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Remembering a Japanese Scholar


New Haven, Conn. — A garden honoring Kan’ichi Asakawa (1873–1948) will be dedicated at Yale University on October 12 at 11 a.m.

Asakawa earned his Ph.D. from Yale in history in 1902. He later became a faculty member and served as the first curator of the East Asia Collection in Sterling Memorial Library. He was the first Japanese professor to teach at a major American college or university, and he is considered the founder of the field of East Asian Studies in the U.S.

The Japanese-style garden, designed by Shin’ichiro Abe of Zen Associates of Boston, has been constructed within Killingworth Courtyard of Saybrook College, where Asakawa was a resident faculty fellow in the 1930s.

The ceremony, jointly planned by the Office of International Affairs and the Council on East Asian Studies, will include remarks by Japan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ryozo Kato, Yale University Secretary and Vice President Linda Koch Lorimer and other dignitaries. Edward Kamens, Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies and DGS of East Asian Languages and Literatures as well as of East Asian Studies, chaired the garden planning committee, which included faculty, staff and students.

Born in Nihonmatsu, Japan, in 1873, Asakawa studied at the precursor of what is today Waseda University and then earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College before enrolling in the Graduate School in 1899. He wrote his dissertation on reforms during the Taika era and was a scholar of Japan’s feudal history.

He was also deeply immersed in international affairs relating to Japan. His 1904 work, “The Russo-Japanese Conflict: Its Causes and Issues,” written shortly after the outbreak of war that year, was widely credited with turning the world’s opinion in favor of Japan. After the war, he participated in the U.S.-mediated Portsmouth Peace conference as an observer.

Asakawa went back to Japan in 1906 to collect materials for the Yale libraries and for the Library of Congress, and on his return to the United States he was appointed an instructor in Japanese history and civilization at Yale. He taught at Yale for 36 years until his retirement from the History Department in 1942, but continued as curator of the East Asian Library until 1948, the year of his death. Asakawa’s grave in Grove Street Cemetery is visited every year by busloads of travelers from Japan.

Throughout his life, Asakawa promoted international peace and amicable relations between the U.S. and Japan. In 1941, he led a campaign to urge President Franklin D. Roosevelt to send a personal letter to Emperor Hirohito to avert the coming of the war. The letter, which went through numerous revisions, reached Tokyo hours after the first warplane left for Pearl Harbor.

The garden was created through the generosity of Asakawa Kensho Kyokai (Asakawa Peace Association), Waseda University, Yale alumnus Charles Schmitz (BA 1960, LLB 1963) and many other donors.


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