric studies of human psychomotor activities. In 1914, he published two books, Psychocinematics and Experimental Psychology. He was sensitive both to new trends of psychology abroad and the social demands of psychology inside Japan. He encouraged young psychologists to work in applied areas such as industry, education, military, crime, vocational guidance, communication, and aviation (Kuwata, 1942). He also published a book entitled Psychology of Intelligence in 1925 and another book on Psychology of Pictorial Arts in 1926. These indicated his wide interest in the relation between psychology and human life.

In the 1920s, eight new laboratories were founded in Kwansei Gakuin (Kobe, west of Osaka), Tohoku (Sendai), Nihon (Tokyo), Kyushu (Fukuoka), Keio (Tokyo), Doshisha (Kyoto), Tokyo Bunrika, and Hiroshima Universities, as shown in Table 1 (Japanese Psychological Association, 1979, 1980).

Foundation of psychological laboratories and their founders in major universities of Japan

1903 University of Tokyo (Y. Motora, Johns Hopkins PhD)
1906 Kyoto University (M. Matsumoto, Tokyo BA, Yale PhD)
1922 Kwansei Gakuin University, Kobe (M. Imada, Tokyo BA, Kyoto PhD)
1923 Tohoku University, Sendai (T. Chiba, Kyoto, PhD) Nihon University, Tokyo (T. Watanabe, Tokyo BA)
1926 Keio University, Tokyo (M. Yokoyama, Clark PhD)
1927 Kyushu University, Fukuoka (K. Sakuma, Tokyo PhD) Doshisha University, Kyoto (Y. Motomiya, Yale MA, Doshisha PhD)
1929 Tokyo Bunrika University—now the University of Tsukuba (K. Tanaka, Kyoto BA, Tokyo PhD) Hiroshima University (Y. Kubo, Tokyo BA, Clark PhD)
1931 Waseda University, Tokyo (P. Akamatsu, Waseda BA)

The founders of five out of the eight new laboratories were former students of Professor Matsumoto. This fact clearly shows the strong influence of Matsumoto on the shaping of Japanese psychology. Most of his students studied basic concepts and experimental methods of psychology under Professor Matsumoto at Kyoto or Tokyo in their undergraduate days and then went abroad to learn some new trends of psychology, developmental psychology, mental measurements, Gestalt psychology, behaviourism, and so on.

In 1927, the first nationwide psychological organization, the Japanese Psychological Association, was founded and took over the publication of Shinrigaku Kenkyu (Japanese Journal of Psychology), which had been started by a smaller group in 1926 and has been published regularly, except in the middle of the war, to reach its 72nd volume in 2001. Matsumoto was proposed by the starting members of the association to be the first president of it and remained at this post until the day of his death in 1943. He was a great leader and organizer of Japanese psychology.


The first report on the Binet-Simon Intelligence Test in Japan was made by a psychiatrist. Koichi Miyake, at the University of Tokyo Medical School in 1908 (R. Osaka, 1961; T. Sato & Mizoguchi, 1997). Three years later, a psychologist, Yoichi Ueno, one of Motora’s students, also introduced the Binet Test. These coincided with Goddard’s introduction of the same test into the USA (Popplestone & McPherson, 1999 ). In 1918 Yoshihide Kubo, one of the students of Motora and Hall and the founder of the Psychological Laboratory, Hiroshima University, standardized a Japanese edition of the Binet-type intelligence test. It was the first standardized psychological test in Japan. Harutaro Suzuki, a school inspector of Osaka city, published a unique test based upon the 1916 version of the Stanford-Binet test in 1925. Standardization of another version of the Binet test was done by Kan-ichi Tanaka, one of Matsumoro’s students and the founder of the Psychological Laboratory, Tokyo Bunrika University, in the period from 1938 to 1943. After World War II, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) were introduced and their Japanese editions became popular (R. Osaka, 1961).

