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  • Dr. David Murray: Superintendent of Education in the Empire of Japan, 1873–1879 by Benjamin Duke
  • Ian Ruxton (bio)
Dr. David Murray: Superintendent of Education in the Empire of Japan, 1873–1879. By Benjamin Duke. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick NJ, 2019. vi, 385 pages. $69.95, cloth; $69.95, E-book.

This book is the first biography in English of David Murray, a professor of mathematics at Rutgers College, who was appointed by the Japanese government as Superintendent of Education in the Empire of Japan in 1873. The founding of the Gakusei in 1872—the first public school system launched in Japan—marks the beginning of modern education in Japan, accommodating all children of elementary school age. The book's author, Benjamin Duke, is a professor emeritus of International Christian University and has authored several books, including The History of Modern Japanese Education (Rutgers University Press, 2009).

Dr. David Murray introduces Murray's work to assist about 100 samurai students with their studies at Rutgers and his role in early Japan-U.S. relations—which is claimed to be "unprecedented." It is further claimed on the back cover that Rutgers "made a greater contribution to the development of modern education in the early Meiji era than any other non-Japanese college or university in the world." This is, of course, a bold claim, and no potential rivals in the United States or Europe for this honor are mentioned or discussed.

In fact, the scope and extent of the book go far beyond a mere biography of Murray. We are given a very full account of some of the early encounters of Japanese students with the United States, both from Nagasaki (the direct route) and Satsuma via London (the indirect route). We learn a great deal about the interesting character Guido Verbeck (1830–98), the engineer turned pastor of the Dutch Reform Church, who sent students to Rutgers from Nagasaki by writing letters of recommendation, and who through a memorandum had significant input into clarification of the purposes of the Iwakura Mission to the United States and Europe, 1871–73, though this is not mentioned. We also are told much about William Elliot Griffis (1843–1928) and his lonely posting as a physical science teacher to Fukui (where there is now a museum bearing his name) and his escape back to Edo/Tokyo. Griffis, himself a Rutgers alumnus, was also recommended by Verbeck to Matsudaira Shungaku.

Several eminent Japanese are introduced and appear repeatedly in the book, some already known to this reader, others not. It is clear that Murray and his wife had close and probably unrivaled social relations with most of the key members of the Meiji administration and their families. The [End Page 479] most well known are the court noble Iwakura Tomomi, Kido Takayoshi (Kōin), Itō Hirobumi, and Fukuzawa Yukichi. Of course Murray knew Mori Arinori (1847–89), the first minister to the United States (1871–73) and the first minister of education after Murray left Japan. Early in the book, Baron Kikuchi Dairoku (1855–1917) makes an appearance. He was the first Japanese student at the University of Cambridge and later became president of the imperial universities of Tokyo and Kyoto, and minister of education (1901–3).1As president of the Imperial Academy (Teikoku Gakushiin), he was commissioned by that body in December 1909 to visit Murray's grave and "pay proper respects to him" during a visit to the United States. This Kikuchi did in February 1910 when he gave a lecture on foreign influences in Japanese education (pp. 4–5) and was awarded an honorary LL.D. of Rutgers.2

A lesser-known man who was heavily involved in the selection of Murray as educational advisor during the Iwakura Mission's visit to the United States in 1872 was Tanaka Fujimaro (1845–1909). Originally a middle-ranking samurai from Owari Province (now Aichi Prefecture), he was made vice minister for education in 1874 and continued in that role—effectively as Murray's boss—until 1880. A remarkable fact is that Murray himself had apparently no useful or useable Japanese-language skills, which surely meant that he would have relied...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-4721
Print ISSN
0095-6848
Pages
pp. 479-482
Launched on MUSE
2020-08-06
Open Access
No
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