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Joseph Hardy Neesima
The birth place of Joseph Hardy Neesima

Joseph Hardy Neesima (新島 襄 Niijima Jō ?, 12 February 1843—23 January 1890) was a Japanese educator of the Meiji era, the founder of Doshisha University and Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts.

Neesima was born in Edo (present-day Tokyo), the son of a retainer of the Itakura clan of Annaka. His childhood name was Niijima Shimeta (新島七五三太 ?).

In 1864, laws on national isolation were still in effect in Japan, and Japanese people were not permitted to travel overseas without government permission. However, Neesima had read extensively on various rangaku topics, and was determined to come to America. At the age of 21, he entreated Captain William T. Savory,of Salem, Massachusetts, commander of the brig, Berlin, for safe passage to the United States, in order to further study Western science and Christianity. Captain Savory agreed to help him, so long as Neesima came on board at night, without assistance from the ship's crew. Knowing Neesima could be executed if apprehended, Savory hid Neesima from customs officials in his stateroom. He then secured Neesima's passage from China to the United States on the Wild Rover, commanded by Captain Horace Taylor of Chatham, Massachusetts. The Wild Rover was owned by Alpheus Hardy.

When he arrived in Andover, Massachusetts, he was sponsored by Alpheus and Susan Hardy, members of Old South Church, who also saw to his education. He attended Phillips Academy from 1865 to 1867 and then Amherst College from 1867 to 1870. Upon graduating from Amherst, Neesima became the first Japanese person to receive a degree from a western college.

In the meantime, in 1866, he was baptized and from 1870 to 1874 he studied at the Andover Theological Seminary. In 1874, he became the first Japanese to be ordained as a Protestant minister.

When the Iwakura Mission visited the United States on its around-the-world expedition, he assisted as an interpreter.

Neesima attended the 65th annual meeting of the Congregational church in Rutland, Vermont in 1874, and made an appeal for funds to start a Christian school in Japan. With the support and funding received, he returned to Japan, and in 1875 founded a school in Kyoto, which grew rapidly and became Doshisha University. He was assisted by his wife Neesima Yae and brother-in-law Yamamoto Kakuma, who were also active with the local Christian community in Kyoto.

In 1889, Amherst College honored him with an honorary doctorate, the first ever awarded to a Japanese person. He died in Oiso, Kanagawa Prefecture, and was buried in Kyoto.

He was honored on a Japanese postage stamp in 1950.

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