The first group test of intelligence was constructed by Tohru Watanabe, another of Motora’s students and the founder of the Psychological Laboratory, Nihon University, and his collaborators in 1921. It was developed at the request of the Tokyo City Office of Education to administer to primary school pupils, being modelled after the US National Intelligence Test, Scale A, Form 1, which originated from the US Army Test. Some other group intelligence tests were constructed in the 1920s—most of them modelled on the US Army tests.

In order to improve the entrance examination of the middle schools, Kan-ichi Tanaka suggested the use of an intelligence test. In 1921, Tanaka and his collaborators constructed and administered an intelligence test for the entrance examination. The follow-up study indicated that the test scores correlated more highly with the achievement scores after entrance than did the achievement entrance examination. Academic aptitude tests became popular in the 1950s but were not fully established.

Some personality inventories were developed in the middle of the 1920s: a Morality Test by Shin-ichi Nakajima, an Emotional Stability Test by Shigeru Otomo, a Personality Adjustment by Tohru Watanabe, an Emotionality Inventory by Enjiro Awaji and Yataro Okabe, an Extroversion-Introversion Test by Enjiro Awaji, etc. (H. Kodama, 1957). Continuing this historical background, the Yatabe-Guilford Personality Test was developed after the Guilford-Martin Inventory in 1956 using a full statistical analysis (Tsujioka, Sonohara, & Yatabe, 1957), and Japanese versions of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) (Abe, 1969; Hama, 1966; H. Kodama, 1957) and the Maudsley Personality Inventory (Iwawaki, Oyama, Sugiyama, Kikuchi, & Komatsu, 1970) were produced and are still popular today.

The Uchida-Kreapeline Psychodiagnostic Test, developed by Yuzaburo Uchida in 1927, is the most original performance test of personality developed in Japan (Kuraishi, Kato, & Tsujioka, 1957). The first hint of it was given by the continuous addition method of a German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin. Subjects are asked to make continuous additions for 15 minutes with a 5-minute interval after the first 10 minutes, changing rows of random series of digits printed on test papers. The temperamental aspects of personality are diagnosed on the basis of the shape of addition work curve. This test is still used in various areas.

As a projective test of personality, the Rorschach test was also introduced by Uchida into Japan as early as 1925, 4 years after its publication in Germany. Hiroshi Motoaki published a study on F responses in 1942. However, wide clinical use and systematic studies on it began in the 1950s (Kataguchi, 1957; H. Kodama, 1957).


In 1909, Sigmund Freud was invited by G. Stanley Hall to give a series of lectures at Clark University in honour of its 20th anniversary. In that time, two Japanese scholars, Hikozo Kakise (a student of Motora) and Sakyo Kanda (a physiologist), attended Freud’s lectures. They are found in the famous group photograph of Hall, Freud, Jung, and the audience. This photograph symbolically indicates the American rout of the influence of psychoanalysis on Japan. Kakise (1911) reported on psychoanalysis, referring to free association and interpretation of dreams, in his note on American psychology after his return to Japan. Kaison Ohtsuki (another of Motora’s students) published a paper entitled Psychology of Forgetting in 1912. It is thought to be the first article on psychoanalysis in Japan. Kyuichi Kimura (1912) also wrote an introductory article on some aspects of psychoanalysis a little later. Yoshihide Kubo (1917) published a book entitled Seisin Bunseki (Psychoanalysis), which was the first Japanese book that systematically described psychoanalytic theory. He learnt psychoanalytic theory from Hall during his stay at Clark University, as he wrote in the preface to his book. However, no special commitment to psychoanalysis was found in his studies thereafter.

Yaekichi Yabe, who had studied psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1900s, was interested in psychoanalysis when he was working for the National Railroad after his return to Japan. He went to London in 1930 to obtain a training analysis from Edward Glover and instruction in the theory from Ernest Jones, and he got Jones’ permission to organize a branch of the International Psychoanalytic Association in Tokyo (Anzai, 2000a; Blowers & Yang, 1997, 2001). Two years before that, Yabe had assisted his friend, Kenji Ohtsuki—who was neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist but a literature graduate—to found the Tokyo Institute for Psychoanalysis. The institute began to publish a Journal entitled Seishin Bunseki (Tokyo Journal of Psychoanalysis) in 1933 (Tokyo Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1933). Most of the papers in it were nonclinical essays, although Yabe and Ohtsuki did some clinical practice.

