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Toru Okamoto, Board Member of Japan History Council of New York, Digital Museum materials used in local schools

Mr. Toru Okamoto, Board Member of the Japan History Council of New York, recently promoted the use of the Digital Museum of Japanese History in New York among young students from the Japanese Children’s Society. Over the course of three classes during the month of October, 2022, students at the Society’s Port Washington school reviewed the Digital Museum’s special exhibit “Japanese Eyes on America: 150 Years Since the Iwakura Mission to the United States”.

The Japanese Children’s Society students engaged with the history of the Iwakura Mission and its two-year journey around the globe from 1871-1873.  They examined a variety of questions about the Iwakura Mission such as: “What sort of organization was the Mission and what was its purpose?” “During its time in New York, what activities did the Mission’s members engage in?” and “Why were elementary and junior-high-aged exchange students sent along with the Mission from Japan?”

In response to the lessons, one of the students reported that “It is hard to imagine in the present internet age, but I think that what the members of the Iwakura Mission did [traversing the globe] was an important and significant role for making Japan what it is today.” Several students took particular interest in the story of Umeko Tsuda, a young exchange student sent to the U.S. who later returned to Japan to establish her own English school, and who will soon be featured on a new currency note in Japan. “…I became interested in the foreign students and was impressed when I found that the youngest, Umeko, was only 6 years old when she came to live in the U.S. and lived here for over 10 years. I was even more surprised to learn that she will be on the new 5,000 yen bill,” exclaimed a student.

Staff members of the Japanese Children’s Society also commented:

  • “The children here are very interested in the past connections between New York and Japan. Our school is very grateful to have this museum here.”
  • “The photos from 150 years ago give the children a real sense of what it was like back then and motivate them to learn more.”
  • “I hope more children and adults will use and enjoy this museum.”

It is the hope of The Japan History Council of New York that Mr. Okamoto and others will continue to encourage schools to utilize the resources provided by the Digital Museum so that more students like these can learn about the rich, intertwined histories of New York and Japan.

Of the Iwakura Mission and the museum Mr. Okamoto remarked, “As a Japanese myself, I have a great deal of respect for those who were willing to cross the sea to see the world at a time when the internet and other means of communication were not so advanced. The history of the Japanese people should be passed down to future generations, and I hope that the Digital Museum will continue to play a role in this regard.”