In 1875 there was begun in Kyoto, though only in a hired building, a school for young men. Previously the missionaries of the American Board had sought to gain an entrance into the old capital of the Empire and a Christian whose home was in Kyoto had joined with another from Kobe in asking the Central Government if a missionary could reside in the former city. It was necessary that the document should have the stamp of the ward Officer before it could be forwarded, but this official wrote to the chief petitioner that he did not dare to set his seal to such a request. Soon after this, in November, 1874, there returned to Japan a native of the country, who was to be the means of opening Kyoto to the Gospel and of establishing there Christian schools whose graduates would take an important part in the evangelisation of the land.
Joseph Hardy Neesima, to use that form of writing his name that is best known to readers of English, was born in Yedo, January 14, 1843, his father being a retainer of the Daimyo of Annaka. He was about sixteen years old when, as told in an account of his life that he wrote in imperfect English after he had been about six months in America:
“ My comrade lent me an atlas of United states of North America which was written with China letter by some American minister. I read it many times and I was wondered so much as my brain would melted out from my head, picking out President, Building, Free school, poor house, House of Correction and machine working etc. and I thought that a governor of our country must be as the president of the united states. And I murmured myself that oh governor of Japan! Why you keep down us as a dog or a pig ? we are people of Japan. if you govern us you must love us as your children. From that time I wished to learn American knowledge, but alas, I could not get any teacher to learn it …I visited my friend and found a small Holy Bible in his library that was written by some American minister with China language and had shown only the most remarkable events of it. I lend it from him and read it at night because I was afraid the savage countries law Which if I read the Bible Will cross my whole family。I understood God at first and he separated the earth from firmament and light upon the earth and made grass trees creatures fowls and fishes and he created man in his own image and made up a woman cutting a mans side bone .After he made up all things of universe, he took a rest. That day we must call Sunday or Sabbath day. I understood that Jesus Christ was Son of Holy Ghost and he was crossed for the sins of the world; therefore we must call him our Saviour. Then I put down the book and looked around me saying that; Who made me? My parents? No God. Who made my table ? A carpenter? No God. God let trees grow upon the earth and although God let a carpenter make up my table it indeed came from some tree. Then I must be thankful to God I must believe him and I must be upright against him. From that time my mind was fulfilled to read English Bible, and purposed to go to Hakodate to get English or American teacher of it. Therefore I asked of my prince and parents to go thither but they had not allowed to me for it ,and were alarmed at it. But my stableness would not destroy by their expostulations ,and I kept such thoughts, praying only to God; please! Let me reach my aim.”.
Finally in 1864 without having obtained the desired permission, he made his way to Hakodate where he was for a while Pere Nicolais teacher of Japanese. His desire to go to America was very strong; but if caught in an attempt to leave the country the penalty would be death. At last he managed to escape and went to shanghai, where a captain of a ship bound for Boston consented to let him work his passage thither.
Before leaving Shanghai, he sold one of the two swords that as a samurai he was accustomed to wear, and with the proceeds he bought an English Bible. Often during the passage, when harshly treated by the sailors, he was tempted to use the other sword upon his persecutors ; but thoughts of his great purpose to obtain an education in America restrained his hand and gave him patience.
In Boston, the owner of the ship, Hon. Alpheus Hardy, a Christian merchant, who was deeply interested in missions took the young man for a servant, and soon seeing his great worth, sent him successively to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., to Amherst College, and to Andover Theological Seminary.
Before he had completed his theological studies, the Japanese embassy, headed by Prince Iwakura, came to America and wished him to become an interpreter to assist them in their investigation of the educational institutions of America and Europe. By the advice of his friends he accepted the position, which not only gave him exceptionally good opportunities for seeing the schools of different countries, but also won for him the friendship and esteem of those whose official positions enabled them in after years to help him carry out his plan for establishing a Christian school in Japan. When his duties with the embassy were at an end, he refused the flattering offer made to him if he would return with it to Japan, and went back to his theological studies at Andover.
After graduation he was ordained in Boston to the Christian ministry. He was appointed a corresponding member of the Japan Mission of the American Board, his support continuing to come from Mr. Hardy, who was Chairman of the Board’s Prudential Committee. Just before he was to leave America, the annual meeting of the Board was held at Rutland, Vermont, (October, 1874), and he had been asked to say a few words. At the last moment he put aside the speech that he had carefully prepared, and with broken voice and overflowing eyes made an earnest plea that a Christian school of high grade should be established in his country. He closed by saying: “I cannot go back to Japan without the money to found a Christian college, and I am going to stand here until I get it.” The audience was greatly moved by this appeal, and nearly five thousand dollars were subscribed on the spot.