The pioneer of psychoanalysis among Japanese psychiatrists was Kiyoyasu Marui (Anzai, 2000b; Blowers & Yang, 1997, 2001; Kaketa, 1958). From 1916 to 1919, Marui studied at the Johns Hopkins University under Adolf Meyer, who had also been in the audience of Freud’s invited lectures at Clark and was sympathetic to psychoanalysis. Then Marui came back to Japan and started teaching some psychoanalytic theory at Tohoku University Medical School in Sendai, as a professor of psychiatry in 1919. He also taught at the newly opened department of psychology of Tohoku University from 1923. These might be the very first systematic lectures on psychoanalysis in departments of psychology in Japan. Marui’s influence was found in some psychologists graduating from Tohoku University at this time (Kitamura, 1997). Marui also introduced the psychoanalytic theory to Japanese academism through his writings (Marui, 1925, 1931). He established the Sendai branch of the International Psychoanalytic Association in 1934, with the agreement of Ernest Jones made on the occasion of their meeting in London. Marui was invited as one of the speakers at a symposium on “the problems of unconsciousness” at the 4th Convention of the Japanese Psychological Association at Sendai in 1933 (Japanese Psychological Association, 1933). He also wrote a comment to reply to an article critical of psychoanalysis written by a psychologist, Koji Sato, in The Japanese Journal of Psychology in the same year (Marui, 1933; K. Sato, 1933).

Marui taught and wrote about the theory of psychoanalysis but did not have much experience in practice of Freudian psychoanalytic therapy. Heisaku Kosawa, a student of Marui, wanted to learn psychoanalytic practice directly from Freud. He visited Freud at Vienna in 1931. He received psychoanalytical training from Richard Sterba and supervision from Paul Federn, following Freud’s suggestion. After his return to Japan, Kosawa opened a private psychoanalytic clinic in Tokyo. Kosawa developed a theory of Ajase complex named after the ancient Indian prince Ajatasatru, whose story appeared in Buddhist texts (Blowers & Yang, 1997). Ajase complex was concerned with ambivalent feelings that developed between mothers and their children, especially in the Japanese culture.

In spite of the efforts of these pioneers, most academic psychologists and psychiatrists were too conservative to accept psychoanalysis as their theoretical standpoint, though many cultured persons outside of academic institutes, especially those with a taste for literature, showed much interest in it.

The first translation of Freud’s work, the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, was carried out by Tokutaro Yasuda in 1926 and sold very well (Blowers & Yang, 1997), Then two translated versions of Freud’s collected works were published independently by Ars and Shunyodo, from 1929 to the early 1930s. The first version was translated by Marui, Kubo, and some others, and the second one by Ohtsuki, Yabe, and their collaborators.

Many Japanese psychologists and psychology students became familiar with the outline and basic concepts of psychoanalytic theory through these translations and introductory books written by Japanese authors. But only a few systematic lectures and clinical practice had been given in universities before the 1950s.


Direct information about Gestalt psychology was first given by Sadaji Takagi, one of Matsumoto’s students, to Japanese psychologists in 1921. After his stay at Cornell University to study under E.B. Titchener, Takagi visited Germany and saw some Gestalt psychologists (Sakuma, 1999). This information, and papers written by Gestalt psychologists, attracted some young Japanese psychologists; among them was Kanae Sakuma, another of Matsumoto’s students, who decided to go to the University of Berlin to learn Gestalt psychology under Wolfgang Köhler in 1923. At Köhler’s suggestion, Sakuma worked with Kurt Lewin and published a paper on visual direction and depth perception in Psychologische Forschung (Lewin & Sakuma, 1925).

