Joseph Hardy Neesima

In this Japanese name, the family name is Niijima.
Joseph Hardy Neesima

Joseph Hardy Neesima
Born February 12, 1843 (1843-02-12)
Edo, Musashi Province, Japan
Died January 23, 1890 (1890-01-24) (aged 46)
Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Other names Niijima Jō

Joseph Hardy Neesima (新島 襄 Niijima Jō, 12 February 1843 23 January 1890) was a Japanese missionary and educator of the Meiji era who founded Doshisha University and Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts.

Early life

Neesima was born in Edo (present-day Tokyo), the son of a retainer of the Itakura clan of Annaka. His childhood name was Niijima Shimeta (新島 七五三太).

In 1864, laws on national isolation were still in effect in Japan, and Japanese people were not permitted to travel overseas without government permission. However, Neesima had read extensively on various rangaku topics, and was determined to come to America. At the age of 21, he entreated Captain William T. Savory, of Salem, Massachusetts, commander of the brig Berlin, for safe passage to the United States, in order to further study Western science and Christianity. Captain Savory agreed to help him, so long as Neesima came on board at night, without assistance from the ship's crew. Knowing Neesima could be executed if apprehended, Savory hid Neesima from customs officials in his stateroom. He then secured Neesima's passage from China to the United States on the Wild Rover, commanded by Captain Horace Taylor of Chatham, Massachusetts. The Wild Rover was owned by Alpheus Hardy.

In United States

When he arrived in Andover, Massachusetts, he was sponsored by Alpheus and Susan Hardy, members of Old South Church, who also saw to his education. He attended Phillips Academy from 1865 to 1867 and then Amherst College, where he was greatly influenced by professor Julius Seelye, from 1867 to 1870. Upon graduating from Amherst, Neesima became the first Japanese person to receive a bachelor's degree.

He was baptized in 1866 and went on to study at Andover Theological Seminary in 1870.

When the Iwakura Mission visited the United States in 1871 on its around-the-world expedition, Neesima assisted as an interpreter. He traveled with the Mission for more than a year, in Europe and the United States.

On his return, he completed his studies at Andover, and in 1874, he became the first Japanese to be ordained as a Protestant minister. In the same year, Neesima attended the 65th annual meeting of the Congregational church in Rutland, Vermont, and made an appeal for funds to start a Christian school in Japan.

Return to Japan

With the support and funding he received, he returned to Japan, and in 1875 founded a school in Kyoto, which grew rapidly and became Doshisha University. He was assisted by his wife Niijima Yae and brother-in-law Yamamoto Kakuma, who were also active with the local Christian community in Kyoto. He died in 1890, at age 47, in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, and was buried in Kyoto.


In 1889, Amherst College honored him with an honorary doctorate, the first ever awarded to a Japanese person.

In 1907, he was honored as one of six great educators of the Meiji period, before the assembly of educators of the entire nation held by the Imperial education conference, the education conference of Tokyo prefecture and the Tokyo city board of education.

He was honored on a Japanese postage stamp in 1950.

In his honour, Niijima Gakuen Junior College (新島学園短期大学 Niijima gakuen tanki daigaku) was founded. It is a private junior college in Takasaki, Gunma, Japan. Similarly, there is Niijima Gakuen Senior College, which has close links to Doshisha University

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