James Summers

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James Summers
Born 5 June 1828
Richfield, Kent
Died 1 February 1891(1891-02-01) (aged 62)
Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan
Nationality British
Occupation  Educator, O-yatoi gaikokujin

James Summers (5 June 1828 – 1 February 1891) was a British scholar of English literature, hired by the Meiji government of the Empire of Japan to establish an English language curriculum at the Kaisei Gakuin (the forerunner of Tokyo Imperial University in 1873).


James A. Summers was born in Richfield, Kent. His father was a sculptor of limited means, and could only provide him with a primary school education. Summers was an autodidact in learning foreign languages and classics. In 1848, he was hired by Reverend Vincent John Stanton to be a tutor at St. Paul's College in Hong Kong, where he taught General subject including History and religious studies. He used Nicholls's Help To Reading The Bible (1846) in his religious class when teaching young Hong Kong children.[1] His stay in Hong Kong was eventful – he was arrested by the Portuguese authorities in Macao in 1849 for refusing to remove his hat during a Catholic religious procession. The Portuguese refused to accede to the British government’s request for his release, and he was only returned after the British threatened military action. Summers was forced to resign his post, and returned to England in 1851.

In 1852, Summers became professor of Chinese language of King's College London in the University of London at the age of 25, despite his lack of a formal education. In 1853 he published a first book on the Chinese language, and the following year translated the Bible into Shanghai dialect (using the Latin alphabet). His services and lectures were in great demand by diplomats, missionaries and merchants intending to travel to China. One of his students was Ernest M. Satow, who came to Japan as an interpreter in the early part of the Meiji period and later became the British Consul.

From 1864, Summers began publishing essays on the Japanese language and Japanese grammar, as well as translations of Japanese poetry and an excerpt from the Tale of the Heike in British literary magazines. It is not clear how Summers learned Japanese, but some Japanese students (including Minami Teisuke) were already in Great Britain from 1865.

In 1873, Summers published the first overseas Japanese-language newspaper, The Taisei Shinbun in London. The newspaper contained articles on Windsor Castle, Niagara Falls, the death of Napoleon, the Palace of Versailles, and news related to Britain along with advertisements. Summers intended it for Japanese students in London, but it did not sell well and soon ceased publication.[2]

In 1872, when the Iwakura Mission visited England, Summers assisted with the visit, and was offered a position as an English teacher at the new Kaisei Gakuin (later Tokyo Imperial University) in Tokyo. He departed Southampton in mid-summer with his family, arriving in Japan in October 1873.

Summers used works by Shakespeare (notably Hamlet and Henry VIII ) and John Milton in his teaching. His students included future Prime Minister Katō Takaaki, diplomat Amanō Tameyuki, and artist Okakura Kakuzō, In August 1876, after his three-year contract as an O-yatoi gaikokujin expired, Summers went to the Niigata English School as an English teacher but six months later the school was closed, and he transferred to the Osaka English School. In June 1880, Summers was invited to the Sapporo Agricultural College as a professor of English literature, where one of his students was Inazō Nitobe.[2] In 1882, Summers returned to Tokyo, where he tutored foreign children and opened a private school in 1884.

In 1891, Summers died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in Tsukiji Tokyo. His widow Ellen and daughters continued the school he had established, teaching English to noted novelist Junichirō Tanizaki before it closed in 1908. Summers is buried in the foreign cemetery in Yokohama.



  • Hoare, J.E. (1999). Britain and Japan, Biographical Portraits, Volume III. RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 1-873410-89-1. 

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Kwan, Uganda Sze Pui, “Translation and Imperial Bureaucrat: The British Sinologist James Summers and the Knowledge Production of East Asia,” in Studies of Translation and Interpretation, vol. 17 (2014), pp. 23-58.
  2. ^ a b http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~matu-emk/summers.html Unforgettable People in Japan