Illini Everywhere: Japanese Illini, Since 1872

Since at least 1872, Japanese students have been attending the University of Illinois. Early Japanese Illini have included agriculturalists, architects, architectural engineers, artists, athletes, botanists, chemists, civil engineers, dentists, educators, electrical engineers, exhibit curators, exhibit docents, mathematicians, mechanical engineers, medical doctors, political scientists, and railway civil engineers too.

Read on to learn more about early Japanese Illini!

Early Illinois – Japan Connections

One of Illinois’ oldest international connections began with Japan when the first Japanese student enrolled in 1872, and many future exchanges would follow. As a matter of fact, multiple early Illinois – Japan connections also include connections with early World’s Fairs in the U.S. In 1895, following the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, artwork from the Japanese government’s exhibit was on temporary display in University Hall. Following the University’s successful exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, three different men from the Japanese exhibitions were inspired to visit the Illinois College of Agriculture. In 1904, came Chief of the Section of Agricultural Products Mr. Hitoshi Nakamura, and Director of the Kiusiu Imperial Agricultural Station Dr. Yoshishige Otsuka. In 1905, came Special Commissioner of Agriculture H. N. Ohashi. In 1906, U.S. architect Frank Lloyd Wright came to campus to deliver an architecture lecture titled “Lessons from the Japanese”. While a few years later, in 1908, University of Tokyo Electrical Engineering Head Dr. B. Arakama visited campus too. In short time, Japanese campus guests offered to give campus talks too.

While at least as early as 1909, local Illini and other Americans would publicly debate the exclusion of Japanese American, Chinese American, and other Americans at events like the 1909 Ohio-Illinois competitive student debate competition.

As early as June 16, 1909, Japanese Ambassador Baron Kogorō Takahira gave a campus address on the “Influence of American Education in the Far East”. In March of 1910, Baron Dairoku Kikuchi visited the campus, as part of a national tour, following an invitation to speak at New York’s Civic Forum. On November 5, 1910, Imperial Japanese Consul Honorable Keiichi Yamasaki gave a campus talk “The Japanese Student in America”, organized by Japanese Illini. On June 1, 1911, Illinois hosted the Waseda University Baseball team for a friendly match, as part of Waseda’s midwest tour. In fact, for the next two decades, many future baseball games would be played in Illinois, across the U.S., and in Japan.

In April of 1912, supported by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Kyoto Imperial University (now Kyoto University) Professor Dr. Inazō Nitobe gave a series of eight lectures. The Carnegie funded program brought Dr. Nitobe to six U.S. universities, with his expected arrival in early April at Illinois. On April 1, the first talk “On Some Characteristics of the Land and People of Japan” was held in the Natural History Lecture Room. Other talks included “Geographical Features of Japan“, “History of Japan“, “Race and Racial Traits of the People of Japan“, “Agriculture in Japan“, “Morals and Moral Ideas of Japan”, “The Religion of Japan“, “Industrial Problems of Japan“, and “Relations Between Japan and America“. While in town, Dr. Nitobe and his wife were the guests of multiple student groups and off campus groups too. Some groups included the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, the University Club, the Women’s League, an April 14 YMCA talk “Young Men of Japan“, and the Volunteer Band.

Early Alumni in Japan

Nearly a decade earlier, some Illini were already traveling to Japan. The earliest example might be from 1902 to 1903, when Rachelle M. Hanson (B.S., 1900), of Villa Grove, Illinois, went on a tour of China, Japan, and the Hawaiian Islands. [1]

Meanwhile, in 1903, Mr. Roy Smith, (A.B. , 1902), of Colusa, Illinois, began his career as an educator and missionary in Japan. [2] In 1910, in Tokyo, Mr. Smith married fellow Illini Charlotte Hess (A.B. 1907), of Philo, Illinois. [3] After years of work as a business and government teacher, Mr. Smith later became a lecturer at the Kobe Higher College (now Kobe College) in 1917. As an alumni, Mr. Smith would return to town multiple times to visit and to talk about Japan too (1907, 1920, and 1928).

Concurrently, Mr. Percy Almerin Smith, (B.S. Mathematics and Physics, 1901; A.M. Education, 1912), of Dixon, Illinois, was a missionary and educator in Japan for thirty-six years. [4] From 1903 until 1912, he was a Hiroshima Normal College instructor, a founder of Eng. Teachers Magazine, and a frequent author on education in Japan.

