Joseph Hardy Neesima (Joe NIIJIMA) (新島襄)

Joseph Hardy Neeshima (born February 12, 1843, died January 23, 1890, and known as Joe NIIJIMA in Japan) was a Christian proselytizer and founder of the Doshisha Eigakko (Academy), formerly known as Doshisha University. He ranks with Yukichi FUKUZAWA as one of the Meiji period's six greatest educators.

Blockade Runner

The son of a domainal retainer, he was born in 1843 at the Edo residence (located in Kanda, Chiyoda Ward, in Edo) of the Itakura family, who were from the Annaka Domain in Kozuke Province. His real name was Shimeta.
Some claim his name originated with his grandfather Benji's exclamation of pleasure, "Shimeta" ("wonderful"), at the birth of a grandson after four granddaughters in a row

After reaching adulthood, he became a clansman of Annaka Domain, but in 1864 he plotted to travel to the United States in violation of the government ban on overseas travel. While he was hiding in Hakodate trying to find a way of traveling abroad, he met Nikolai Kasatkin, who was a priest to the Russian Consulate at the time. Kasatkin, who with Shimeta's help was able to learn Japanese and study Japanese written works, recommended that Shimeta, who had expressed interest in the Bible, become his disciple. But since Shimeta had his heart set on traveling to the United States, Kasatkin gave up and helped Shimeta make his illegal voyage.

On July 17, at Hakodate, Shimeta boarded the Berlin, an American ship, and left Japan. In Shanghai, he transferred to another ship, the Wild Rover; while aboard Horace S. Taylor, the ship's captain, began calling him "Joe." From this point onwards he went by the name Joe, and even after he returned to Japan years later, he wrote his name with either the characters "譲" or "襄," both of which can be pronounced "Joe." In July of 1865, he arrived in Boston. With the help of Mr. and Mrs. A. Hardy, the owners of the Wild Rover, he was able to enroll in Phillips Academy.

Iwakura Mission

In December of 1866, Joe was baptized at a church affiliated with Andover Seminary. He graduated from Phillips Academy in 1867, and graduated from Amherst College (with a Bachelor of Science degree) in 1870. He was the first Japanese recipient of bachelor's degree. At Amherst College he studied chemistry under William Smith Clark, later the assistant headmaster of the Sapporo Agricultural School. Joe was Clark's first Japanese student, and this experience inspired Clark to visit Japan. Under the auspices of Arinori MORI, Japan's first ambassador to the United States, Joe--who had first entered the U.S. as an illegal immigrant--was officially recognized as a legal foreign exchange student.

In 1872, Joe met with the Iwakura Mission during their tour of the United States. Joe's proficiency in English came to the attention of Takayoshi KIDO, who asked Joe to serve as his interpreter, so Joe joined the Mission and worked as an interpreter from April 16, 1872 to January of 1873. As a member of the Mission, Joe crossed over to Europe from New York, visiting France, Switzerland, Germany, and Russia. After the Mission, he returned to Berlin and stayed there for about seven months, compiling the "Rijikotei", which could be called an account of the Iwakura Mission. This Rijikotei had a great impact on the educational system of the Meiji Government. Joe had been asked to research educational systems in Europe and the U.S., so he made a study of each country's educational systems and assisted Fujimaro TANAKA, the Commissioner of the Ministry of Education.


In 1874, Joe graduated from Andover Seminary. In October of the same year, at the annual meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Joe requested funding to establish a Christian university in Japan, and secured the promise of a donation of 5000 dollars. That November, he arrived back in Yokohama. Given that the Itakura clan--the Niijima family's former masters--had held the position of Kyoto shoshidai (Kyoto deputy), the Niijima family had a wide range of connection with court nobles. On November 29, 1875, Joe was able to secure a building to serve as a schoolhouse by renting about half the residence (the Takamatsu family villa) of Viscount Sasuzane TAKAMATSU, a court noble with whom Joe had been long and closely connected. With the support of Masanao MAKIMURA, Governor of Kyoto Prefecture, and Kakuma YAMAMOTO, advisor to the prefectural government, Joe secured official permission for his school and opened Doshisha Eigakko, becoming its first president. At its opening, the school had two teachers, Joe himself and J.D. Davis, and eight students, including Yujiro MOTORA, Rikizo NAKAJIMA, and Eizaburo UENO. Thanks to his working relationship with Kakuma YAMAMOTO, Joe was able to marry Kakuma's younger sister Yae on January 3, 1876.

As an educator he also had friendly relations with Shigenobu OKUMA. It is because of this friendship that the current student exchange program (in which students can study at another university within Japan) exists between Doshisha and Waseda Universities. At the morning assembly on April 13, 1880, Joe struck his own hand with a stick, instructing the students by punishing himself. This came to be known as the "self-reproaching stick" incident.

On April 6, 1884, Joe departed Japan on his second overseas trip. While in Germany, he visited the house of Johannes Hesse and met his son Hermann, who was still a young boy at the time. In November 1888, the "Statement of Purpose for the Founding of Doshisha University" was published in the major magazines and newspapers.

In 1890, in Maebashi in Gunma Prefecture, Joe collapsed while working to found Doshisha, and passed away while recuperating at the Mukade-ya, a Japanese-style inn in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture; he entrusted his ten-item will to Soho TOKUTOMI and Hiromichi KOZAKI. He was forty-six and eleven months. His funeral, which began at 1 PM on January 27, was held at the chapel in front of Doshisha, and he was buried on the summit of Mt. Nyakuoji in Higashiyama. The calligraphy of Kaishu KATSU was used for the inscription of Joe's tombstone.


Joe's evangelistic efforts converted his father Tamiji NIIJIMA to Christianity.

The Jomo Karuta (a type of Japanese playing card) in Gunma Prefecture include one depicting Joe.

[Original Japanese]