Legacies of Clara Hepburn’s Juku in Yokohama, 1863

From: American Missionaries, Christian Oyatoi, and Japan 1859–73, by Hamish Ion (UBC Press, 2009), pp. 59-60:

Before he rented it out in May 1864, Hepburn had taught students Western medicine in his dispensary. Among those whom he taught was Yamanouchi Bunzaburo, the uncle of Hayashi Tadasu, and Hayashi Yuteki, who founded the famous Maruzen Bookstore. Clara Hepburn also taught them English. She was a trained teacher, having taught at the Norristown Academy in Pennsylvania before marrying, and was teaching several boys whose progress in reading and writing English had been altogether satisfactory and in some cases remarkable.

Hepburn Juku ([supplementary, a.k.a. “cram”] School), which Clara began in November 1863 shortly after her return from the United States, had its beginning in a Sunday school for the young boys and girls in the treaty settlement that she held in the front waiting room of the dispensary (being Sunday, there were no patients). Japanese children were also allowed to attend. It was from this Sunday school that an English-language school developed. Hepburn Juku had among its young students some who would become famous figures, including future prime minister Takahashi Korekiyo; foreign minister Hayashi Tadasu; leading businessman Masuda Takashi, who helped to establish the Mitsui zaibatsu, a major industrial and financial conglomerate; and surgeon general Miyake Hiizu (Shigeru). Thirteen-year-old Hayashi, the nephew of a doctor who had studied with Hepburn, was the first student. It was a manifestation of a growing awareness of the importance of English that these young boys came to Yokohama in order to learn it. However, their successful careers were predicated on the fact that these boys did not become Christians, and their presence at Hepburn Juku was often merely a brief interlude (by way of attending an English-language crammer, which prepared them for entry into American schools, and familiarizing themselves with Americans) before setting out to the United States or elsewhere overseas to study.

It was Hepburn’s later deep involvement in the establishment of Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo that allowed the university to claim that its origins can be traced back to 1863 and to Hepburn Juku (and so bask in the reflected light of being connected to such a great figure in modern Japanese history as Takahashi, whose abiding reputation has been undoubtedly helped by his vicious assassination by militarists in the attempted coup of February [1936]. Takahashi made a special visit to Hepburn’s house in East Orange, New Jersey, when he was in New York on government business during the Russo-Japanese War. Clara was too ill in hospital to see him, but he had a conversation with Hepburn in which he expressed his gratitude for Clara’s efforts in teaching English. More immediately, the success of Clara Hepburn’s efforts undoubtedly contributed to a very significant development, as it turned out, taking place in Yokohama in 1864.

Some Japanese officials at the customs house in Yokohama had approached Hepburn with a request that he establish a school for the benefit of interpreters and others who might obtain government permission to attend it. After consulting with the Dutch Reformed missionaries, the Yokohama Eigakujo (Eigakko, also known as the Yokohama Academy), was organized and opened. From the start the school was a success.

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Filed under education, Japan, language, U.S.

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