by Mitani Takayasu, president J.F. Oberlin University*
J.F. Oberlin Gakuen will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary, as it was founded in 1921. I want to trace the path of Oberlin’s origins by first introducing Shimizu Yasuzo, Oberlin's founder. He was born in 1891 on the western shore of Lake Biwa in Takahama-cho, Shiga Prefecture, as the second son of a comparatively wealthy household engaged both in farming and business. However, as his family experienced bankruptcy, he had a difficult childhood. He entered Zeze Junior High School, which was an elite school, but due to the circumstances of his impoverished household, he was not able to concentrate on studying. In the words of Shimizu, “To get to my ranking in the class, it was always faster to count from the bottom.” The big turning point in his life, however, was when he met William Merrell Vories (1880-1964).
Vories is known as the famous architect who designed the buildings of many churches and Christian schools in Japan and as the missionary evangelist who constructed one large facility for education and social welfare in the town of Omi Hachiman. When he met Shimizu, he was just a 24-year-old English teacher. Shimizu was invited to a Bible class led by Vories where, for the first time, he encountered Christianity. Later on, strongly influenced by Vories, Shimizu was baptized at Otsu Congregational Church in 1908 and, aspiring to become a pastor, he advanced to Doshisha University School of Theology, which did not require any tuition.
He made a major decision when he visited Toshodaiji Temple. He was deeply impressed by the zeal for evangelism shown by the founder of that temple, Jianzhen (pronounced “ganjin” in Japanese). He also heard an anecdote about Thomas C. Pitkin, a missionary from the US who was martyred in the Boxer Rebellion, and he vowed that he would become a missionary and go to China rather than working in churches within Japan.
Just before leaving Japan, he said to a famous commentator, “I am going to China. In my twenties I will establish an elementary school, in my thirties I will establish a junior high school, in my forties a high school, and in my fifties a university.” Then he said, “I don't care if you say that I am just bragging. I will travel across the sea with my dream.” That was reported in the next day's newspaper. Who would have imagined that years later that dream would become a reality? This incident marked the beginning of “Shimizu, chaser of dreams.”
In June 1917, Shimizu arrived in Fengtian Shenyang (Mukden), China, but two years later, “bleeding and sweating,” he moved to Beijing in order to work for the benefit of the Chinese people. In 1919, the year he moved to Beijing, a severe drought ravaged the northern part of China. Responding to the disaster, churches all over the world soon extended a helping hand. Without delay, Shimizu also actively participated in the relief efforts. With just a small amount of money donated from Japan, he went around to the farming villages in the areas surrounding Beijing and gathered together 799 children from poor farming families who were suffering from extreme hunger. He gave the children protection by taking them to Chaoyangmenwai in Beijing, to a facility that had been hurriedly constructed to provide relief from the disaster. The year after the drought ended, he took each one of the children to their hometowns. Some of the children who had unfortunately lost their parents found someone to adopt them. He continued until the very last child was safe.
Chaoyangmenwai was the area of China where the largest number of poor people lived. Actually, every day young girls were sold. He was convinced that the only way to save these unfortunate girls was education, so he established a school to educate them to be literate, to teach them the skill of sewing, and to train them to be independent. The school did not charge tuition. It was founded on May 28, 1921. The name of the school was Sutei Gakuen. This was the origin of Oberlin University.
Sutei Gakuen grew healthily until World War II ended in 1945. When the Showa Era began in 1926, the school was certified by the Japanese government as a school for girls. Students came, not just from areas within Japan, but also from the Korean Peninsula. It was a so-called “global school,” with Chinese, Korean, and Japanese girls all learning together. People in Japan began to take notice of this global school. Also, the students’ sewing skills became a source of vitality that revived the local industry and halted the spread of poverty in the area. The Chinese people thought highly of Shimizu’s hard work devoted to them, and eventually began to call him the “Saint of Beijing.”
At that time, the Korean Peninsula was colonized by Japan, and all Korean students had likely experienced soshi kaimei, which means that they had been forced to change their original Korean names to Japanese names. Because of soshi kaimei, most Korean people referred to themselves by their Japanese names. However, at Sutei Gakuen, the students were called by their Korean names. The students were also educated about their ethnicity so they would not lose their pride of being people of Korean ethnic background.
Shimizu had his own idea about education and called it “gakuji jinji,” which means to “Learn and serve others.” Using this motto, he worked hard to develop human resources that could serve society. Though times changed, Shimizu’s teaching lasted and was inherited by Oberlin University as the school’s mission statement.
With the end of World War in 1945, the Chinese government took over Sutei Gakuen, and Shimizu’s property was confiscated. He was left with just one trunk of personal belongings, and together with his family, prepared to return to Japan. He was already 54 years old at the time. Fortunately, through the help of Kagawa Toyohiko,** he was able to obtain the former site of a munitions factory. On that site, starting with no money, he founded Oberlin University. It was May 28, 1946, only a few months after he had returned to Japan. In 1966, he finally saw his lifelong dream come true, when the school was established as a four-year university.
As the years passed, the small university grew larger, and now there are five academic departments. The scale has expanded, and the school has become an integrated university with a graduate school. A total of 8,700 students are studying at the university and graduate school.
During this whole time, Shimizu always served as the head of the school administration, as the university president and school chancellor. On Sunday, Jan. 17, 1988, when he had finished delivering the sermon, he said, “I'm tired.” Then he lay down and went to be with the Lord. He was 96 years old. He had never retired. He always had a big dream and pursued his dream in order to make it a reality. He was the kind of person who says something and then makes sure it happens. He was a morally upright pastor and an excellent educator who always served God and humanity as a servant of God. (Tr. KT)
*The school is named after Johann Friedrich Oberlin, a pastor and educator who worked in the Alsace Region of France.
**Kagawa Toyohiko, a Kyodan pastor, was world famous at that time for his social work in Japan.
桜 美林大学 学長 三 谷高康
同志社時代、安三は大きな決 断をする。唐招提寺を 訪れた際、開祖の鑑真(和尚の宣教への熱意に打たれ、ま た義 和団の変で 殉教したアメリカ人宣教師ピトキンの 逸話を耳にして、自分も国内の教会で働くのではなく、
1917年6月、安三は中国の奉天（瀋陽(）に 着任したが、2年後、「血と汗をぶち込ん で」中国人のために働こうと北京へ 移るのであった。同年1919年、 中国北部を大干ばつが襲ったのである。
安 三は自らの教育の理念を「学 而(がくじ)人事(じんじ)」（学びて人に仕える）と称し、
幸 運にも、賀 川豊彦の 紹介で軍需工場の 跡地を手に入れ、
小 さな大学は年と共に成長し、今では5学 部、大学院を合わせると8700人 の学生の学ぶ綜合大学へと規模を拡大したのである。