Rollins’ Historical Link with Japan

Ever since Commodore Perry’s fleet sailed into the Tokyo harbor in 1853, Japan has captured the imagination of Americans, as many were fascinated by the mysterious culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. Established by the Congregational Church in 1885, Rollins became the first chartered college in Florida, at that time a frontier state in the American South. Although Japan was still a very remote island nation in the Pacific Ocean at that time, Rollins students practiced their cultural appreciations for Japan in several contexts. On March 16, 1894, the women’s gymnastics team performed a Japanese fan drill by Lake Virginia.[1] Directed by Rex Beach ’97 (1877-1949), the fantastic show was organized as a fund-raising event to benefit both Rollins and the Winter Park Public Libraries.

Among the early leaders of the College, President Hamilton Holt (1872-1951) was an individual with uniquely cosmopolitan views. A journalist by training, Holt was an ardent internationalist in the early 20th century, a stark contrast to other college leaders in the South at that time. He was very active in the World Peace Movement, serving as the president of the National Peace Congress and helping to found the League to Enforce Peace.[2] He was also a strong supporter of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations proposal, touring the country to promote American membership in the organization, and traveling around the world to advocate the global peace initiative, including the East Asia region. For all his noble work, Holt was awarded in 1903 the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure (瑞宝章), an honor known as the Order of Meiji, originally established in 1888 by the Emperor of Japan.[3]

As the editor of The Independent, a leading progressive voice on political, social, and economic issues in America, Holt also took special interests in Japanese society and culture, publishing essays such as “Japan Today,” (V. 72, April 25, 1912, 878-84; May 9, 1912, 989-96; & May 16, 1912, 1038-46); “Emperor of Japan,” (V.73, August 1, 1912, 272-75); “Japanese Ethics,“ (V. 83, July 26, 1915, 106); “The Diabolical Japanese,” (V. 86, April 24, 1916, 125); “Japanese Traits,” (V. 88, October 2, 1916, 8); and “The Japanese Mission,” (V. 92, October 13, 1917, 79-81).[4] Holt was more outspoken in international affairs, and his editorials and articles related to Japan include: “Japan and America,” (V. 71, November 2, 1911, 971-73); “Journalism in Japan and America,” (V. 71, December 28, 1911, 1452-55); “Japan Aids England,” (V. 79, August 24, 1914, 260); “Japan and the Great War,” (V. 79, August 31, 1914, 293); and “Japan’s Monroe Doctrine,” (V. 82, May 17, 1915, 268).[5] In addition, from time to time Holt delivered papers and gave speeches on U.S.-Japan relations. A more noteworthy piece was his interview appearing in The New York Times, in which he praised the social progress made by Japan since the Meiji Restoration and naively claimed that it would be “absurd” for Japan to seek war with the United States.[6]

When Holt was named the eighth president of the College in 1925, he sought to revolutionize the curriculum, rebuild the faculty, increase enrollment, and develop a new master plan for the lakeside campus. Although he had no experience in higher education leadership, Holt had a vision of what a liberal arts education should be, and successfully transformed Rollins from a small and struggling institution into a national leader in pragmatic liberal arts education. As an internationalist, Holt endeavored to diversify the academic community. It is during his tenure that Rollins began to increase the enrollment of international students not only from Europe, but also from Latin America and Asia. The College also created organizations such as the International Relations Club and the Cosmopolitan Club for students with international interests; the latter sought to enhance the understanding of foreign cultures and foster friendships between American and their fellow international students. Among the many new international students of that era, Yasuo Matsumoto ’31 and Sugino Taka ’33 were the first two Japanese students to attend Rollins. Sugino was from Osaka, and only enrolled in the 1929-30 academic year; Yasuo of Tokyo studied at Rollins during 1929-31 and was also a member of the Rollins Cosmopolitan Club.

Sugino Taka (right to Holt) and Yasuo Matsumoto (next to Sugino) posed with President Hamilton Holt and other foreign students from Hungary, Germany, Italy, Russia, Austria, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia.