Mrs. Charlotte Enid Draper Smith, (A.B. in Literature and Arts, 1902), of Yokohama, was born in Japan to Methodist missionary parents, and she complete a degree at Illinois, before returning to Japan. After returning to Yokohama, she married fellow Illini Percy Almerin Smith (above) and they would remain there as educators and missionaries. Mrs. Smith taught at schools in Hiroshima, Tsu, Fukui, and she was also an author, with published works in Tsu Church Monthly, Kyota Diocesan Times, and Fukui Prefectural Education Magazine. [5]

Mr. Ira Webster Baker, (A.B. 1905), of Mattoon, Illinois, also worked as a teacher in a Japanese Government School, before returning to the U.S. [6]

Mr. Robert E. Richardson, (B.A. 1901; A.M. Zoology, 1903), who was a biologist who returned to town to work for the State Natural Historical Survey in 1909. During his career, Mr. Richardson published research on fish in Illinois, the Philippines, Formosa (now Taiwan), and Japan. [7]

And Mr. Frederick Bowman Nicodemus, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1909), of Forreston, Illinois, worked as an educator and missionary across the Japanese Empire. After graduation, in 1909, he was a teacher at a Japanese Government high school in Osaka. From 1911 through 1916, he was teaching at a Formosan Government high school, before taking a position at North Japan College in 1916. [8] As an alumni, Mr. Nicodemus would return to town multiple times to visit and talk about changes in Japanese society too, (1923a, 1923b, 1923c, 1923d, 1923e, 1923f, 1923g, 1923h, 1924a, 1924b, and 1924c).


Of course, the first Illinois-Japan connections began with Japanese students who chose to come to schools like Illinois. As early as academic year 1872-1873, the earliest recorded Japanese student might have been Tunetaro Yamaou, (Agriculture, 1872-1873), of Yeddo (also Edo, now Tokyo), of which not much more is known. Just over a decade later, more students would arrive.

Arriving in 1886 came Mr. Sitzuro Yamada, (Agriculture, 1886-1888; Chemistry, 1889-90) of either “Wakamaten” (likely Wakayama-ken or Wakayama Prefecture) or “Wakamatsu”. From The Illini (now Daily Illini), we know that Mr. Yamada gave at least one well-received campus recitation in 1886, and he hosted at least two exhibits of Japanese items with one exhibit at his home and another exhibit at the Champaign County Fair.

Also choosing Illinois in 1886 was Mr. Kizō Tamari, (Biology, 1886-87), of Tokyo. Just two years earlier, in 1884, with Mr. Hattori Ichizō and Mr. Jōkichi Takamine, Mr. Tamari was part of the Imperial Japanese Commission at the 1884-1885 World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana, and he completed a master’s degree at Michigan Agriculture College (now Michigan State University) before coming to Illinois to continue his studies. While he was a student at Illinois, Mr. Tamari was a member of the Adelphic Society (Record Series 41/75/1), and he was interviewed twice by The Illini, concerning the origin of India Ink and burdock.

Mr. H. Yeizo Kasano, (Civil Engineering, 1890-91), also of Tokyo, might not have completed his studies, for reasons unknown.

While Mr. Heisa Nagano, (1891) of Kyoto, might not have left many records behind either.

In the late 1880s, there were at least three new students, including Mr. Kotaro Tominaga, (Agriculture, 1889-91), of Tokyo. While he was a student, Mr. Tominaga gave at least one off campus talk, with a lantern slideshow, at the First Presbyterian Church of Urbana. However, although he was one year short of graduation, in 1892, Mr. Tominaga had to interrupt his studies to return to Japan as his father became ill.

While during the following year, fellow Japanese Illini Mr. Shigetsura Shiga, (B.S. Architecture, 1893; M. Arch, 1905) who prepared at Tokyo High School before coming to Illinois, was probably the first Japanese student to graduate from the University of Illinois. [9] From student publications there is evidence that Mr. Shiga was active in student life. In 1889, in The Illini, Mr. Shiga published an account of his voyage from Japan to California, to study at Illinois. For two weeks in 1891, with a colleague, Mr. Shiga collected insect specimens from across Southern Illinois for the State Laboratory of Natural History’s entomological collections exhibit for Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. In 1892, he did the same in Western Illinois too. [10] Mr. Shiga even drew a substantial amount of the reference art which accompanied the collections exhibit. That same year, he published “Japanese Temple Architecture” in The Technograph (Record Series 41/8/810). During the following school year, he was elected vice president of the Architectural Club. In 1893, he published an essay about the status and education of women in contemporary Japan. In the 1893 Sophograph, Mr. Shiga published an essay on this history of first European visitors in Japan and the first Japanese to visit Europe too.

