Famous alum may be on stamp: Asakawa, Class of 1899, was first Japanese graduate of College

by Maura Henninger | 5/1/97 5:00am

Kanichi Asakawa, the first Japanese graduate of the College, may be featured on a Japanese postage stamp if a prominent economist gets his way.

Kazuo Nukazawa, the executive counselor of Keidanren -- the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations -- is spearheading the effort to have Asakawa, a member of Dartmouth's Class of 1899, put on a "Asakawa Kanichi Commemorative stamp."

Nukazawa, who was a high school friend of Asakawa's, initiated the effort in October, 1996.

If approved, the stamp would be issued in 1998 -- the 50th anniversary of Asakawa's death.

Asakawa was an eminent Japanese historian and a pioneer in U.S.-Japanese relations in the early 20th century.

Although the process of getting the stamp approved is in its preliminary stages, Nukazawa said it would be highly useful in U.S-Japanese relations, according to a press release from the Asakawa Research Committee in Tokyo.

Obtaining approval for the stamp is a "relatively bureaucratic process," History Professor Steven Ericson said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must recommend the stamp to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. Such a recommendation would require both external and domestic support, Ericson said.

Nukazawa has appealed to College alumni to voice their support for the Asakawa stamp by electronic-mail.

"It would be kind of neat if the U.S. put a stamp out commemorating Asakawa at the same time," Ericson said.

Not only would a U.S. version of the stamp provide a historical perspective but it would also give a significant pioneer "credit where credit is due," Ericson said.

In addition to his scholarship and 35-year teaching career at the College and Yale University, Asakawa is also remembered for his dedication to peace, according to the press release.

Asakawa wrote many letters and essays urging Japan against aggression toward the U.S. and Russia.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Asakawa wrote letters to President Franklin Roosevelt on the issue of U.S.-Japanese foreign policy which were a small but meaningful contribution to relations between the two nations, according to the release.

Asakawa's education began at Waseda University in Tokyo where he was always number one in his class.

He was known as "Full Mark Boy" because he rarely lost points on examinations and received full marks in all of his courses, according to an article in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.

Asakawa entered the College in December 1895, a few months after his classmates -- which, along with the fact that he was Japanese, caused quite a stir, according to the article.

Asakawa's interest in Dartmouth was sparked by the Reverend J.T. Ise Yokoi, pastor of the Congregational Church in Tokyo where Asakawa attended.

Yokoi met William Jewett Tucker, who later became president of the College, when Tucker was President of the Andover Theological School, the article stated.

With Yokoi's encouragement, and the financial backing of Count Okuma, the founder of Waseda University, Asakawa came to the College.

While at the College, Asakawa continued his academic excellence.

One of his classmates, "Clothespins" Richardson, reported that Asakawa wrote the best English of anyone at the College. Asakawa was affectionately referred to as "K" by his classmates, according to the article.

After attending graduate school at Yale, Asakawa returned to the College in 1902 as a lecturer on Far East civilization and languages. He also taught several courses at the Tuck School of Business.

Asakawa returned to Yale in 1907 as an instructor in the history of Japanese civilizations. He specialized in Japanese feudalism and served as the curator of Chinese and Japanese collections at Yale's library.

In 1930, the College honored Asakawa for his personal and scholarly excellence by conferring on him a Doctor of Letters.

He retired from the faculty in 1942, becoming an emeritus professor of history.

This coincided with the height of national animosity towards Japanese people in the U.S. stemming from World War II.

Asakawa was the first Japanese person to become a professor at a major American university.

At Yale, he specialized in Japanese and European feudalism, in both of which he did pioneering work.

His lifelong fascination with feudalism stemmed from his family background. His family descends from the Samurai and once belonged to a feudal clan.

Asakawa's family lived in Fukushima, a town which honors him to this day. Each summer, the town sends a group of students and town officials to the College as a stop on the tour of Asakawa landmarks, which also includes Yale.

One such group is expected at the College this August, according to Ericson.

The Dartmouth Club in Fukushima is active in preserving the memory of Asakawa.

Approximately five years ago, the alumni club began to give an "Asakawa Award" to a Japanese person who has furthered international understanding.

The honorees have included a Hawaiian sumo wrestler and the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

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