George H. Kerr ’32 (1911-1992) was a Rollins student who benefited from the global curriculum launched in the Holt era. After leaving Rollins, Kerr first studied in Hawaii and Japan, and then taught English for three years in Taiwan. In 1935, Kerr presented “The Rollins Plan for New Education” during the Pan-Pacific New Education Conference in Tokyo.[7] When World War II broke out, Kerr became a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve, first working as an Asian specialist for the U.S. Department of War, then becoming the Director of the Formosa Research Unit at the Naval School of Military Government and Administration.[8] In 1945, Kerr, as an assistant navy attaché, escorted Chinese Governor Chen Yi to Taiwan to accept the Japanese surrender. After his brief foreign services, Kerr launched an academic career at the University of Washington, Stanford, and UC Berkeley, as well as the Hoover Institution. He also published multiple history books about the islands of Taiwan and Okinawa, including Ryukyu Kingdom and Province before 1945 (Washington: Pacific Science Board, National Academy of Sciences, 1953), and Okinawa: The History of an Island People (Tokyo: C. E. Tuttle Co., 1958).

While presenting his books to Rollins, he autographed on one of his publications: “Remembering Hamilton Holt and the ‘Rollins World View’ in 1932-32. George H. Herr, ’32.”

 The Walk of Fame at Rollins is an oak-shaded walkway located around the College’s central Green that features stones engraved with the names of famous men and women gathered from places of their associations. This is a well-known fixture on Rollins’ beautiful campus. However, not many people know that there are four stones in the Walk of Fame representing Japan: The Great Buddha Diabutsu from Kamakura; the Imperial Palace in Tokyo; General Nogi Maresuke; and Admiral Togo Heihachiro. Created by President Holt in the late 1920s, the famous walkway was conceived “to have every man or woman, living or dead, whose services deserve the eternal remembrance of mankind, represented.”[9] Through caring efforts of many devoted people, the Walk of Fame has since become a celebrated attraction on Rollins’ campus.

The headstone that introduces the Walk of Fame is a colonial-era millstone from Holt’s Woodstock home in Connecticut.

The Great Buddha Diabutsu is the most recognizable landmark in Kamakura. Located in the Kotokuin Temple, the monument dates back to 1252. Originally gold-plated and housed inside, the statue has stood in the open air since the temple building was destroyed in the tsunami of 1492. The enormous bronze statue – weighing in at 93 tons and reaching a height of 13.35 meters – is the second largest monumental Buddha in Japan as well as a designated National Treasure by the Japanese government. This stone was collected by Captain Everett L. Roberts ’35, while serving in Japan in 1945-46.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo is the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. Built on the site of the old Edo Castle, the imperial palace complex includes the main palace, the private residences of the imperial family, an archive, museums and administrative offices, as well as the Fukiage Garden, East Garden, Ninomaru Garden, and the Kitanomaru Park. Rollins’ stone came from the garden compound of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo; however, no archival records are available regarding when and from whom the gift was made to the College.

Nogi Maresuke (乃木希典1849-1912) was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army and a military leader during the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. As a prominent figure in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, Nogi led the Japanese capture of Lüshun, China (Port Arthur) from Russian occupation and became a great Japanese war hero of his time.  He later became a model of feudal loyalty and self-sacrifice, when he committed suicide following Emperor Meiji’s death in 1912. His act revitalized the samurai practice of ritual suicide in Japan, even though Seppuku as judicial punishment was abolished by Meiji himself in 1873. His home is situated in Tokyo, and this stone was taken from the Nogi Shrine where he was deified.

