Guido Verbeck and His “Brief Sketch”

Many of the Japanese students who came to New Brunswick had studied in Nagasaki under Guido F. Verbeck (1830-1898), one of the first three missionaries sent to Japan by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1859. Among his students were future leaders of Japan, such as Ōkuma Shigenobu, Ito Hirobumi, Ōkubo Toshimichi and Soejima Taneomi. The Yokoi brothers, Kusakabe, and the Iwakura brothers had also studied with him in Nagasaki prior to coming to New Brunswick.

Image:Guido F. Verbeck, Samuel R. Brown, and Duane B. Simmons–The First Three Missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church Sent to Japan (The Reformed Church in America Archives).
Image:Guido F. Verbeck, n.d. (William E. Griffis Collection, Rutgers University Library).
Image: “The Brief Sketch”, a copy of the document sent to Okuma on June 11, 1869, which Verbeck enclosed with his letter to John M. Ferris in 1872 (Gardner A. Sage Library, New Brunswick Theological Seminary).

Verbeck’s “Brief Sketch,” written for his former student Ōkuma Shigenobu in 1869, is known to have inspired the Iwakura Mission. In it, he writes,

…[T]here is something in the civilization of the West that must be seen and felt, in order to be fully appreciated; personal experience is necessary to understand the theory of civilization so thoroughly as to enable one to introduce it into other parts, and besides, there is no evidence so convincing as that of the eyes. To come to full appreciation of the present condition of the Western States, it is necessary not only to know the underlying reasons, but also to observe the practical operations.

The “Brief Sketch” goes in great detail as to what the embassy should study in the Western countries (it is notable that he identifies the United States as a country that may be especially instructive in education). Verbeck mentions in his letter to John M. Ferris that on the 29th of October, 1871, he had an interview with Iwakura Tomomi to go over the essay, clause by clause. “At the end he told me it was the very and the only thing for them to do, and that my program should be carried out to the letter.”1

After the Meiji Restoration, Verbeck was invited to Tokyo by his former students to serve as an advisor to the new government. In 1871, he was appointed head teacher of Kaisei Gakkō (present-day University of Tokyo), the first modern public institution of higher education in Japan. When the ban against Christianity was lifted in 1873, he returned to his missionary work. He was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun in 1877 and stayed in Japan for the rest of his life, until his death in 1898. He was buried in the Aoyama Cemetery in central Tokyo.


1. Letter and the entire “Brief Sketch” is transcribed in Albert Altman, “Guido Verbeck and the Iwakura Embassy” in Japan Quarterly 13:1 (January 1966), 54-62.