AC Voice Appreciates: Joseph Hardy Neesima, Class of 1870

Joseph Hardy Neesima, aka Nījima Jō, was nothing short of a badass. Despite facing the threat of execution under the Japanese closed borders foreign policy of the Edo Period, Nījima successfully fled Japan as an arranged stowaway in 1864. Upon reaching Massachusetts, sponsored by the Church, Nījima graduated from Phillips Academy and then went on to become the first Japanese man to graduate Amherst College.

His long journey to Amherst may be admirable in its own right, but it’s what Nījima did post-graduation that makes him so worthy of our appreciation. Within five years of graduating Amherst, Nījima founded his own Christian school back in Kyoto. Today,  Dōshisha University and Dōshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, two prestigious universities, stand as testament to Nījima’s unfailing devotion to education and faith. To this day, the intimate relationship between Dōshisha and Amherst forms a key link in the strong connection between Japan and Amherst. As an Asian Languages and Civilizations major, I appreciate Nījima Jō.

Alumni like Nījima are the reason why Amherst is one of the top places to study Japanese in the United States. I say this not just because our Japanese language instruction itself is outstanding, but because the nature of our college’s relationship with Japan gives students here an incredible set of opportunities for internships, fellowships, study abroad, and post-graduate studies. The long, mutually-beneficial relationship between Amherst and Japanese institutions means that Amherst students have access to a unique set of financially generous and educationally meaningful opportunities.

Every fall, two Amherst students are given full ride scholarships to Dōshisha, including tuition, housing, and roughly 800-dollar monthly stipends, for the semester. Two other students receive summer fellowships to study at Dōshisha. The Tokyo-based Shoyu Club sponsors two students’ journey to the city of Kanazawa each summer for private-tutor language studies. On top of that, at least one senior each year will receive the prestigious Dōshisha Prize for their final honors thesis, and one graduating senior will be selected to live and work at Dōshisha the following year. When you consider the  department’s small size, the number of available opportunities is incredible.

As someone who has benefited extensively from the work of Nījima Jō, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to both him and all those who work to honor his legacy.