Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868 the first students from Japan came to study in the United States. During the 1870–1871 academic year, R. Ohara studied at Yale Law School and during the 1872–1873 academic year, S. Tsuda studied at the Yale School of Art, though neither stayed to earn a degree from Yale. Between 1870 and 1900, sixty students from Japan studied at Yale with thirty-six earning Yale degrees. Among those alumni were Yale’s first Japanese graduates in Divinity (1887), Law (1878) and Medicine (1891), and the first Japanese recipient of a Yale Ph.D. (1889).
Yale’s first Japanese graduate was Kenjiro Yamakawa who entered Yale College in Fall 1872 and earned a Bachelor of Physics degree from the University’s Sheffield Scientific School in 1875. Following his graduation from Yale, Yamakawa returned to Japan where he became a renowned physicist, teacher, and university administrator. In 1896, while a faculty member at the Tokyo Imperial University, Yamakawa became the first to carry out x-ray research in Japan and is regarded as one of the founding figures of physics in Japan along with Aikitsu Tanakadate, Hantaro Nagaoka, and Torahiko Terada.
Professor Yamakawa went on to serve as the president of Tokyo Imperial University (now the University of Tokyo) and Kyoto Imperial University (now Kyoto University), and as the founding president of Kyushu Imperial University (now Kyushu University). During his tenure as president of the University of Tokyo, Yamakawa contributed to the modernization of university administration in Japan. In addition to being the first Japanese graduate of Yale, Yamakawa was among the earliest Japanese graduates of any university or college in the United States.
Another notable early Yale connection to Japan was the career of Dwight Whitney Learned who graduated from Yale College in 1870. Learned went to Japan in 1875 to become one of the first teachers at the Doshisha Eigakko (Doshisha Academy) in Kyoto, founded by Joseph Hardy Neesima. Learned lived and worked in Japan for more than five decades, teaching history at Doshisha University between 1875 and 1928 and serving as president of Doshisha University.
Yale was the first university in North America to offer a course related to Japan when it entered a Japanese language course to the curriculum in 1871. Addison Van Name, the College Librarian, taught the course. When Othniel Charles Marsh, Yale Professor of Paleontology and curator of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, donated $500 for the purchase of Japanese books, it was Van Name who used the funding to make the purchases. However, the first Japanese book to be accessioned by the Yale Library was a donation in the year of the Meiji Restoration, 1868. Earlier, the Library had acquired books in China (1849) through the assistance of missionary Samuel Wells Williams who later joined the faculty to teach Chinese civilization. Together, these two collections became the nucleus of the East Asia Library and most of the items in them are now considered rare books.
Nowadays, Japan is ever more present at Yale: every year Japanese students come to Yale to pursue their studies at the undergraduate, professional, and graduate levels; Japanese language classes are regularly taught and the graduate school offers a Ph.D. in Japanese literature; the Council on East Asian Studies routinely organizes lectures, cultural events, conferences, and educational activities centered on Japan that are open to the general public.
Yale has also fostered partnerships with universities in Japan to establish student exchange programs: Yale Summer Session and Yale Summer Course Abroad; the Richard U. Light Fellowship; Fox International Fellowships; Yale School of Management’s Global Network for Advanced Management. Students can even intern in Japan through the International Internships Program. Faculty and scholars can also conduct research in Japan through a variety of fellowships and joint partnerships.