Timeline: Japan-Yale Connections

In conjunction with the return of the Harimaze folding screens (see related story), here is a look at the long history of Japanese studies and Japanese collections at Yale.

In conjunction with the return of the Harimaze folding screens to Yale (see related story), here is a look at the long history of Japanese studies and Japanese collections at Yale.

This image of a Kyogen actor is one of the stained glass windows adorning the third-floor suite in Sterling Library where the Yale Association of Japan’s collections originally resided. (Photo by Gay Walker)


Meiji Restoration ends the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and its formal policy of isolation.

A Japanese wood-block printed book, an illustrated account of the Ansei earthquake of 1854, is donated to the Yale library. This is the first documented acquisition of a Japanese book by an American university.


First Japanese student arrives at Yale. Several Japanese students in the 1870s board in the home of Professor J. Willard Gibbs, which he shares with his sister Julia and her husband, Addison Van Name, Yale College librarian.


Addison Van Name begins to teach Chinese and Japanese in the Department of Philosophy and the Arts (forerunner of Yale’s Graduate School). This course is the first Japan-related course in an American university.


The first Japanese graduate, Kenjiro Yamakawa, received his Ph.D. from Yale University. After his return to Japan, he became the first Japanese professor of physics at Tokyo Imperial University (known today as the University of Tokyo) and served as president of the university 1901–1905 and 1913–1920.


Yale College Library accessions 2,700 volumes of woodblock-printed books, purchased with a donation from Yale paleontologist O.C. Marsh. The books were purchased in Japan by an American impressed by Van Name’s pioneering efforts in Japanese studies. This is the first time Japanese books are systematically collected by an American university.


Asakawa Kan’ichi (1873-1948) receives a Ph.D. in history from Yale.


Asakawa takes up a joint position at Yale as a lecturer in Japanese history and curator of the Chinese and Japanese collections in the library. He is the first Japanese national to teach in an American university.


Asakawa is on leave in Japan, where he is hosted by the Historiographical Institute at Tokyo Imperial University (later, the University of Tokyo). He meets with Yale Association of Japan (YAJ) members in Tokyo and solicits donations for the library collection. The YAJ begins to donate both Chinese and Japanese works to Yale. Asakawa also interests the alumni group in a project he had advocated for over 15 years: the creation of a “great Oriental museum” in the United States. As a result, the alumni donate funds for the purchase of materials to become the nucleus of such a museum at Yale. Professor Kuroita Katsumi of the Historiographical Institute at is asked to select the materials for the YAJ.


The Yale Association of Japan Collection, consisting of over 300 items from Japan, China, and Korea – many of them now considered rare cultural treasures — is donated to Yale. Asakawa was not successful in creating a stand-alone museum. However, a suite of rooms on the third floor of the new Sterling Memorial Library was dedicated to the YAJ Collection. The stained glass window decorations in these rooms consist of Japanese motifs.

One of the most intriguing items in the YAJ Collection is a folding screen, known as the “harimaze byōbu,” that has 27 historical documents affixed to the screen surface. In Japanese, “byōbu” means “folding screen” and “harimaze” indicates that diverse items have been attached to it. The historical documents were assembled and affixed to the screen at the Historiographical Institute when the YAJ as being assembled under the direction of Professor Kuroita. The choice to present the documents in this manner was most likely due to the fact that the collection was planned for permanent exhibit.


The YAJ Collection is transferred to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.


The Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures is re-organized as an independent, Ph.D.-granting department chaired by eminent Japan historian John Whitney Hall. Edwin McClellan is recruited as the first senior professor at Yale whose teaching and research are wholly devoted to the study of Japanese literature.


The YAJ Collection is inventoried by researchers from the National Institute of Japanese Literature.


The University of Tokyo became a partner in the Fox International Fellowship Program, a direct two-way student exchange partnership with Yale and the world’s leading universities.


The University of Tokyo and Yale were among the 10 universities that formed the International Alliance of Research Universities in 2005. As members of IARU, University of Tokyo and Yale cooperate on summer exchange programs, internships, and alumni events. Students from both universities regularly participate in Global Summer Programs at Yale and Todai.


Scholars from the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo begin to research the YAJ Collection and the Japanese Manuscript Collection (items acquired by Asakawa in 1906-1907.)


The Tōdai-Yale Initiative for Japanese Studies and Related Humanities and Social Sciences, a program designed to promote the exchange of faculty and students of Yale and the University of Tokyo, is established. Learn more about the Yale-Todai Initiative.


First Tōdai-Yale Initiative event is the Japanese Materials Workshop organized by Professor Historiographical Institute Director, Ishigami Ei’ichi. Professor Kondo Shigekazu presents his research on one of the “harimaze byōbu” documents.


Conservator Takashima Akihiko from the Historiographical Institute visits Yale on exchange and does an assessment of the screen. This leads to a formal offer from the Institute to undertake the conservation work required. At this time, the decision was made to remove all of the documents from the screen and house them separately. Over the years, the documents had degraded through years of being rubbed together between the screen panels. The conservation treatment plan is for the removal of the documents, repair of tears and insect damage, and new backing, when appropriate.


The Harimaze Byōbu is shipped to Japan for conservation at the Historiographical Institute.


The Harimaze Byōbu documents are returned to Yale in August.

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