The pioneering studies of Asia at the University of Michigan find their roots within the university's academic leadership, reaching farther back than the half century since the establishment of the Center for Japanese Studies. Michigan's involvement in Asia dates to President James B. Angell's tenure as a special envoy to China in the 1870s. The first students who came from Japan to study at Michigan arrived in the 1870s and included Masakazu Toyama, who became president of Tokyo Imperial University and eventually Japan's Minister of Education. The son of a poor samurai family, Toyama entered the Bansho shirabedokoro (“Office of the Investigation of Barbarian Writings”) at age 13, where he began to study English and eventually became an English teacher. When the Tokugawa shogunate (bakufu) decided to send 14 of its best students to study in London in 1866, Toyama was one of the chosen, and he studied in London for two years. When he returned to Japan in 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate had been dismantled with the Meiji Restoration. This eventually left Toyama the opportunity to be appointed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1870 in which he was sent to the United States as secretary to Minister Arinori Mori. While moving up in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Toyama felt he needed more education. When he was given a stipend to study in the United States in 1872, he decided to share it with two other Japanese students who had also hoped to study abroad. Toyama chose the University of Michigan because of the relatively low cost of living in Ann Arbor compared to other major cities on the East coast. In Ann Arbor, one stipend could support three students. Toyama first entered Ann Arbor High School and received a diploma there before entering the University in 1873 as a non-degree student. He left the University to return to Japan in 1876. His honorary Master of Arts degree from Michigan, awarded in 1886, was the first ever granted to a Japanese by an American university.
The first English-language academic studies of the Japanese economy were carried out in Michigan in the late 1880s by Eijirō Ono, a man who went on to become president of the Industrial Bank of Japan. Ono had previously graduated from Dōshisha College (BA, 1880) and Oberlin College (B. Phil, 1887), and came to the University of Michigan in 1887 to pursue graduate study in economics. Majoring in political economy, with minors in psychology and the history of British philosophy, he completed his degree in 1889 with the dissertation, “The Industrial Revolution in Japan”; his doctoral committee included President Angell. Upon graduating, Ono made a donation of twelve volumes to the library, which became the core of an extensive library collection on Meiji economic history. After his return to Japan in 1890, Ono established the political school at Dōshisha and served as its head professor, encouraging several of his students to study economics at the University of Michigan. In 1896, he left Dōshisha to become an officer of the Bank of Japan and served as its representative in New York and London from 1896 to 1906. Ono was an advocate for good relations between Japan and the United States and an active alumnus. In addition to being one of the founders of the Japan Society of New York in 1907 and an officer of the American Japan Society of Tokyo, he was one of the founders of the University of Michigan Alumni Association in Japan. In a speech given at the University of Michigan alumni dinner in New York in 1906, Ono reminisced about his time at the University:
“MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY IS THE NAME THAT HAS BEEN MOST ENDEARED TO ME FOR THE LAST TWENTY YEARS. IT WAS THERE THAT I SPENT MY YOUNG AND HOPEFUL DAYS, AND IT WAS THERE THAT I MET MANY PROFESSORS AND FELLOW-STUDENTS WHOSE LOFTY CHARACTER, PROFOUND KNOWLEDGE, AND SINCERE FRIENDSHIP GAVE ME THAT CULTURE FOR WHICH, I THINK, WE ALL FEEL GRATEFUL TO OUR ALMA MATER, THE CULTURE THAT MAKES OUR LIFE WORTH LIVING, AND THE CULTURE THAT FITS US TO FIGHT OUR OWN WAY IN THE BATTLE OF THE WORLD. EVER SINCE I WENT BACK TO JAPAN, I WAS LONGING FOR THE DAY WHEN I COULD VISIT THE UNIVERSITY AGAIN.”
Eijirō Ono’s speech reprinted in the Michigan Alumnus.
Ono also remarked on the role President Angell played in drawing Japanese students to the University:
“I THINK IT WAS ENTIRELY THROUGH HIS WORK FOR THE LAST FORTY YEARS THAT THE UNIVERSITY HAS GROWN TO HER PRESENT MAGNITUDE, AND IT WAS LARGELY DUE TO HIS INFLUENCE THAT SO MANY JAPANESE STUDENTS WERE ATTRACTED TO THAT INSTITUTION.”
Eijirō Ono’s granddaughter, Yoko Ono, visited Detroit in 2003 and met with representatives from CJS.
(Click image to read article from CJS's 2004 Densho Newsletter.)
The James B. Angell Papers Collection at the Bentley Historical Library contains numerous letters from University of Michigan’s Japanese students after their return to Japan. In a letter announcing the formation of the University of Michigan Alumni Association in Japan, some former students wrote:
“WE ARE ALL ONE IN THE MEMORY OF OUR BELOVED PRESIDENT, OF THE LEARNED FACULTY WHO HAVE INTRODUCED US INTO THE PATH OF KNOWLEDGE, AND OF MANY SYMPATHETIC FRIENDS WHO HAD TREATED US SO KINDLY WHILE WE WERE STRANGERS THERE. THIS TIE WILL BIND US FOREVER...WE LIVE IN HOPE THAT WE WHO REPRESENT THE HIGH CULTURE OF THE MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY IN THIS COUNTRY ARE ALL ANXIOUS TO EXERCISE SOME IMPORTANT INFLUENCE IN THE GRAND MOVEMENTS WHICH ARE GOING ON AROUND US.”
Letter to President Angell announcing the formation of the
University of Michigan Alumni Association in Japan.
President Angell and Japanese students at the University of Michigan. (1900)