Japanese Students Abroad and the Building of America’s First Japanese Library Collection, 1869–1878

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William D. Fleming

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In the fall of 1869, the first of eight students set off from the tiny Sadowara Domain in southeastern Kyushu to pursue study in America and Europe. Overshadowed by more famous peers from other domains, the Sadowara students have been all but forgotten, and their lives abroad remain an untold story. Yet they played an important role in the early development of Japanese studies in the United States. Enrolling at diverse institutions mostly in the Northeast, six of the students came to form a close relationship with Yale’s university librarian, a philologist named Addison Van Name (who served for many years as treasurer and librarian of the American Oriental Society). Inspired by his new friends to study the Japanese language, within a year Van Name was offering America’s first college course in Japanese, and he quickly began to produce scholarship on Japan and its language, literature, and history. By the mid-1870s, the Sadowara students had returned to their home country, where their subsequent careers constituted a microcosm of the paradox and transformation of the early Meiji period. Van Name maintained contact with his Japanese friends, and through this long-distance relationship succeeded in building America’s first significant Japanese library collection: a 3,000-volume collection of Edo and early Meiji titles that still survives today.




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