Togo Heihachiro (東郷平八郎1846-1934) was a Japanese admiral who served in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and later commanded the Japanese fleet in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.  He successfully blockaded the Russian base in Lüshun (Port Arthur) and destroyed the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima. This rock was taken from the stone fence that Togo built around his garden in Tokyo. He built the fence himself and thus the stone was surely touched by him. According to Holt’s personal notebook, both the Togo and Nogi stones were contributed by Matsuzo Nagai of Tokyo and added to the Walk in January 1941.[10]

Perhaps the most high-profile object of Japanese origin at Rollins is the Ninomiya statue located in the lobby of the Warren Administration Building. Ninomiya Sontoku (二宮尊徳 1787-1856) was a prominent agricultural leader, philosopher, moralist and economist in 19th-century Japan. Known for combining three traditional teachings (Buddhism, Shintōism and Confucianism) and transforming them into practical ethical principles, his teaching of an ideal life with careful and economical methods became popular in the early 20th century. Promoted by the Department of Education for his “sincerity, industry, economy, and service, and his remarkable life of self-sacrifice,”[11] it is very common to see statues of Ninomiya in front of Japanese schools, typically depicting him as a boy reading a book while walking and carrying firewood on his back. This trope comes from the legend that young Ninomiya was reading and studying every moment he could, even during manual labor tasks, signifying for millions of Japanese students the important values of literacy, hard work, self-discipline, and self-reliance.

However, not too many people know how this Japanese statue ended up at Rollins. Its history also goes back as far as the Holt era. In February 1946, Clinton Nichols ’34, who served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy during World War II, wrote to offer Rollins the statue, which was found by U.S. Marines when they were looking for drinking water in an abandoned well in Okinawa. Since Nichols was given written permission by the U.S. Navy to take it home after his tour of duty in Japan, President Holt, an internationalist and a lifelong fan of Japanese culture, accepted the gift with great delight: “That was a fine present to your Alma Mater,” and promised that the statue would be “on view forever to all students.”[12]

President Hamilton Holt with the Japanese statue of Ninomiya Sontoku in 1946.

For the next several decades, Ninomiya proudly stood in a specially designed marble niche outside the president’s office in the Warren Building, and members of the college community admired the bronze statue without raising any questions or concerns, until 1983, when a student asked why Rollins would display prominently the spoils of war in its administration building. After some archival research, correspondence, and further inquiries by Rollins personnel in Okinawa, the Ryukyu America Historical Research Society finally became aware of the artifact and requested its return to Japan. When the story was reported in The New York Times, the cultural tug-of-war quickly grew into an international incident that generated wide news coverage and significant controversy.[13]

Initially Rollins Board of Trustees refused the repatriation, citing the following reasons: Rollins had the proper documentation that proved the provenance of the statue; there was a commitment by President Holt to the donor that the statue would be on permanent display at the College; and finally, the bronze was a symbol of  Japanese cultural imperialism, not native Okinawan residents and their culture.[14] However, Rollins’ refusal generated quite media storms that brought passionate responses from people with varied perspectives on the issue. Letters and phone calls began pouring in, and Rollins students, faculty members, and alumni also joined in the heated debate on the ethical dilemma faced by the College. In the end, it was another Rollins graduate, Rust Deming ’64, then Deputy Chief of Mission in the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, who helped persuade the College that returning the statue would serve as a symbolic gesture of friendship to an important American ally and trading partner.[15]

In the fall of 1994, Rollins Board of Trustees reversed its decision and voted that “in a spirit of friendship and reconciliation, Rollins College shall return the Ninomiya statue in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II.”[16] In March 1995, members of the Rollins community held a ceremony to bid sayonara to Ninomiya;[17] and on May 24, 1996, with the endorsement of the American Consulate General and the Okinawan Prefectural Government, a replica was presented to the College by the Ryukyu America Historical Research Society, while the bronze original was placed at Okinawa Shogaku Gakuen, a private secondary school in Okinawa.[18] Furthermore, an agreement of cooperation was reached between Rollins and the Japanese school system, in which both institutions “agree to create and nurture a cultural and educational exchange program to enhance international goodwill and provide avenues for overall personal and professional development for their respective students and faculty.”[19] Since then, Rollins has sent graduates to teach English in Japan while accepting students from the Okinawa school system.

