Prologue: The Japanese Students at Rutgers

Image:Rutgers College, 1879 (William E. Griffis Collection, Rutgers University Library)

“Fifth day of the fifth month[…] Daybreak came at New Brunswick of the New Jersey state. This is the city where the famous school is.”

The “famous school” (有名なる学校) that is referred to in this brief passage on New Brunswick, New Jersey, in A True Account of the Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary’s Journey of Observation is Rutgers University, known as Rutgers College at the time. Rutgers and its preparatory Rutgers Grammar School had become a home to dozens of Japanese students by 1872. The first to arrive in 1866 were Yokoi Saheita and Daihei, nephews of the famed philosopher Yokoi Shōnan. They were soon joined by Kusakabe Tarō of Fukui domain, who would become the first foreign student to formally enroll in Rutgers College in 1867.1

[Upon arrival to San Francisco, Iwakura] sent word across the continent to his three sons, who are students in Rutgers College, Brunswick, New Jersey. An answer was received just as he had concluded his first address to the American people. It announced the good health of his sons, and their joy at his safe arrival in this country. The contents and the occasion combined to render him exceedingly happy.3

Many of the Japanese students who came to New Brunswick had studied in Nagasaki under Guido F. Verbeck (1830-1898), a missionary sent to Japan by the Dutch Reformed Church. Verbeck referred the students who wished to study abroad to John M. Ferris of the Church’s Board of Foreign Missions in New York, who then introduced them to Rutgers, a school that was affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. The Yokoi brothers and Kusakabe were Verbeck’s students; so were Iwakura Tomomi’s sons, Tomosada具定 (a.k.a. Tatsu; 1852-1910) and Tomotsune 具経 (a.k.a. Asahi; 1853-90), who had left for New Brunswick in 1870.2 Katsu Kaishū’s son, Koroku, accompanied by Tomita Tetsunosuke and Takagi Saburō, had already been there when the Iwakura brothers arrived. Also in New Brunswick were students from the Satsuma Domain: Hatakeyama Yoshinari, Matsumura Junzō, and Yoshida Kiyonari. At Rutgers, these Japanese men were befriended by Professor David Murray and his wife Martha, their fellow American students, among whom were William E. Griffis and Edward W. Clark who would later go to Japan as foreign teachers (oyatoi gaikokujin), and the members of the Dutch Reformed Church. Both William E. Griffis and Charles Lanman mention a third son (“Minami”) who was at Rutgers as well, but his name does not appear in any of the records.

A Letter from Iwakura and Okubo sent to John M. Ferris, member of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church of America in New York, expressing their gratitude for accepting and assisting the Japanese students (cited in William E. Griffis, “The Rutgers Graduates in Japan: An Address Delivered in Kirkpatrick Chapel, Rutgers College, June 16, 1885, (Republished and Enlarged and Republished at the 150th Anniversary of the College, Rutgers College, New Brunswick, NJ, 1916), p. 36).

1. 5月5日…ニューヂエルセー州ノ「ニューブンスウィーキ」ニテ天明トナル、此ハ有名ナル学校ノアル一都邑ナリ。(久米邦武編『特命全権大使米欧回覧実記』第一編(博聞社、明治11年)p. 259 国立国会図書館デジタルコレクショ Accessed on January 30, 2022.

2. Both William E. Griffis and Charles Lanman mention a third son (“Minami”) who was at Rutgers as well, but his name does not appear in any of the records.

3. Charles Lanman (1819-1895), secretary of the Japanese Legation in Washington, D.C. at the time of the Iwakura Mission, in his account of the mission in The Japanese in America (1872), p. 12.