Keio University Student Delegation Visits the San Francisco Bay Area: 163 Years after the First Japanese Embassy to the United States in 1860

Keio University Founder Yukichi Fukuzawa was a member of the embassy.
Keio students at Stanford University on September 15, 2023 Keio students at Stanford University on September 15, 2023; photo courtesy Global Passport Program, Keio University.

In 1858, Yukichi Fukuzawa established a school for Western studies in Edo, the former name of Tokyo. On February 9, 1860, the Tokugawa shogunate sent the first Japanese diplomatic mission to the United States and Fukuzawa was aboard the ship, Kanrin Maru, which escorted the USS Powhatan upon which the Japanese embassy traveled. The objective of the diplomatic mission was to ratify the new Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation between the United States and Japan. After the Japanese embassy’s stay in San Francisco, the USS Powhatan continued with the embassy to Washington, DC, where they met President James Buchanan, and also visited Philadelphia and New York City. The embassy returned to Japan on November 9, 1860. Fukuzawa’s experiences with the first Japanese embassy had a profound impact on his views of education, and in 1868, Fukuzawa changed the name of the school to Keio Gijuku, a leading institute in Japanese higher education. 

One hundred and sixty-three years after Fukuzawa’s trip to San Francisco, a student delegation of 14 students from Keio University visited the San Francisco Bay Area in September 2023. The students were part of Keio University’s Global Passport Program (GPP) and represented the Faculty of Business and Commerce, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Letters, and Faculty of Policy Management. The delegation was led by Professor and GPP Chair Naoko Moriyoshi, Professor Noriyoshi Yanase, and Associate Professor Nobuhiko Kijima, all with the Faculty of Business and Commerce; and assisted by Misako Sack, a graduate of Keio University who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Keio students and faculty

The Global Passport Program, which is offered in English, is a two-term program of Keio University for junior and senior students that started in 2014 and managed by the Faculty of Business and Commerce to cultivate global leaders. A one-week overseas study program for selected students is one of the highlights of the GPP. During the recent one-week overseas study program, I had the chance to meet the student delegation at U.C. Berkeley on September 12 (photo above courtesy Global Passport Program, Keio University), and at Stanford University on September 15. At U.C. Berkeley, I was joined by KC Mukai, Assistant Director, Parent and Family Philanthropy, Berkeley Cal Parents & Families. KC (front row center in photo above) and I informally spoke with the Keio students, and KC had the chance to share her experiences as the reigning 2023 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival Queen and her identity as a Japanese and Chinese American. 

At Stanford, I had the honor of giving a lecture on “What Does It Mean to Be a Global Citizen?” While preparing my lecture, I was aware of the long history and strong synergy between Keio University and Stanford University. I located an article in the April 18, 1914 edition of The Daily Palo Alto about the Stanford-Keio baseball game that was played at Stanford. Numerous sporting events have been held between Keio and Stanford. 

There are many examples of student exchanges as well. For example, the Stanford Japan Exchange Conference includes the following on its website:  
SJEC originated in 1954 as a two-part exchange program with Keio University in Japan. This was engineered by Professor James Watkins of Stanford through his personal contacts with Keio graduates while working in Nagoya, Japan in the late 1920s. The program originally was named The Keio Committee as part of the Institute of International Relations (IIR), a larger umbrella organization. Even today, the Keio-end of the exchange is still operated under IIR. In 1991, SJEC expanded the program by including students from Doshisha University; in 2009, Kyoto University joined the program.

Another student exchange program is the Silicon Valley Keio International Program (SKIP), which notes the following on its website: 
SKIP is an international program between Stanford University students and Keio University students. Every year the program invites more than 15 Stanford students in September and is held for two weeks. Through the program, we deepen our understanding about the society and culture of both countries and discuss the futuristic Japan-America relation based on what we have learned in the program.

In addition, the Keio-Stanford LifeWorks Program brings together students from Keio University and Stanford University to engage in contemplative/artistic/somatic approaches to conflict resolution, intercultural understanding, and creative leadership development. It is led by Stanford University’s Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu and Keio University’s Dr. Yuki Imoto. 

Stanford e-Japan alumni

Lastly, many Keio alumni and faculty have studied or participated in Stanford programs. For example, in 2018–2019, Keio alumnus Junichiro Hirata was a visiting scholar with the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center’s Global Affiliates Program and is now an advisor to SPICE’s Stanford e-Japan program and Stanford regional e-Japan programs for Japanese high school students. Many alumni of these programs have gone on to study at Keio University and Stanford University. Photo above: Stanford e-Japan alumni (Jun Yamasaki, currently a PhD student in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford, far left; Hikaru Suzuki, University of Tokyo graduate and now an attorney with Nishimura & Asahi, second from left; Haruki Kitagawa, Keio University graduate and now a Service Commercial Sales Executive at SAP, far right) with Stanford e-Japan spring course instructor Waka Takahashi Brown (third from left) and advisor Junichiro Hirata (second from right); photo taken on February 26, 2019.  

I can imagine how proud Yukichi Fukuzawa would be of these programs and Keio’s Global Passport Program and the 14 students whom I had the pleasure of meeting. Among the diverse student delegation were eight women and six men, including 10 Japanese, two Koreans, one Chinese, and one Taiwanese. I am so impressed with how Keio University is building upon the vision of Fukuzawa with programs like the GPP. Many of the students in the delegation have already spent significant time abroad and the GPP continues to contribute to their expanding global mindsets. For example, Keio senior and GPP member Risa Toyoda has studied at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Reflecting on the GPP and the recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, she noted:

Throughout this journey, I have had the privilege to explore two important themes: “connection” and “failure.” These themes have provided valuable insights that I would like to reflect on. First, regarding “connection,” which is about building and nurturing relationships with others, I was inspired by how our trip was organized by Professor Moriyoshi, and her effort and sincerity to establish trust with people in the Bay Area. This reminded me of the crucial role trust plays in creating opportunities. I also had meaningful interactions with my fellow Overseas Field Trip (OFT) members during the week. Unlike my usual activities at Keio, this experience allowed me to engage with a diverse group, including those who have lived outside Japan. It emphasized the importance of going back to basics, especially for those visiting the United States for the first time. I would like to cherish this idea of appreciating each other’s diversity, and going back to the starting point as I start to work next year. Next, concerning the topic of “failure,” I had an opportunity to have a presentation during this trip with five other members about the challenges Japanese startups face… and was introduced to the concept of “failing forward,” which means making progress by learning from failures, even in the face of setbacks. This approach involves venturing out of one’s comfort zone, and I imagine how it will lead to success in a competitive environment… I am sure that these will undoubtedly guide my future endeavors as I continue to pursue personal and professional growth.

On November 6 and 7, 2023, I will have the honor to speak at the Mita and Hiyoshi campuses of Keio University and hope that the lectures will in a small way help to further strengthen the relationship between Keio and Stanford and build upon the vision of Yukichi Fukuzawa. I also hope to see the OFT students again and encourage them to apply for graduate school in the United States with hopes that they will seriously consider applying to San Francisco Bay Area colleges such as U.C. Berkeley and Stanford.  

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