Obayashi Taryo, Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo, is one of Japan's most distinguished and authoritative ethnologists, as well as a person who, for half a century, has presented his views on the formation of Japan's ethnic culture based on comparative studies with the cultures of the rest of Asia, seeing it in the broader perspective and capturing it in the context of world cultural history.
Professor Obayashi entered the Faculty of Economics of the University of Tokyo, but the influence he received from both ethnologist Oka Masao and cultural anthropologist Ishida Eiichiro was so profound that he taught himself ethnology and, after graduation, became an assistant at the Institute for Oriental Culture of the University of Tokyo. In 1955, he went abroad to Europe and the U.S., which were leaders in ethnological studies at that time. After studying at graduate schools in Germany, Austria and the U.S., he received his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna.
Professor Obayashi has read extensively not only in his field of ethnology but also in related areas which transcend time and region. Through his reading, he has acquired an intensive and extensive knowledge of history, anthropology, and linguistics. Being a perceptive, erudite, and learned scholar, he validates his research on ethnology with the breath of disciplines he has studied and the depth of his scholarship. He has clarified various cultural trends which are integral parts of Japanese culture. To give an example, he explained the essence of Japanese culture in detail by restructuring Japanese mythology with his unique methodology. He used and examined myths to clarify the lineage and characteristics of Japanese culture. Furthermore, by systematically comparing Japanese myths with those of the world, he broke new ground for ethnology. His research is supported by his insatiable quest for learning, which always originates from and converges with Japanese culture through the process of examining world cultural history. On that foundation, he has produced meticulous comparative studies and continues to explore through mythology what lies behind the values of each era and ethnic group at their highest levels. His research methodology clearly demonstrates his true worth in the field of ethnology. In 1961, when only 32 years old, he published a famous book titled "The Origin of Japanese Mythology" (Nihon Shinwa no Kigen), which has been read for nearly 40 years in its several revisions.
For 28 years from 1962, he taught students at the University of Tokyo, as professor of ethnology, and contributed to the establishment and development of a chair of ethnology at the University. In addition, he enlightened people on how interesting ethnology could be through lectures and speeches. At the same time, he has attracted many others to this new discipline by exhibiting an earnest approach to learning. From 1982 to 1984, he served as President of the Japanese Society of Ethnology. After his retirement from the University of Tokyo, he taught at Tokyo Woman's Christian University, and contributed greatly to the development of studies on northern peoples by filling the important post of director of the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples. Professor Obayashi's sincere and gentle nature attracts respect from students and scholarly colleagues alike. Even now, he is still being invited as a visiting professor to teach at universities in Europe and the U.S. This clearly manifests his continuing international activities.
Professor Obayashi's extensive research activities on ethnology both home and abroad and his commitment to educating younger generations to become prominent researchers in ethnology are just two of the clear indications of his tremendous contributions to ethnological and mythological studies centered on Japan and Asia, and thus make him a truly worthy recipient of the Academic Prize of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes.