THE ASIATIC SOCIETY OF JAPAN
Who We Are
The Asiatic Society of Japan (ASJ) serves members of a general audience that have shared interests in Japan. Founded in 1872, ASJ is Japan's oldest learned society.
ASJ's founders set into motion coordinated activities "to collect and publish information on subjects relating to Japan and other Asiatic Countries." They intentionally differentiated ASJ from its affiliated Royal Asiatic societies of the day by having established ASJ as a "Society for scholarly gentlemen" rather than a society of scholars. Nor was "Royal" to be used in ASJ's title, a measure to encourage Japanese people to join. Women also began to join within a few years. ASJ quickly became the first organization of its kind in Japan to promote the sharing of discoveries about Japan to the rest of the world.
ASJ was founded at a meeting held on 8 October 1872 at the Grand Hotel, Yokohama, when Robert Grant Watson of the British Legation was elected the first President, and the first papers were read there on 30 October—Notes on Loochoo by Ernest Mason Satow, then Japanese Secretary at the British Legation, and The Hyalonema Mirabilis, a marine biological study by Henry Hadlow, a Royal Navy surgeon. The opening papers were significant for two reasons: the subjects themselves, and the presence of Dr. James Curtis Hepburn and Satow at the very beginning of the ASJ's life.
ASJ's founders and earliest members were adventurous leaders who became pillars of Japan's modernization and industrialization at the dawn of Meiji Period. Physicians, scientists, teachers, engineers, military officers, lawyers, and diplomats numbered among them. In those days, there were numerous organizations like ASJ, each in their own way serving as focal points for documenting and discussing the discoveries that were being made by the men who were participating in the building of a new Japan. Many members of ASJ were also members of the other organizations.
While they were leading the transformation, ASJ's members were discovering many things about Japan. It was the excitement of discovery and the voracious appetite of people overseas for those discoveries that drove ASJ's explosive growth during its first 25 years.
Japanese members of ASJ who were central to the Meiji Restoration included: Kanō Jigorō, Baron Naibu Kanda, Tsuda Sen, Nakamura Masanao, and Viscount Mori Arinori.
The 'foreign expert' group was, likewise, a roster of the famous: Dr. James Curtis Hepburn; Henry Hadlow, British Royal Navy surgeon; Josiah Conder; John Milne, Edward Divers, James Main Dixon and Charles Dickinson West, all of the Imperial College of Engineering; Henry Faulds of the Tsukiji Hospital; Robert Maclagan of the Osaka Mint; Basil Hall Chamberlain; and William George Aston and Sir Ernest Mason Satow, diplomats.
ASJ, embracing a core of pioneers with the self-imposed task of interpreting the Japanese and their civilization to the rest of the world, played a highly significant part in transmitting new standards of critical and technical excellence to a whole generation of Japanese teachers and students, which, once adopted, made the 'foreign experts' superfluous.
By the 1890s, ASJ's first generation of Japanese and foreign members—leaders of change in Meiji—began to move on. Academicians began to make-up more of the membership. Today, the membership is approximately: academicians (46%); businesspeople (36%); students, fine arts, clergy, retired and other (18%).
ASJ's members have met regularly since the first meeting in Yokohama in 1872. As in Hepburn's day, we come from many professions and occupations. What unites us is our aspiration to scholarliness by how we pursue our investigations and discoveries about Asiatic Countries, most especially Japan.
What We Do
In the tradition of our founders, our members meet monthly to hear a guest explain his or her discoveries based on original research. The lectures last approximately fifty minutes and are followed by questions and discussion. Topics come from the full spectrum of fields of knowledge as related to Japan, including culture, history, literature, science, business, politics, and economics.
The lectures are occasionally followed by receptions. ASJ also holds events beyond the monthly meetings. The Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan is a journal that contains the full texts of selected papers presented at meetings, as well as other papers submitted for publication. The ASJ also publishes a monthly newsletter known as the Bulletin, which contains a detailed summary of the previous month's lecture, lecturers' profiles, announcements of coming events, and news about the ASJ and its members.
For most of the ASJ's history, there has been no limit to the range of interests covered in the pursuit of the objective. The first ten volumes of The Transactions, 1872-1882, printed 146 papers, of which 25 can be roughly classified as geographical or topographical. They are, however, far outnumbered by the largest subject grouping: the scientific papers during the same period. Hadlow alone submitted 52 such studies, and there were many others. But to take the figures further, during the second decade, 1882-1892, 107 papers were printed, of which only four were geographical and 18 scientific, a reflection of the end of the 'exploration' phase of Meiji. By then, the men who contributed to the exploration phase and to the explosive growth of the ASJ during its first 20 years began to wind-up their activities and move to their next opportunities.
On the occasion of the 110th Anniversary of the ASJ, after having completed his historical account of the first one-hundred years of the ASJ, President Douglas Moore Kenrick remarked to Their Imperial Highnesses and members present: "The only requirement of authors, and this is the root of our policy, is that each is expected to tell us something in his or her field that has not been previously published. We ask for something new. The Transactions have covered an extraordinarily wide range of Japanese studies and the papers provide a fascinating conspectus of Western achievements in the field of Japanology over the decades, as well as useful examinations of many subjects that have not been treated elsewhere."
Members can also participate in visits to special exhibitions at museums and art galleries, and other events arranged for members.