After graduation, during the summer and the fall of 1893, Mr. Shiga worked as a clerk in the Japanese exhibit in the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building at the World’s Fair in Chicago. By April 1894, Mr. Shiga returned to Japan to work as an architect. By October, he was an Imperial University lecturer of wood construction and elements of drafting, and by January, he was married too. After becoming a School of Technology Architecture (now Tokyo Institute of Technology) professor, Mr. Shiga was tasked with designing the new School of Technology building too. Mr. Shiga was also a founder and long-serving president of the Japanese Illini Club, known to invite all Illini visiting Japan to reach out to the Club. In fact, in 1928, when the Illini baseball team visited Japan, the Japanese Illini Club hosted the team and even gave them an orange and blue silk banner as a gift for the University.

Mr. Chijokichi Ogiwara, (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1896), of Tokyo, was probably the second Japanese Illini to graduate. [11] Although arriving on campus half-way through his first year in January 1893, Mr. Ogiwara still graduated on time with summer study and to the surprise of one Illini writer. Mr. Ogiwara was an active member of the Adelphic Society too, with at least two documented performances including singing a Japanese song and a talk in Japanese too. After graduation, Mr. Ogiwara scheduled trips to see outstanding examples of engineering in Pennsylvania and New York, before later deciding to enroll in a course in railroad engineering at Purdue University.

While Mr. Seijiro Ogasawara, of Osaka, Mr. Tokugo Ogihara, (A. B. Chemistry, 1904), of Tokyo, and Mr. Kinro Mori, (Pharmacy) of Nagoya, might not have left many records behind. [12]

Mr. Yasuza Sakagami, (PhD Political Science, 1905), of “Wakayamaken” (likely Wakayama-ken or Wakayama Prefecture), completed a graduate degree at the University of Minnesota (M.L., 1899), and he had also worked as a football team trainer for the University of Wisconsin, The Illini reported. [13] In 1904, Mr. Sakagami was recognized by the Japanese government for his service in athletics too. While in town, Mr. Sakagami was an assistant trainer for the men’s track team, and during the winter of 1904, Mr. Sakagami was invited to give at least two talks off campus, and one campus talk for the Political Science club.

While Mr. Toshio Sato, (Architectural Engineering, 1906-1910), of  Higasiku, Osaka might not have finished his degree at Illinois, he certainly had a full experience during his studies. As early as 1906, Mr. Sato had to withdraw from the University. However, he was able to return during the following spring. Mr. Sato was active in student life, through organizations like the Cosmopolitan Club and Japanese Student Association. In 1907, for example, Mr. Sato was a primary speaker for the first documented Nippon Night. Later that month, Mr. Sato and other students volunteered at a local fundraiser bazaar for the Unitarian community, where he demonstrated Jujutsu and a magic show too. Mr. Sato was also involved in the 1908 Ohio-Illinois student debates (1908a and 1908b). Mr. Sato was a frequent speaker too, with area talks including “The East and The West“, “The Difficulties of Learning a New Language and Foreign Customs“, “The Destiny of Christianity“, and other talks in ChicagoIn the third campus annual circus, Mr. Sato gave another Jujutsu demonstration too. Unfortunately, Mr. Sato withdrew from the University to raise funds to complete his studies. By November 1912, Mr. Sato had relocated to Chicago, where he sold art and he even exhibited his works at the Chicago Art Institute and on campus too. In fact, by May of 1913, it is possible that some of Mr. Sato’s art was sold locally too.

Mr. Yoshifusa Iida, (M.S. Animal Husbandry, 1908), completed his bachelor’s degree at the Imperial University of Tokyo, before coming to Illinois. [14]

Mr. Sadakichi Taniyama, (B.S., Civil Engineering, 1909) of Okayama, prepared at the University of Colorado, before coming to Illinois. [15] After graduation, he became a civil engineer in Kobe.

While students like Mr. Motoyoshi Matsuyama, (Agriculture, 1907-09), of Kyoto, Mr. Louis Ichize Ogata, of “Kumanoto” (possible Kumamoto), (1907-09), who might have transferred to the University of Kentucky, might not have left many records behind.

Mr. Shichiro Kikuchi, (Mathematics, 1908-1909), of Omiya, completed a bachelor’s degree at the former Shurtleff College (with archives at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville), before coming to Illinois. Mr. Kikuchi was also a member of the multicultural student organization Cosmopolitan Club, (Record Series 41/64/8), and he gave a Club talk “A Japanese Impression of the United States” in 1908.

Mr. Teruo Kishi, (M.E. Railway Mechanical Engineering, 1909), of Matsuyama, completed a bachelor’s degree at the Higher Technical College of Tokyo, before coming to Illinois. [16] While he was a student, Mr. Kishi was a member of Cosmopolitan Club too. After graduation, Mr. Kishi was an engineer for the Sagano Railway.

Mr. Masaomi Kuninaga, (Dentistry, 1909), of Tokyo, might have been the first Japanese student to complete a Doctor of Dentistry.

