Jo Niijima

June 20, 2014

Jo Niijima (1843~1890)

Founder of Doshisha University

Nao Mochizuki & Marino Takeuchi

Jo Niijima was an educator who held a Bachelor of Science degree, and is famous as the founder of Kyoto’s Doshisha University. Jo was actually born Shimeta Niijima in Edo, in 1843, and spent his youth in that city, where he also attended school. He began to take an interest in the American system of education after he grew to be a man, and he started to study Western Learning methods at an educational institution of the Shogunate. In 1864, he stowed away on a ship to the US and went on to study Christianity at Amherst College, from which he graduated in 1870. This was the first acquisition of a degree for a Japanese from that university. It was while in America that he also went under the western name of Joseph Hardy Neesima. After he came back to Japan, he was appointed as a missionary and traveled around the world doing Christian missionary work. It is said that he was a true gentleman and very passionate about education and studying. He worked hard at the propagation of Christianity and the establishment of the university until he died in 1890.

Establishment of Doshisha University

There were few universities in Japan in the late 19th century, and Jo hoped to establish the first one in the hands of a private citizen. In 1875, he rented about half the Kyoto residence of Viscount Sasuzane Takamatsu to use as a school building and opened the Doshisha English School. He took office as the first principal with the support of Masanao Makimura, Governor of Kyoto Prefecture, and Kakuma Yamamoto, advisor to the prefectural government. The school had a very humble beginning, as there were only two teachers (including Jo) and eight students at first. The following year, he married Yae, the younger sister of Kakuma Yamamoto and his life changed completely.

Marriage with Yae

One day, Yae visited the home of a Mr. Gordon, a christian missionary, while Jo was busy shining shoes there (he lived in Gordon’s house at that time). Jo and Yae hit it off and began a courtship with the blessing of Gordon. Yae was said to be a strong-minded woman and knew what she wanted. They were eventually engaged and then held a Christian-style wedding ceremony, which was the first Christian-style wedding ceremony in Japan for Japanese.

Yae Niijima

Yae was born in1845, and was known as a spirited child and woman, not good at feminine work, like sewing. She grew up looking up to her father and older brother. Her father was an instructor of gunnery, and she became very interested in this and began to practice it herself. Later she became an expert in gunnery. When she was 21 years old, she got married to Naosuke Kawasaki, an associate professor in the Aidu Domain. After Naosuke’s death, she remarried with Jo, and though Yae’s character was said to be the exact opposite of Jo’s, they had a good marriage. She has always remained of great interest to many people, and her life story was made into a Taiga drama “Yae no sakura” and broadcast by NHK in 2013.

Jo’s Later Years

Niijima Jo was often a sickly man, and his physical condition was not good when he was around 40 years old as he suffered from heart disease. He was admitted to a hospital in Maebashi city in Gunma at first, but later the doctors moved him to another hospital as they thought the cold there was bad for his health. The new hospital was in Oiso city in Kanagawa and though he improved there and carried on his work, he passed away at the age of 47, and was buried in Kyoto. His life was too short to see the establishment of Doshisha University, which gained university status in 1920. Along with Keio University, Waseda University and Meiji University, Doshisha became one of the first private universities allowed in Japan under changes to laws in 1912. Following this, a lot of universities sprang up all over the country, due to the great strides made by Jo and others. Nyakuoji mountain which is located near the Eikandou and Nanzen temples in Kyoto, is also home to Nyakuoji shrine. It is here that not only Niijima Jo and Niijima Yae are laid to rest, but also Yamamoto Kakuma, Yae’s brother. Nyakuoji shrine is also famous for enshrining the gods of achievement in studies and business prosperity.


Doshisha University, Imadegawa Campus

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