Born in Nagoya, Japan, in 1928, Ito received his MD in 1953 and his PhD six years later from the University of Tokyo.
A research scholar and fellow at Sir John Eccles' laboratory of the Australian National University from 1959 to 1962, Ito went on to be Associate Professor, Professor, Dean and then Emeritus Professor at the University of Tokyo.
In 1989, he moved to the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, later becoming director general of its Frontier Research Programme and director of the Brain Science Institute. Ito has served as president of the Neuroscience Society of Japan, the Physiological Society of Japan, and as president of the Science Council of Japan.
He has also acted as president of the International Human Frontier Science Programme Organization which promotes, through international co-operation, basic research into the complex mechanisms of living organisms. Widely published, Ito is the author of major books including The Cerebellum as a Neuronal Machine (1967) and The Cerebellum and Neural Control (1984). He is the recipient of numerous international prizes and has been elected to numerous prestigious organizations, including the Japan Academy, the Royal Society and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.