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Okita, Saburo (1914–1993)

by Peter Drysdale

Okita, one of Japan's pre-eminent statesmen and an architect of Japan's rehabilitation into the international community after the Second World War, died on 9 February at the age of 78. Dr Okita had a long association with the ANU.

He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1982 in recognition of his role in promoting international cooperation and closer economic relations between Japan and Australia, and his work with the University in the establishment of the Australia-Japan Research Centre.

Professor Peter Drysdale, Executive Director of the Australia-Japan Research Centre, attended Dr Okita's funeral in Tokyo on 12 February to extend the University's sympathies to Dr Okita's wife and family.

Dr Okita played a key role in the development of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and worked closely with Australian policymakers in forging the postwar Australia-Japan relationship. A joint initiative between Dr Okita and Sir John Crawford in the early 1970s resulted in an extensive program of research on the Australia-Japan relationship and provided the intellectual foundation for the development of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation initiatives.

Dr Okita's work was instrumental in securing the commitment of the Australian and Japanese governments and the wider community to a new course of Australia-Japan relations, most tangibly in the form of financial commitments made for the establishment of the Australia-Japan Research Centre.

Dr Okita's involvement in this work made him a frequent visitor to the University. He gave seminars and lectures, took an active role in research planning and became a respected member of the scholarly community in a way that only a man with a lifetime of public service and of his open character and intellectual force could. His contributions drew considerable attention from throughout the community, from officials and business people as well as academics, to the work of the University.

In 1985 Dr Okita was awarded an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia for service to Australia-Japan relations.

Throughout his public life, Dr Okita's vision of a Japan in political and economic harmony with its diverse neighbours in the Pacific and the international community dominated his work. By the end of the 1940s he had established himself as one of the leading figures in economic planning and policy analysis in Japan, and an architect of Japan's rehabilitation into the international community after a devastating war.

In the 1960s, as Director General of the Planning Bureau, Economic Planning Agency of Japan, his ideas were central to Japan's Income Doubling Plan which saw Japan's emergence as a mature industrial power, heavily interdependent with other countries, such as Australia.

In November 1979, Dr Okita was elevated to the position of Foreign Minister of Japan, in which he served for 20 months.

Characteristically, as Foreign Minister, he stressed that Japan had to make sacrifices of direct bilateral interests in order to foster multilateral and collective objectives, and his Foreign Ministry marked a distinct change away from a traditional bilateral approach towards cooperative multilateral action.

Dr Okita is credited with writing the blueprint for Japan's economic recovery after the war and is the intellectual father of Japan's defenceless-on-all-sides policy, which stresses a low defence posture and non-aggressive diplomacy, but constructive cooperation in settling international disputes and a high level of foreign aid. Saburo Okita, more than most men, brought these values to influence Japanese thinking and policy.

Dr Okita was born in Dalian on the Liaotung Peninsula in Manchuria in 1914 while the area was under Japanese occupation. An electrical engineer turned economist, he was the author of some 40 or more books and tracts in Japanese and English and very many important articles. He was the President of the International University of Japan and Chairman of the Institute for Domestic and International Policy Studies at the time of his death.

Dr Okita's memoirs have been translated and published by the Australia-Japan Research Centre. The first volume, Japan's Challenging Years: Reflections on my Lifetime, was published in 1983. The second volume, A Life in Economic Diplomacy, was translated by Dani Botsman and will be published by the Centre in mid-1993.

Dr Okita will be sadly missed by his many colleagues and friends within the University and the Australian community.

Original publication

Citation details

Peter Drysdale, 'Okita, Saburo (1914–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 7 October 2022.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2022

Life Summary [details]


3 November, 1914
Dalian, Manchuria, China


9 February, 1993 (aged 78)
Tokyo, Japan

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