Three weeks ago, Emperor Akihito of Japan abdicated his Chrysantheum Throne. On May 1st, his son Naruhito took his place. This event led me to think back on the number of wonderful Japanese connections I’ve had in my life, beginning with a Japanese-American friend at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California in the 1960s to a Japanese student and her family at the International School in Tanzania, to a Japanese Quaker couple at Pendle Hill, and the former tutor to Crown Prince Akihito, Elizabeth Gray Vining, who lived in a cottage on the edge of Pendle Hill campus. All of these will be woven into story posts in the coming weeks. First, I wanted to know more about Quaker beginnings in Japan. That led me to Inazo Nitobe.
It was 1867 on the main Honshu Island of Japan. The five year old boy hid behind a large pot in the courtyard of his palatial home. The tears ran down his cheeks. He knew sons of a samurai were not supposed to cry. Only two days before he had ridden proudly, perched in front of his father as they inspected crops almost ready for harvest. His father was so pleased with his large farm. He shared with Inazo stories about the amazing work of the boy’s grandfather in reclaiming hundreds of acres with his innovative irrigation projects. The father loved spending time with this youngest of his eight children. But suddenly, the father was dead, and the little boy was so sad. He choked back his tears when he heard the gentle voice of his mother calling. She hugged him to her, dried his tears, and whispered, “Tomorrow you will begin school. Your father would have been so proud.” It was a day he had anticipated with great expectations.
Inazo would remember that day seven years later when his mother died just before he started studies at the Tokyo English School. He loved school and had done very well, having won prizes in his science, literature, and English classes. At Tokyo English School and later at the Sapporo Agricultural College, he was introduced to Christianity and the Bible. He found Quakers in Baltimore, where he began graduate school in 1884. The silence of Quaker worship spoke to him. He found the universality of the Inner Light and the idea of continuing revelation both intellectually and spiritually powerful. The members of the Quaker meeting were very welcoming and introduced him to Quakers in Philadelphia.
In 1885, he and a friend from his days at Sapporo were invited to tea with a group of Quaker women. Members of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Association of Friends, they had worked for three years to find contacts to make sending Quakers to Japan to open work there possible. Inazo put them in contact with Sen Tsuda and his wife who agreed to house an American couple, Joseph and Sarah Cosand ,when they arrived in Shiba to start a girls’ school and later a small Friends meeting.
Inazo met a lovely Quaker woman in Philadelphia, Mary Patterson Elkington. When he returned to that city after studying in Germany and being awarded a PhD in agricultural economics, they continued a relationship nourished by much letter writing and sought approval to be married under the care of her Friends meeting. It was not an easy matter! Both her parents and her meeting were strongly opposed. Luckily for Inazo and Mary, her three younger brothers stood by them and supported them throughout the process. Approval finally came. They were married in 1890 and sailed for Japan. Both of them involved themselves in education, Inazo at Sapporo Agricultural College and Mary with his help at a school they founded for working girls in the city.
They reconnected with the Quakers, who had started several small meetings. Several other Americans had joined the Cosands as had Friends from Great Britain and Canada. Japan had been open to the West for only 30 years. In the 1890s there was much competition among Christian groups. The Quakers found they spent much time on the teaching of the history and basic beliefs of Christianity. Their uniqueness would come later. They saw the need for English classes and the building of community. Young men joined and kept the small worship and Bible study groups alive. The idea of centralized decision making among the groups became a reality and helped the groups grow. Manji Kato introduced a “peace” focus while others set up practical skills classes and branched out to do service projects such as flood relief. Kyuhei Kikuchi, a primary school principal, established “New Life” societies to train the young men to do all kinds of work in their villages, supporting them in putting their faith in action.
Meanwhile Inazo Nitobe developed his “bridge across the Pacific” program to promote understanding between the Japanese and American people and governments. He wore himself out, teaching, supporting, and innovating. While resting in California and western Canada, he wrote a biography of William Penn, the first Quaker book authored by a Japanese writer. He also wrote his most famous Bushido: the Soul of Japan. The first expressed his understanding of the Quaker message through the life and writing of Penn. The latter opened the Japanese culture and moral values to the West and also encouraged national pride in its foundation.
Always energetic, Inazo accepted a posting to Taiwan, where he served the Japanese colonial government at the Sugar Bureau, helping the Taiwanese improve their sugar production by 40%. He also saw the need for developing more humanitarian colonial policies, empowerment of local leadership and mutual understanding between the authorities and the people. He began to be recognized for his ability to bring groups together to listen to each other.
In 1911, Inazo traveled to the United States to help remove negative feelings toward Japanese immigrants there, making 166 lectures at colleges and universities including Haverford, Earlham, and Brown. He emphasized his bridge across the oceans idea, trying to get people to listen, talk, and erase the fear of the people who are not like themselves. Back at the University of Tokyo, he continued to push these humanitarian ideas. With encouragement from his wife Mary, he assumed the presidency of the Tokyo Women’s Christian College and began to develop public support for women’s rights through education and leadership opportunities. The Japanese opened the right to vote to Japanese women before the United States granted this right in 1920.
Inazo and Mary were asked to tour Europe to see the damage suffered during World War I. While in Europe, Nitobe was asked to serve as the Under Secretary of the League of Nations in Geneva. They spent seven years there. Inazo often served as the spokesperson for the League of Nations and helped developed the program that would become UNESCO under the later United Nations.
In 1927, they returned to Japan. Mary went back to serving among the working [poor, especially women, and encouraging young girls to stay in school. Inazo got involved in the labor movement and supported cooperatives and the universal medical care system started by another Quaker, Toyochiko Kagawa. He served in the House of Peers, the upper house of the Japanese Diet and tried to discourage the government’s military buildup. He supported the Japan Peace Society and the peace committees of Japan Yearly Meeting. His final call to the Japanese people and the world was the hope that “not passion but REASON, not self-interest but JUSTICE, be the arbiter of races and nations.” When he died in 1933, his memorial service in Tokyo brought out hundreds. From 1981 – 2004, his picture was printed on the 5000 yen note, an honor he would probably have rejected. For the next five years until her death, Mary collected and edited his unpublished manuscripts including a memoir of his childhood reminiscences.
Questions to ponder:
- How do you think the silence of Quaker worship can bring together people of different backgrounds and ideas?
- What do you think were the objections of Mary’s parents and meeting to her marriage to Inazo? Why was it important that her three brothers supported them?
- How did Mary and Inazo live their lives “answering that of God in everyone?”
Books to read:
- Born in the Year of Courage by Emily Crofford Gr. 4-7
- Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories by Florence Sakade Gr. K-8
- Sam Samurai by Jon Scieska Gr. K-2
- A Primary Source Guide to Japan by Toby Stanton Stewart Gr. 3-6
- Quakerism in Japan by Edith Sharpless Gr. 8-12 and adults