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Vernon R. Alden

Several prominent Japanese citizens attended Massachusetts College in the late nineteenth century. Jo Niijima graduated from Amherst College in 1870 as the first Japanese to receive a degree from a Western institution of higher learning. He attended Andover Theological Seminary and became the first ordained Japanese Protestant Christian; he founded Doshisha University in 1875.


Kentaro Kaneko entered Harvard University in 1871 and received his degree in 1878; he is renowned as the drafter of the Meiji Constitution.


Takuma Dan accompanied the Iwakura Mission to the U.S. in 1871 and remained in Boston to graduate from MIT in 1878; he later became managing Director of Mitsui Holding Company. 


Kakuzo Okakura, who learned English at age 9, entered Tokyo University at age 15. After working in the art administration section of the Ministry of Education, he became Curator of the Imperial Household Museum (now the Tokyo National Museum). A famous art critic, philosopher, and interpreter of the East to the Western world, he became Assistant Curator of the Chinese and Japanese Department of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1905.



Several well-known Bostonians traveled to Japan, lived there, became life-long friends of Japan – and were responsible for developing the Japan-related resources for which Boston is well known today.


William Sturgis Bigelow, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, lived for six years in Kyoto and Nikko and became a Buddhist. When he returned to Boston, his respect and enthusiasm for things Japanese had great influence upon Boston’s cultural circles. Mr. Bigelow served as trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and donated 40,000 Japanese works of art to the Museum.


Ernest Fenollosa, a native of Salem and graduate of Harvard went to Japan in 1878 to teach at Tokyo University. He is well known for preserving and exhibiting traditional Japanese art. In 1886 he was appointed to the Ministry of Education and to the Imperial Household. In 1890 he returned to Boston to head the Oriental Department of the Museum of Fine Arts.


William Smith Clark became president of Massachusetts Agricultural College (University of Massachusetts) upon its opening in 1867. In 1876 he took a leave of absence to serve as the first president of Sapporo Agricultural College.


Joseph Clark Grew was born in 1880 of a wealthy Boston family, was a 1902 graduate of Harvard College, and served as U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1932 until 1941.


Zoologist Edward Sylvester Morse, another Harvard graduate, traveled to Japan in 1877 where he introduced modern scientific methods in the study of zoology and biology and established the first marine biology laboratory at Enoshima in Kanagawa prefecture. He discovered the ancient Omori shell mounds southwest of Tokyo and contributed an outstanding collection of ancient to contemporary Japanese ceramics to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.


Horace Capron from Attleboro, Massachusetts was a cotton manufacturer and progressive farmer who went to Japan in 1871 to serve as advisor to the Hokkaido Colonization office. He introduced large scale farming with American agricultural methods, implements, seeds and livestock.


Diplomatic connections between New England and Japan date back to the mission by Commodore Matthew Perry of Rhode Island and his “Black Ships” to Tokyo Bay in 1853 to negotiate trade relations. In 1841 John Manjiro was rescued after a shipwreck by an American whaling ship from New Bedford, Massachusetts whose captain took him back to Fairhaven, Massachusetts, where he attended public school and navigational school. Upon his return to Japan in 1851, he provided invaluable information to the Japanese about American life and technology, which was important to the Shogunate in responding to Commodore Perry’s mission. He became Japan’s leading authority on navigation and was promoted to the rank of Samurai.


The Japan Society of Boston was founded at the time of the Russo - Japanese war in 1904, which culminated in the signing of the Peace Treaty in September 1905 at another New England port - Portsmouth, New Hampshire. 


In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Japanese visitors to Boston included the 1920 arrival in Boston Harbor of the battleship S.S. Kasuga and a twelve member delegation from the Japanese Diet in 1921. The Japan Society of Boston hosted Prince and Princess Takamatsu in 1931 and Prince Tokugawa in 1934. Japan appointed its first Honorary Consul General for Boston, Courtney Crocker, in 1930.


After the war, the Japan Society resumed its activities in 1953. Its long-time President, from 1955-1974, was Russell Codman, who served as Honorary Consul General of Japan until the first official Consul-General, Ambassador Takeo Iguchi, was appointed in the early 1980’s.


A highlight of the Society’s activities was the visit of the Mayor of Kyoto in 1959 to establish the Sister City relationship between Kyoto and Boston. As the first Sister City relationship between the U.S. and Japan, the Boston Kyoto tie is especially significant. The many cultural and educational exchanges and trips between the two cities have continued for almost 35 years and will culminate with the Japan Society of Boston 90th Anniversary trip in June 1994 to celebrate the 1200th Birthday of Kyoto.


In 1960 the Japan Society of Boston hosted the visit of the Crown Prince and Princess. More recently, in 1987, the then Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko visited Boston and their itinerary included a dinner hosted by the Japan Society of Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts and a trip to Fairhaven arranged by the John Manjiro Society. And of course the Boston connection of the new Crown Princess is a source of great pride to Bostonians. 


Perhaps the most prominent director of the Japan Society of Boston was Professor Edwin Reischauer of Harvard University who was appointed Ambassador to Japan by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, and later served as Honorary Chairman of the Society.


In the 1960’s and 1970’s Boston welcomed the Kyonomachiya to the Children’s Museum of Boston, which formed the foundation for the Museum’s extensive educational program on Japan, recently highlighted by a new multi-media exhibit “Teen Tokyo”. Seiji Ozawa became Music Director of The Boston Symphony Orchestra, and many trips by the BSO to Japan have followed. U.S.-Japan Programs were established at MIT and Boston University.


In 1980, The Harvard Program on U.S. Japan Relations was launched. Currently, 15 to 18 Associates join the Program annually, as well as three or four advanced Research Fellows. The Program sponsors seminars, conferences, and distinguished visitors to the campus. 


In the 1980’s and 1990’s new educational programs were created, including a business educational exchange between Bentley College and Sapporo Gakuin University. In 1992 The Japan Society of Boston initiated a three year pilot program to introduce Japanese Language courses into the Boston public schools beginning with 37 students.


A new organization, the John Manjiro Society of Japan, was founded in 1991 and the Japan Society of Boston established its own John Manjiro Committee in that year, to celebrate the people-to-people communications and the spirit of international friendship represented by the Manjiro story. In September 1992 Boston residents welcomed a delegation of 150 Japanese from the John Manjiro Society and organized a “Grassroots Summit” and a tour to Fairhaven.


Another institution created in the 1980’s is “Showa Boston”, a school for 7th to 9th grade Japanese girls in Jamaica Plain, Boston which now also operates summer intercultural programs for both American and Japanese young women. 


February 1990 saw the establishment of the Sister City relationship between Hokkaido and Massachusetts. In September 1992, a delegation of three hundred Hokkaido residents, led by Governor and Mrs. Yokomichi, visited Boston and Springfield for five days of receptions, ceremonies, and musical performances. 


From the 1870’s to 1993, the tradition of friendship, travel, cultural exchange and education between Boston/New England and Japan has continued and expanded. This is an appropriate time to celebrate this long tradition upon the 90th Anniversary of the Japan Society of Boston.


November 1993


© Vernon R. Alden   1999

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