On reaching Japan, he at once went to see his aged parents in Annaka. As the people of that town were eager to hear about his adventures, he took the opportunity to speak openly concerning Christianity. This was perhaps the beginning of direct Christian preaching in the interior, and the officials were puzzled to know what ought to be done about it. The Governor went in person to consult the authorities in Tokyo, who said to him : ” If it is Neesima, it is all right ; let him alone.” Thus early did the advantages from Mr. Neesima’s connection with the embassy begin to appear.
Mr. Neesima soon proceeded to Kobe and Osaka in order to consult with the members of the American Board Mission. They were earnestly in favour of establishing a Christian college. The need for it was emphasised by the fact that among the foreign teachers employed in the Imperial University and other schools were men of immoral lives, while some others took pleasure in ridiculing Christianity and the Bible. The first thought was to establish the school in Osaka. The Governor of that city, however, was a bitter opponent of Christianity, who had been concerned in the recent persecution of the Roman Catholics. He expressed his willingness to have a school, but only on condition that no missionary should teach in it.
Attention was now turned to Kyoto. In 1872 members of the Mission had become acquainted with Mr. Yamamoto, a blind man who was a private counsellor to the Kyoto Government. The acquaintance had been continued, and in the spring of 1875 Dr. Gordon presented him with a copy of Dr. Martin’s “Evidences of Christianity,” printed in Chinese. A short time after this, when Mr. Neesima met Mr. Yamamoto, the latter said that the book had cleared away his doubts concerning Christianity. ” Christianity alone,” he said, ” can reach and renovate the very spring of the human heart. The day has dawned upon me, so that I can see the path that before was utterly unknown to me, for which I have been unconsciously seeking.” Through his influence the provincial governor was led to approve the plans for the school. Mr. Yamamoto also promised to let it have for a very small sum a large lot of land that until lately had been occupied by the mansion of the Daimyo of Satsuma. It is interesting to note that it was here that Shimazu Saburo had written the introduction to ” Bemmo,” the treatise against Christianity of which mention has already been made.
It was now necessary to get the consent of the Central Government Mr. Neesima went to Tokyo, where he saw Mr. Tanaka, the Minister of Education. It was with him that Mr. Neesima had been most closely associated while with the embassy. At first the Minister said that it would be impossible to grant permission for the founding of a Christian school in Kyoto, the strong-hold of Buddhism. Finally, however, he yielded, after warning Mr. Neesima to be careful not to do anything that would arouse the prejudice of the people. Messrs. Neesima and Yamamoto then formed the company that for many years consisted of only themselves, and chose for it the name ” Doshisha ” or ” Same Purpose Company.” Rev. J. D. Davis, who had done much of the planning for the institution, was engaged as its first foreign teacher. He went to Kyoto in October, and in the house that was hired for him began holding Bible-classes every Sunday.
The Buddhist priests soon learned of what was being planned, and held many large and excited meetings to decide what they could do to prevent their holy city from being defiled by the foreign religion. They finally forwarded a protest to the Central Government. The power of Buddhism was so great in Kyoto that the local officials feared to encounter the enmity of the priests and became less friendly to Mr. Neesima. They summoned him to explain the meaning of the word *’ Seisho” (Holy Scriptures) which appeared in the list of studies. Soon a request came from the Governor that for a time the Bible should not be taught in the school. To this Mr. Neesima assented. The Governor said that Christianity might be taught under the name of Moral Science, and that direct Biblical instruction could be given to the students in the homes of the teachers. He added that an uprising of the Satsuma men was feared and that the excitement aroused by the establishment of the school would be utilised by them for gaining adherents. The Shinto officials united with the Buddhists in trying to bring pressure upon the Government to keep out the missionaries. A few foreigners living in the city were encouraging the Buddhists. A physician from Holland who was employed in a hospital told the missionaries that they might as well try to throw Mt. Hiei into Lake Biwa as to start a Christian school in Kyoto. Yet it was started, and as Mr. Davis wrote, “The acorn is in the bottle, and it will in time, with God’s blessing, split the bottle.” In a letter dated November 29, 1875, he also wrote : ” We began our school this morning in Mr. -Neesima’s house at eight o’clock with a prayer-meeting in which all the scholars took part ; then going to the schoolhouse, two others were received, making seven boarding scholars and one day scholar.” That winter the number of students increased to about forty.
Most of the first pupils in the Doshisha were Christians that had come from the churches already established in other cities.