Sakuma came back to Japan and founded a new laboratory in Kyushu University. He translated Köhler’s Gestalt Psychology immediately after the publication of the original edition and made great efforts for the introduction of Gestalt psychology to Japan. He invited K. Lewin to Japan on the way back from the USA to Germany, in 1933, immediately before Lewin’s escape from the Nazis. Lewin gave lectures at several universities, and his topological psychology attracted young Japanese psychologists (Marrow, 1969).

Many other experimental psychologists were also interested in Gestalt psychology. For example, Shiro Morinaga stayed at Frankfurt and worked with Wolfgang Metzger from 1935 to 1939. Metzger (1953) presented Morinaga’s findings on the effect of equal width on figure-ground perception in his book, Gesetze des Sehens (Laws of Vision). Metzger also referred to studies of Lewin and Sakuma (1925) and Ogasawara (1936), which will be mentioned later.

We can find a strong influence of Gestalt psychology in much experimental work done in Japan in the 1930s and 1940s. Apparent movements, perceptual constancies, perceptual organization, optical illusions, memory trace, productive thinking, etc. were popular experimental topics in these years (Akishige, 1968; Oyama, 1960), For example, Ogasawara (1936) studied the effect of spatial separation on apparent movement, varying the viewing distance, and found that apparent or physical separation rather than retinal separation is critical for producing the optimal movement. This same fact was independently discovered again by Attneave and Block (1973) 37 years later. Takagi (1940) reported an experiment on effects of proximity and similarity on perceptual grouping in three-dimensional space. He also reported on the same topic at the 13th International Congress of Psychology, held at Stockholm in 1951.

Gestalt psychology also stimulated perceptual studies from different points of view, From the early 1930s Torao Obonai extensively studied various sensory and perceptual phenomena using his psychophysiological induction theory. In contrast to Gestalt theory, he hypothesized an algebraic spatial and temporal summation of excitation and inhibition processes induced by stimulus patterns (Obonai, 1977).

Yuki (Hirose, 1933) expanded Wertheimer’s concept of apparent movement into analogous nonspatial auditory perception and found a movement-like continuous variation phenomenon of perceived pitch during the discontinuous frequency change of a stimulus sound, like the trill in music (Yuki, 1965). On the basis of this experimental finding, he criticized Gestaltist’s psychophysical isomorphism, in which spatial correspondence is presupposed between physiological and perceptual processes.

In the student days of the first author of the present paper, in around 1950, the influence of Gestalt psychology was still strong, and his first experimental work was concerned with figural aftereffects. This topic was studied systematically in the Japan of the 1950s (Sagara & Oyama, 1957). Even now, some Gestalt flavour can be found, especially in some perception studies, in Japan.


From the early days, some experimental studies were conducted using animals in Japan. For example, Koreshige Masuda (1908, 1914), one of Matsumoto’s students, reported experiments of problem solving and discrimination learning in birds and goldfish. He showed some interest in behaviour studies in psychology, but was reluctant to accept J.B. Watson’s point of view (Masuda, 1926).

Early positive influence of J.B. Watson’s behaviourism can be found in Megumi Imada’s (1923) paper, entitled The relation between thought-process and verbal idea. He discussed the thought-process of children with hearing difficulties from the behaviouristic point of view. He compared the mental arithmetic of those children with and without finger-movements, which were considered to correspond to the subvocal speech in normal people and then to thought processes. Watson’s The Ways of Behaviorism was translated by Doki Ito in 1930 and his Behaviorism by Kiyoshi Nasu, a student of Imada, in 1942.

Some animal experiments were conducted with behaviouristic methodology. Takagi (1933) reported an experiment on shape discrimination and shape constancy in tomtits (small birds). He can be called one of the pioneers of animal psychophysics. Masashi Masaki (1940) reported an experiment on maze learning in rats and discussed the results in relation to Hull’s goal gradient hypothesis and Tolman’s means-end relations, and Yoshitaka Umeoka (1943) reported an experiment on operant conditioning of rats in a Skinner-type box but discussed the results with relation to the Lewin’s theory of psychological force.