On May 24, 1996, President Rita Bornstein and Mr. Masajiro Nashiro, Chairman & Principal of Okinawa Shogaku School System, signed an agreement of cooperation in front of the Ninomiya statue.

 On Armistice Day, November 11, 1938, Hamilton Holt, a passionate international peace advocate, erected a striking Peace Monument in front of Lyman Hall, but the structure was later destroyed by an unknown act of vandalism during the height of World War II.[20] In the summer of 1997, at the invitation of the Chairman of Shogaku Gakuen, President Rita Bornstein visited Okinawa and was delighted to see Ninomiya Kinjiro on display at the school. While in Japan, she also assisted in the dedication of a new peace monument at the Shogaku School, which took its inspiration from the original Peace Monument installed at Rollins by Holt decades beforehand.[21] The Shogaku School peace monument and the bronze Ninomiya statue have both since served as lasting symbols of friendship between Rollins College and the Japanese people. These ties will undoubtedly continue to flourish in the 21sth century, as Rollins delivers on its promise to “educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership,” in the same spirit of internationalism and collaboration that Hamilton Holt fostered all those years ago.

President Bornstein shook hands with Mr. Shizuo Kishaba, President of the Ryukyu-America Historical Research Society, in front of the Peace in Friendship Monument at Okinawa School in Naha, Japan, which was inspired by the original Peace Monument at Rollins with exact plaque and dedicated on June 24, 1997.

~ by Wenxian Zhang, Head of Archives & Special Collections

The author is grateful for the reviews and recommendations made by Prof. Rachel Walton and Mrs. Darla Moore.

[1] Rollins Photographic Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[2] Jack Lane, “The Holt Era: Building a Liberal Arts College,” Rollins College: A Pictorial History (Winter Park, FL: Rollins College, 1980), 52.

[3] Julian Chambliss, “Hamilton Holt (1872-1951): Eighth President of Rollins College,” Golden Personalities, 2009,

[4] Warren F. Kuehl, “A Bibliography of the Writings of Hamilton Holt,” Rollins College Bulletin 54:3, September 1959,

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Hamilton Holt Says Japan Seeks Peace with World,” New York Times, December 31, 1911.

[7] “Kerr, Rollins Alumnus, Speaks in Japan,” Rollins Sandspur, Oct. 2, 1935, 10.

[8] “Register of the George H. Kerr Papers,” Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, 2003.

[9] Hamilton Holt, Walk of Fame: A Path of Many Memories (Winter Park, FL: Rollins College, 1939).

[10] Hamilton Holt, Walk of Fame: List of Names through Oct. 1948, 05C, Walk of Fame, Archives and Special Collections, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[11] Tadasu Yoshimoto, A Peasant Sage of Japan: The Life and Work of Sontoku Ninomiya (New York: Longmans Green & Co., 1912), viii.

[12] Correspondence with Clinton C. Nichols 1946-47, Rita Bornstein Presidential Records, Rollins College Archives, Winter Park, Florida.

[13] William H. Honan, “Okinawa Seeks Return of Statue,” New York Times, October 24, 1994,; “College Is Returning Statue to Okinawa,” New York Times, November 4, 1994,

[14] Ibid.

[15]Rita Bornstein, “How a College Got Embroiled in an International Incident Over a World War II Trophy,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 8, 1998.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Christopher Smith, “Rollins Wishes Statue Farewell,” Sandspur, March 9, 1995,

[18] William H. Honan, “New Twist in Cultural Saga,” New York Times, May 27, 1996,

[19] Japanese Statue, Trip and Exchange Program, Rita Bornstein Presidential Records, Rollins College Archives, Winter Park, Florida.

[20] “Holt’s Peace Monument,” Rollins Digital Collections, 1938,

[21] Lorrie Kyle Ramey, “A Rollins Perspective: Setting the Course,” Rollins Magazine, Fall 2010,

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