James Summers

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James Summers
Born5 July 1828
Lichfield, Staffordshire
Died26 October 1891
33 Tsukiji, Tokyo, Japan (aged 63)
Occupation Educator, O-yatoi gaikokujin

James Summers (5 July 1828 – 26 October 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).

Early life[edit]

Summers was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire. His father was a plasterer of limited means, and seems to have left his family some time before James became 10 years old. Summers moved from Bird Street to the Close with his mother and went to the Lichfield Diocesan Training School for about one year from September, 1844 to November, 1845[1]. He moved again to Stoke-on-Trent with his mother and started his teaching career at a National School there. His mother died in 1846.

Hong Kong and Chinese[edit]

In 1848, Summers 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.[2] He found himself at the centre of a tense diplomatic stand-off in 1849 when, on a brief excursion to Macao, he was arrested for failing to doff his hat in respect for a Catholic Corpus Christi festival procession. Captain Henry Keppel of HMS Maeander's request for Summer's release was refused and the incensed captain then led a rescue party to make an assault on the gaol where Summers was being held. The raid was successful but Portuguese soldier Roque Barrache died in the skirmish, three others were injured and the daughter of gaoler Carvalho fell 20 feet to the ground, suffering severe injuries. The Queen of Portugal was appalled at Britain's affront to her de facto sovereignty over Macao and tempers cooled only after an apology proffered and reparations made by the British.[3]:244-248

In 1854, aged then only 25, Summers became professor of Chinese language of King's College at the University of London despite his lack of a formal education and his being generally considered poorly qualified for the post.[3]:348

In 1863, Summers 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 travelled 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.[4]

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.[4] 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.


  • James Summers (1863). A handbook of the Chinese language: Parts I and II, grammar and chrestomathy, prepared with a view to initiate the student of Chinese in the rudiments of this language, and to supply materials for his early studies. OXFORD: University Press. p. 370. Retrieved 6 July 2011.(Oxford University) [1] [2] [3] [4]
  • Summers, James A (1864). The Rudiments of the Chinese Language: With Dialogues, Exercises, and a Vocabulary. Piccadilly, London: Bernard Quaritch.
  • Descriptive catalogue of the Chinese, Japanese, and Manchu books (1872)


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

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Akaishi. K. (2019). Eikoku Tanboki: Sapporo Nogakko Kyoju James Summers no Sokuseki. Nihon Eigakushi Gakkaiho, 147, 4-5.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b Norton-Kyshe, James William (1898). History of the Laws and Courts of Hong Kong. Vetch and Lee Ltd (1972 reissue).
  4. ^ a b http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~matu-emk/summers.html Unforgettable People in Japan