Pavlov’s studies of conditioned reflex were introduced by Genji Kuroda (1916), one of Matsumoto’s students at Kyoto, to Japanese psychologists for the first time. In the 1930s, many experimental studies were reported by Takashi Hayashi, a physiologist who had worked with Pavlov, and his collaborators. In 1941, Yasho Kotake, one of Imada’s students, reported an experiment on conditioned salivary reflex in human subjects and he and his collaborators studied human conditioned responses intensively in the 1940s and 1950s (Kotake & Miyata, 1958).

It is quite surprising that some of these experiments and translations were made in the middle of the wartime.

From this historical background, Japanese psychologists accepted the strong influence of the neobehaviourism of Hull and Skinner after the end of the war in 1945.

The main streams of academic influence in the shaping of scientific psychology in Japan up to 1945 can be summarized in a flowchart, shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. A summarized flowchart of academic relations in the process of shaping scientific psychology in Japan before 1945.

Figure 3.
A summarized flowchart of academic relations in the process of shaping scientific psychology in Japan before 1945.


After World War II, Japanese psychologists were influenced greatly by American psychology. They experienced a big shock because of its differences from what they had known. However, fortunately they had the basic knowledge and methodological background to digest new American trends.

In the summer of 1952, Clarence H, Graham of Columbia University was invited to Kyoto University to give a month’s seminar. He taught vision, visual perception, and conditioning to about 30 young psychologists from the major universities of Japan in a programme sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation (Akita, 1971; Graham, 1974). He impressed the participants, including the first author of the present paper, very much with his strictly scientific methodology and the new trends—physiological, perceptual, and learning psychology. The participants also impressed him with their scientific background. Graham (1974) wrote “In other areas, particularly perception, the Japanese participants, with their extensive acquaintance with the German literature, exhibited a very clear and knowledgeable background” (p. 121). They soon became leaders in various fields of psychology, not only experimental psychology but also mathematical, developmental, educational, and social psychology: for example, Takashi Ogawa, Yoshihisa Tanaka, Ryoji Osaka, Sukeichi Kakizaki, Takao Umemoto, Tarow Indow, Yoshinori Matsuyama, Hiroshi Azuma, Juji Misumi, Kimiyoshi Hirota, etc. Graham’s seminar was really an epoch-making event in the reconstruction of scientific psychology in Japan.

Many Japanese students went to the USA with the help of the Galioa-Fulbright and other exchange programmes and got PhDs after they had received basic training in psychology in Japan. In graduate programmes in the USA, they never had serious difficulties in a lack of basic knowledge in psychology, experimental methods, or statistics. Japanese psychology had been established before 1945. They owed their success to the great founders of Japanese psychology, Motora and Matsumoto, and other pioneers. Those pioneers founded the scientific methodology and training systems in basic experimental psychology in Japan in the early 20th century.

Fifty-five years have passed since the end of World War II. The areas of research and application of psychology have been widened and the number of psychologists has increased rapidly. The membership of the Japanese Psychological Association has reached 6400. There are more than 30 societies or associations of specialized fields of psychology: Educational, Clinical, Animal, Applied, Social, Developmental, Industrial, Criminal, Theoretical, Counseling, Physiological, Group Dynamics, Health, Traffic, Emotional, Personality, etc. The number of psychologists registered to all these societies is estimated at more than 20,000. Nearly 200 universities have departments of psychology or related disciplines and educate psychology majors at least to an undergraduate level (Japanese Psychological Association, 1995). (The total number of universities and colleges is about 630.)

In 1954, the Japanese Psychological Association launched an English journal, Japanese Psychological Research, which reached volume 42 in 2001. Another English journal, Psychologia, has been published since 1957 by the Psychologia Society, Kyoto University. Both contributed to the promotion of international scientific exchange in the whole area of psychology. Many Japanese psychologists are contributing to international journals of specialized fields in psychology. Some of them are working as members of the editorial boards of various international journals. In 1972, Japanese psychologists successfully organized the 20th International Congress of Psychology in Tokyo, with 2562 participants from 52 countries (Science Council of Japan, 1974). In 1990, the 22nd International Congress of Applied Psychology was held in Kyoto, with 1727 participants coming from 48 countries (Misumi, Wilpert, & Motoaki, 1992). These two international congresses greatly stimulated the international exchange of research.