While Mr. Hidiji Tasaka, (1909-12) of Osaka, might not have left many records behind.

Mr. Nenozo Utsurikawa, (1909-10) of Asaka District, Iwashiro Province, was a member of Cosmopolitan Club, and he was chair of the 1910 Nippon Night too.

Mr. Gikan Fujimura, (B.S. Science, 1911; M.S. Botany, 1911) of Mirumai, Shiwa-gun, Iwate-ken, prepared at Michigan Agriculture College (now Michigan State University) before coming to Illinois. [17] After graduation, in 1911, Mr. Fujimura took a position at the Formosan Government Agriculture Experiment Station. Two years later, he joined the F. W. Horne Company, while by 1918, he had become a scientist at the Imperial Zootechnical Experiment Station.

Mr. Koichi Hattori, (B.S. Civil Engineering, 1911), of Sapporo, prepared with a private tutor, before coming to Illinois. [18] After graduation, following a short illness while celebrating graduation in Chicago, he became a teacher at Sapporo Agriculture College.

Mr. Choichi Murota, (Economics, 1911-12), of Tokyo, completed a bachelor’s degree at Waseda University, before coming to Illinois.

Mr. Genjiro Jinguji, (B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1912; M.S. 1913), of Honchoski-Machi, Chiba Prefecture, prepared at a high school in Seattle, before coming to Illinois. [19] After graduation, Mr. Jinguji was an engineer at companies including General Electric in Schenectady, New York, S. Suzuki and Company in Tokyo, and Kawakita Denki Kigyosha in Osaka.

Mr. Itsu Maki, (A.B. Education, 1912), of Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, prepared at the Hiroshima Normal College, before coming to Illinois. [20] After graduation, he became a teacher at Hiroshima Normal College.


Nippon Club

At least as early as 1905, a Christian missionary group called “Nippon Club” was formed to discuss Christian missionary work in Japan. Unfortunately, not much more is known about this group at this time.

The Japanese Association

As early as April of 1907, Japanese students founded The Japanese Association. The Japanese Association would provide a communal resource for Japanese students and it would be a platform for Japanese students to share aspects of Japanese cultures with the campus and local community.

Early Japanese Illini organized campus events including annual Japanese culture nights, sometimes called “Nippon Night”. As early as 1907, as a part of Cosmopolitan Club, a Nippon Night was organized, including singing, a talk about “Student Life in Japan” by Mr. Sato, followed by a talk by South Asian Illini Mr. Santosh C. Majumdar who described his trip to Japan, and a stereopticon slideshow of images of Japan, narrated by Mr. Sato too.

At least as early as November 1910, a second Nippon Night was hosted on campus. However, a few days before the event was hosted, the decorative Nippon Night posters had been stolen from community boards. Regardless of the stolen campus posters, the event was another success. The 1910 Nippon Night included the talk “Japanese Students in America” by Chicago Consul Keiichi Yamasaki, the talk “Land of Yamato” by M. Inagaki, stereopticon views of Japan narrated by L. Maki, and additional cultural performances too.

Besides organizing campus cultural nights and distinguishing themselves in their coursework, early Japanese Illini were often partners with the University for hosting Japanese guests. For example, beginning in 1911 and lasting through 1931, when Japanese college baseball teams traveled the United States, local Japanese students helped welcome and host the visiting baseball teams too. By 1912, Japanese student enrollment was continuing strong and the Japanese Illini story was still just beginning with more to come.

Are you a Japanese Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!


[1] “Rachelle Margaret Hanson (Gurley),” The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, Edited by Franklin W. Scott, page 130.

[2] “Roy Smith”, page 170.

[3] “Charlotte Hess Smith”, page 280.

[4] “Percy Almerin Smith”, page 154.

[5] “Charlotte Enid Draper Smith”, page 160.

[6] “Ira Webster Baker”, page 219.

[7] “Robert Earl Richardson”, page 153.

[8] “Frederick Bowman Nicodemus”, page 1909.

[9] “Shigetsura Shiga”, page 74.

[10] At least as late as 1900, Mr. Shiga would even continue to send Japanese insect specimens to the Natural History Laboratory after graduation too.

[11] “Chijokichi Ogiwara”,

[12] “Tokugo Ogihara”, page 209.

[13] “Yasuza Sakagami”, page 804.

[14] “Yoshifusa Iida”, page 779.

[15] “Sadakichi Taniyama”, page 363.

[16] “Terno Kishi”, page 783.

[17] “Gikan Fujimura”, page 417.

[18] “Koichi Hattori”, page 458.

[19] “Genjiro Jinguji”, page 461.

[20] “Itsu Maki”, page 465.

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