by Roy Starrs
It is hard to imagine UBC’s Department of Asian Studies without the substantial and amiable presence of Professor John F. Howes, one of its guiding spirits over the past three decades. He will be missed as much for his endearing human qualities as for his skill and patience in teaching and his clear-sighted and wide-ranging scholarship. And no one will miss him more than the students. At a time when academics are often criticized for being devoted too exclusively to research at the expense of the students, Professor Howes set an example for us all. He gave generously of his time and energy to help students at all levels with every manner of problem, whether it was a freshman struggling to understand the meaning of life — or, at least, life at UBC — or a Ph.D student trying to puzzle out the best approach to his dissertation. For one and all, Professor Howes’ door was always open. Since a large university can often seem a cold and impersonal place, especially to younger undergraduates, it was a great comfort to us to be welcomed by a warm smile and a friendly word from this large and rather fatherly figure, who always seemed willing to take time out of a very busy schedule to listen to our problems or just to have a friendly chat. In this sense, he brought a refreshing taste of small college life to a large university setting. But his sociability was by no means restricted to the campus— it often seemed that the door to his house was as open as the door to his office. And certainly this is another aspect of his generosity which will be greatly missed: the way he often made available for student and faculty parties his beautiful Point Grey house with its spectacular view of ocean, mountains and city lights. Some of my own fondest memories of my time at UBC are of the get-togethers we had at this house on the hill.
Another way in which Professor Howes confounds the critical stereotype of the modern academic is is in the remarkably wide scope of his interests and enthusiasms. Though, of course, as a scholar of Japanese intellectual history he does have his particular area of expertise, he is certainly no narrow specialist, focused exclusively on some arcane bit of pedantry. Here is a man who has taken the whole of life as his natural province of study, and so he will often betray a charmingly boyish enthusiasm for everything from a Bach cantata to a BCR train. And, more importantly, these enthusiasms have been translated into actions throughout his life: he sings those cantatas and he rides on those trains — and even more, he participates actively in church affairs and has worked to preserve the Canadian train system as a vital part of our national heritage, serving, for instance, on the VIA Rail West Advisory Council. Thus Professor Howes’ generosity of spirit has revealed itself as abundantly in his services to the community at large as to his students and colleagues.
Coming to UBC in 1961, just a few years after the founding of the Department of Asian Studies, Professor Howes played a central role nurturing the phenomenal growth in Asian Studies which has occurred at UBC since then. Perhaps the most significant single event in all this period was the 1981 opening of the Asian Centre, a magnificent building in an equally magnificent setting. As a facility for Asian Studies which is unparalleled in North America, the Centre has incalculably strengthened Asian Studies at UBC, and no doubt will continue to do so. Since Professor Howes had a major hand in the extensive planning and fund-raising which the Centre required, it must be regarded as one of his most important and lasting legacies.
On an intellectual level, Professor Howes introduced a unique and important perspective into Japan studies at UBC: the study of modern Japanese intellectual history from the point of view of some of its leading Christian and pacifist thinkers, especially Uchimura Kanzoo (1861-1930) and Nitobe Inazoo (1862-1933). The latter of course, is the distinguished writer and diplomat who died in Victoria and after whom UBC’s beautiful Japanese garden is named. Even in Japan itself, Professor Howes is recognized as a leading authority on these two important figures of modern Japanese intellectual life. His publications on Uchimura and Nitobe are too numerous to list here, but everyone in the field is eagerly looking forward to the publication of what promises to be his magnum opus: a revised version of an 800- page biographical study he has written on Uchimura Kanzoo. More generally, Professor Howes’ major book-length publications include: Pacifism in Japan: The Christian and Socialist Tradition(Vancouver: UBC Press and Kyoto: Minerva Press,1978), Tradition in Transition, The Modernization of Japan(New York: Macmillan, 1975), and Japanese Religion in the Meiji Era (Tokyo: Ministry of Education, 1956). At present he is also editing Nitobe Inazoo and his Works, a volume of papers read at the Nitobe-Ohira Memorial Conference at UBC’s Asian Centre in 1984. To further the cause of Japan studies in Canada at large, Professor Howes has also edited two volumes for the Japan Foundation, the 1983 Directory of Japan Specialists in Canadaand Japan Studies in Canada, 1987.
Though we speak now of his retirement, this applies only, of course, to his long and distinguished career at UBC. Professor Howes remains as active as ever, in teaching as well as in research. At present he is teaching at Obirin University, just outside Tokyo, where his former Ph.D student, George Oshiro, is also a colleague. There seems a kind of karmic appropriateness in this, since Professor Howes graduated from Obirin’s sister institution, Oberlin College, back in 1950. We might be tempted to say that his career has thus come full circle, but that would have too much finality about it. Given the achievements of his past, we should all continue to expect great things from Professor Howes in the future.