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Culture and Education

Waseda’s First International Students

Mizuki Hiwa
Assistant Professor, Waseda University Archives

In October 1884, now 131 years ago, Tokyo College (the forerunner of Waseda University) welcomed its very first international students just two years after the school opened in 1882. They were two Koreans, Sin Jae-yeong (申載永, 1864–1931) and Eom Joo-heung (嚴柱興, 1858–1908). The following year, in 1885, the school admitted a third student, Kim Han-gi (金漢琦, date of birth and death unknown). This is the story of how these young men found their way to Tokyo College and the course of their careers upon returning home.

Student exchange programs with the Joseon Kingdom

We’ll start by considering the historical context in which these exchange students lived. The first real influx of international students to Japan in the modern period occurred in May and July of 1883, when over sixty Koreans entered the nation’s educational institutions as part of an exchange program headed by Yukichi Fukuzawa and Kim Ok-gyun (金玉均). The three students that came to Tokyo College were among this group. Korean students under the guidance of Takuzo Ushiba and Miyotaro Matsuo, both affiliated with the Keio Gijuku, started by boarding at Keio and getting a basic education there before entering more specialized educational institutions. The specifics of their lives lost to history, but we do know that some of them went on to get a military education at the Toyama Army Academy. One of these young men, Soh Jaipil, would later make a name for himself by playing an active role in the Korean Independence Movement.

The exchange project was originally promoted by Kim Ok-gyun, Park Yeong-hyo (朴泳孝), and other leaders in the Joseon Kingdom who wanted to modernize Korea—the young noblemen of the nation’s Enlightenment Party. Around twenty of these exchange students (primarily those that had attended the Toyama Army Academy) returned to Korea in July 1884. When the Enlightenment Party staged the Gapsin Revolution, a military coup d'état, in December 1884, many former exchange students participated in the event. The Gapsin coup ended in defeat for the party with many of the students killed in action or later executed; Soh Jaipil, Jeong Rangyo (鄭蘭教), and others who survived were exiled to Japan along with Kim Ok-gyun.

Student exchanges between Japan and Korea stopped after the fall of the Enlightenment Party, and the Korean government ordered all of its students to leave Japan. Many of them, fearing criminal punishment upon returning to Korea, ignored the mandate and continued their studies abroad.

International students at Tokyo College

We’ll now take a closer look at the individual lives of the exchange students who attended Tokyo College. When they first came to Japan, Sin Jae-yeong and Eom Joo-heung started their studies at Keio Gijuku and the Japan Customs House, later advancing to Tokyo College. In October 1884, Sin Jae-yeong entered the Department of Political Science, while Eom Joo-heung entered the Department of Law. But student exchanges with Japan were shut down following the Gapsin Revolution, and both left Tokyo College in January 1885 after a mere four months. Eom Joo-heung later asked to return to Korea of his own accord. He did this in March of that year accompanied by Seo Sangoo (徐相雨), the Korean legate who had come to Japan for the purpose of diplomatic negotiations following the Gapsin coup. There is no record of when Sin Jae-yeong eventually returned to his home country, but it is conceivable that he did so around the time of Seo Sangoo’s visit.

Kim Han-gi refused the order to return to Korea and continued his studies in Japan. In September 1883, he was accepted as a full-time student in the Keio Gijuku yoka (University Preparatory School), enrolling in courses there through July 1885 and then transferring to the Department of English at Tokyo College in October of that same year. Kim Han-gi ended up leaving Tokyo College around February 1886, however, just five months after his enrollment. He returned to Korea in May of that year.

Later careers of the international students

Tokyo College graduation photo, July 1887. Shigenobu Okuma is standing at the school entrance. Waseda University Archives collection.

What career did the international students of Tokyo College pursue after their returning to Korea? Sin Jae-yeong and Eom Joo-heung worked in diplomacy at the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, but were later exiled for several years. Judging from the fact that both were reinstated during the Gabo Reform era, it is likely that they were being punished for their affiliation with the Enlightenment Party.

After the mid-1890s, Sin Jae-yeong went on to have a successful career as director of the public prosecutor’s office and prosecuting judge, among other judicial officer positions. He continued in this line of work even after Japan annexed Korea in 1910, becoming deeply involved in crackdowns and court cases related to the so-called “Righteous Armies” fighting against the Japanese rule. He eventually lived out his days as a local government official. Eom Joo-heung also worked as a tax inspector and other capacities after his reinstatement, passing away at age fifty in 1908.

We have no information on Kim Han-gi’s activities after his return to Korea, but ample research points to execution due to his involvement with the Enlightenment Party.

The lives of the Korean exchange students that visited Tokyo College more than a century ago were heavily influenced by the state of East Asian politics at the time. Needless to say, they lived in a vastly different world than the one that surrounds international students today. It is not completely impossible, however, to compare the struggles of the students who were engulfed in violent political upheaval with those of modern exchange students.

The fact that Tokyo College welcomed foreign students almost immediately after it was founded, and that it later launched its own student exchange program in 1900, gives us many insights to the history of Waseda University’s consistent open-door policy towards the rest of Asia.

Mizuki Hiwa
Assistant Professor, Waseda University Archives

Professor Hiwa assumed his current position after working as a part-time employee at the Kanagawa Prefectural Archives and an assistant at the Waseda University Archives. He has a Ph.D. in Literature and specializes in the early modern and modern history of Japan, as well as the history of northern Japan. His book The Ideology of Benevolent Rule and Ainu Governance [Jinsei Ideorogi to Ainu Tochi] was published in 2014.