History of The Asiatic Society of Japan

This “History of the ASJ” page was written in 1999 and is in the process of revision and updating as of June 2017.

The Society was established in Yokohama in 1872, just five years after the Meiji Restoration. In the spirit of the times, as the Japanese were looking intensely at the world outside their borders, a group of largely British and American diplomats, businessmen, and missionaries living in Japan decided to meet regularly to learn more about the country where they resided. At that time very little scholarly information about Japan in English was available, so at almost every meeting what members heard was fresh and groundbreaking to them. Though they didn't realize it at the time, they were participating in the birth of a new field of scholarly inquiry, Japan Studies. Society members carried out two basic activities: monthly meetings consisting of a lecture, and production of an annual publication called Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan.

Today, more than 140 years later, these two activities continue to constitute the core efforts of the Asiatic Society's members in Tokyo. Lectures are usually held on the second or third Monday of the month. The Transactions was updated in style and format, and it continues to uphold the high standards of its earlier volumes.

From the very beginning, the Society has conducted its activities, both lectures and publications, in English. Japanese members were welcomed from the very earliest meetings and continue to be active in the Society today, both as officers and members. Historically, the best-known Japanese member of the Society was probably Mori Arinori, who became Minister of Education in the Meiji Government. He first joined the Society in 1876 and was a member still in 1889 at the time of his assassination. Scores of other distinguished Japanese scholars and officials who played important roles in modern Japanese history were once members, including many government officials and university presidents during the Taisho and early Showa periods. Since the end of World War II, The Society has enjoyed active support from members of The Imperial Family. For example, during the 130th Anniversary Year, the Society was honoured to have TIH the Crown Prince and Princess and TIH Prince and Princess Takamado attend a special lecture delivered by Dr. Donald Keene, who addressed the Society on a topic about Emperor Meiji. At its 120th Anniversary in 1992 the Society was addressed by HIH the Crown Prince, who spoke about his research on Japanese history. In 1997 the Asiatic Society welcomed as its Honorary Patrons Their Imperial Highnesses Prince and Princess Takamado, who had long been supporters of the Society and were often present together at its gatherings (please see our Patrons page for further information).

Among the Western names affiliated with the Society either as officers or as guest lecturers, one will find a virtual Who's Who of Japan Studies from its earliest days to the present: Basil Hall Chamberlain and Ernest M. Satow, two pioneering Western scholars of Japanese history; J.C. Hepburn, creator of the romanization system for Japanese still used today; and G.B. Sansom and Lafcadio Hearn, both acute observers of Meiji Japan. The Presbyterian missionary August Reischauer spent twenty-six years as a member of the Asiatic Society; his son Edwin became American Ambassador to Japan in the early 1960s and was elected to the Council of the Society (the Reischauer Institute at Harvard is named after Edwin). These days audiences are likely to include the respected observer of Japanese popular culture Donald Richie, the Editor of Monumenta Nipponica (and former President of the Society) Michael Cooper, and, when he is visiting Tokyo, the doyen of American Japan scholars Donald Keene.

Perhaps because of its distinguished history and its well-placed connections, some people see the Asiatic Society of Japan as an exclusive club. The opposite is true. The Society is a place where all persons with an intellectual curiosity about Japan and its Asian neighbors are welcome to join and become active, especially individuals who will be in Tokyo and thus able to attend the monthly meetings. Moreover, the Society eagerly welcomes younger scholars who will be contributing to the field of Japanese Studies into the future. Members receive a monthly Bulletin that reports on previous and upcoming lectures and gives news of the Society. Members also receive a copy of the annual Transactions. Scholars who will be in Tokyo and would like to address the Society are invited to contact the Society in Tokyo with their proposal (several months in advance, please), and scholars wishing to order the Transactions or be published there are invited to contact the Editor in Tokyo.

(The Society extends sincere thanks to Dr. Ronald Suleski for allowing us to use edited excerpts of his article from Tsushin, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1998 for this webpage)

ロナルド・スレスキー ハーバード大学・フェアバンクセンター




戦後、協会は皇族からの熱心な支援を受けています。例えば、1992年の設立 120周年記念の際には、皇太子にご自身の日本史の研究についてお話いただきました。1997年には協会の長年に渡る支援者であり、会の集まりにもしばしば参加されてきた高円宮殿下ご夫妻を名誉後授者としてお迎えしました。

役員ならびに招待講演者として協会に関わった欧米人には、初期から現在にいたるまで、知る人ぞ知る日本研究の名士の名前が連なっています。日本史についての欧米人研究者として草分け的存在のベーセル・H・チェンバレンとアーネスト・ M・サトウ、現在も使われている日本語のローマ字表記法を生み出したJ・C・ヘボン、明治日本を鋭く観察した G・B・サンソム とラフカディオ・ハーン。長老教会の宣教師だったオーグスト・ライシャワーは26年間にわたり会員でしたし、彼の息子、エドウィンは 1960年代初期に日本駐在アメリカ大使となり、会の評議委員に選ばれています。(ハーバード大学のライシャワー研究所は、エドウィンにちなみ名づけられました。)最近の参加者としては、日本大衆文化を見守るドナルド・リチー、協会の代表を務めたことがあり「モニュメンタ・ニッポニカ」の編集長であるマイケル・クーパー、そして東京滞在時に出席するアメリカ人日本研究者の長老、ドナルド・キーンがあげられます。