Seven-year-old William Elliot Griffis tagged along with his father in 1850 to the Delaware River in Philadelphia to view the launching of the ship belonging to Commodore Matthew Perry, who was to open Japan to the West three years later. This kindled Griffis’s interest in Japan and led to a life of lecturing and writing about the Far East. “From the first, I took the Japanese seriously,” Griffis said. “In many respects, they were our equals. In others, they seemed to be our superiors.” After serving briefly in the Pennsylvania Militia during the Civil War, he came to Rutgers. He is credited with starting the Targum and was the college’s unofficial ambassador to the small number of Japanese students who studied at Rutgers after the war. He spent four years in rural Japan and Tokyo. Back home, he became a Reformed Church minister but gained nationwide fame as a lecturer and writer of 18 books, with The Mikado’s Empire as perhaps his most famous work. At age 84, some 57 years after his first visit to Japan, he returned to the country for an eight-month trip. Applauded by Japanese schoolchildren and lauded by government leaders, he received the Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor. Griffis died in 1928.
William Elliot Griffis
Expert On Japan
Rutgers College 1869
Hall of Distinguished Alumni Class of