The World within the City of Yokohama
Saint Joseph College: a multinational, multi-religious school which sailed through the turbulent seas called wars.
(Article written in Japanese for the Mainichi Newspaper by Professor Hiroshi Onishi of Ferris University, July 6, 2018 issue – translated by Joji Ozawa ’64)
In the early days of Yokohama, only a few schools served the foreign community such as Saint Maur’s, an all-girls Catholic school, the Yokohama Chinese School for the Chinese community, and the Deutsche Schule for the German community. The most representative among them was Saint Joseph College (SJC) an all-boys school established in 1901. It unfortunately closed in 2000, ending its 99-year history. Some of the notable attendees of the school are the 1988 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Charles Pedersen, American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, and Masumi Okada (Otto Sevaldsen).
The history of St. Joseph College begins in Tsukiji, a port settlement in Tokyo, Japan when the Society of Mary, based in Bordeaux, France, sent five Marianist missionaries to Japan in 1888. Tsukiji was then the only designated settlement for foreigners. In 1899 the Japanese Government abolished its policy of designated settlement and the Ministry of Education granted permission for the Marianists to open a school in Kudan called Gyosei (The Morning Star). The government until then had followed a policy of enclosure in order to restrict the spread of Christianity but then eased this policy to allow for the coexistence of religion and education.
The Society of Mary was hard pressed for setting up a school for the foreign community. It is said that Brother Louis Stoltz, who landed in Yokohama from his home port town of Marseille, was so impressed by the landscape of the new school which was established on the bluff in 1901 that he uttered “Go unto Joseph” (Genesis).
Thus Saint Joseph was named and started out with 70 boys. The next year saw the enrollment increase to 91 boys, and after the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), it took in 30 boys from Tsarist Russia. The curriculum was conducted in English and French as the major languages, and there were also courses in six other languages, as well as business, mathematics, art, and other liberal arts courses. The grade school was originally from grade 1 to 7 and the high school was from 8 to 11, totaling 11 grades. (It later changed to 8 grades in grade school and 4 grades in high school.) There were many sports activities, and the first Boy Scout troop in Japan was established in 1911, certified as International Boy Scout Troop 1 in 1918. The use of Japanese was strictly prohibited at school, and boys of Japanese origin would come to call the principal of the school, Brother Albert Haegli, the “Red Devil”.
In the student registration form are listed not only the names of countries such as the U.K., the U.S., France, Germany, Russia, Spain, and Portugal but also China, Turkey, Armenia, Indonesia, and Estonia. Under the nationality column of the same form are listed not only Catholics (being the most numerous), Protestants, and Greek Orthodox but also Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists (a fair number). Although a minority, there are listed Jews, followers of the Armenian Church, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and Baha’i, some of which are unfamiliar to Japan. The Marianists did not allow any student to be converted to Catholicism unless he brought in written agreement from his parents. So it was this strict religious policy that encouraged parents of other religions to enroll their sons in the school. It was this multinational and multi-religious culture that made SJC a melting pot of the world on the Bluff. The schoolhouse was completely destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake (September 1, 1923) and the entire student body and faculty had to relocate to Kobe. There, it rented a small house in the Sumiyoshi district of Kobe with the aid of the Marianist Society, the priests of the Paris Foreign Missionary Society, and other foreign associations. Classes resumed in October with a student body of 65. A new schoolhouse and an auditorium were completed in Yokohama after two years and the school celebrated its opening at the Yokohama City’s restoration commemoration ceremony held at the Yokohama Park Stadium in 1929.
With conflicts such as the Manchurian Incident of 1931 and the Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945), there was hardship for the international schools in Japan. With the start of the war with the U.S. in 1941, the school was forced to close. The American teachers were detained in the Kanagawa No. 1 Detention Camp (Negishi Horse Race Tracks) and were repatriated the following year on the exchange ship from Yokohama. Those students and faculty who were allowed to stay evacuated to Gora, Hakone. The school buildings on the bluff were requisitioned by the Japanese army, and were used by the Ishikawajima Heavy Industries for the development of turbine engines to be used on torpedo ships.
When the war ended in August 1945 and the Occupation Forces under General MacArthur landed in Yokohama, it was suggested for the school to be used as a hospital. Had it not been for Brother Haegli’s earnest plea to the French General Leclerc for its return, the school facilities would have been used as a hospital. Also, with the end of the War, Brother Aloysius Soden, who had been repatriated to the U.S. on the prisoner exchange ship, returned as a Naval officer of the Occupation Forces. With his knowledge of Japanese, he had been working as an information officer and received training at the Naval Information Officer Training Academy at the University of Boulder in Colorado. The year after his return, he became the principal and helped to enroll children from the U.S. Forces’ families stationed in Yokohama. In summary, it would not be an exaggeration to say that SJC with its international heritage treaded the tumultuous road of war and occupation together with the city of Yokohama.
(Next article in Mainichi Newspaper scheduled for August 3, 2018)