The general trends of Japanese psychology developed in these periods can hardly be described in this single paper, but have repeatedly been reviewed in English papers, Some of them are listed here in chronological order for the reader’s convenience.

Sato, K. & Graham, C.H. (1954). Psychology in Japan. Psychological Bulletin, 5, 443–465.

Yuki, K. (1965). Experimental psychology. In American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science in Japan (pp. 335–373).

Tanaka, Y. (1966). Status of Japanese experimental psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 17, 233–272.

Tanaka, Y., & England, G.W. (1972). Psychology in Japan. Annual Review of Psychology, 23, 695–732.

Hoshino, A. (1972). Current major trends in psychology in Japan. Psychologia, 22, 1–20.

Iwahara, S. (1976). Japan. In V. Sexton & H. Misiak (Eds.), Psychology around the world (pp. 242–258). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Azuma, H. (1982). Current trends in studies of behavioural development in Japan. International Journal of Behavioural Development, 5, 153–169.

Sukemune, S. (1987). Psychology in Japan. In S.R. Perls (Ed.), Psychology: An international perspective (pp. 62–80). Location: Professional Seminars Consultants.

Kaneko, T. (1987). Japan. In A.R. Gilgen & C.K. Gilgen (Eds.), International handbook of psychology (pp. 274–296). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Misumi, J., & Oyama, T. (Eds.). (1989). Special Issue: Applied psychology in Japan. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 38, 307–451.

Omura, A. (1990). Japan. In G. Shouksmith & E. Schouksmith (Eds.), Psychology in Asia and Pacific: Status reports on teaching and research in eleven countries (pp. 207–237). Bangkok: Unesco.

Azuma, H., & Imada, H. (1994). Origins and development of psychology in Japan: The interaction between Western science and the Japanese cultural heritage. International Journal of Psychology, 29, 707–715.


In Japan, teaching scientific psychology started in 1888; not much later than in Western countries. Teaching and research of scientific and experimental psychology were founded firmly in a small number of universities in the early 20th century and then applications of psychology to various social activities were gradually developed. This process can be compared with the scientist-practitioner model in the education and training of individual professional psychologists (Belar & Perry, 1992). Training of methodology is always basic for communities of psychologists as well as for individual psychologists.

Differentiation and specialization of research fields of psychology continues and the number of societies and associations of specialized fields of psychology increases year by year. Integration or interconnection, at least, of these diverged groups of psychologists is needed. For this purpose, the Japanese Union of Psychological Associations was organized in 1998 under the leadership of the Japanese Psychological Association. The Union is expected to promote, converge, and integrate the contributions of psychology as a science and profession to society.

Japanese psychologists learned scientific psychology from Western countries. Some psychological studies have been done on traditional Eastern culture and thought, for example Zen Buddhism. However, the specialties of a culture are not restricted to the traditional ones. Thinking and feelings of the present Japanese people in everyday life may still be slightly different from those of Western people. These slight differences can be reflected in the progress of psychology as a human science.

Promotion of both international interactions and indigenous traditions will be very important for the further development of psychology in the 21st century.


We are indebted to Ryoji Osaka, Tadashi Hidano, Sumiko Marui, Masao Ohmura, Taketoshi Takuma, Saburo Iwawaki, Hiroshi Imada, Yasuo Nishikawa, Yoko Kuno, Miki Takasuna, Noriaki Sunaga, and Junko Anzai for their generous comments and useful information concerning historical facts, material, literature, and statistics related to Japanese psychology.

This study was supported by a Grand-in-Aid for Scientific Research (No.12410026) provided by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture.


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© 2001 International Union of Psychological Science
DOI: 10.1080/00207590143000225

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