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During the period between the French Revolution and WWI, commonly known as the long 19th century, the old world order was demolished and replaced. Ideas and progressions made during this period established the foundation of the modern world today. Japan was among one of the nations that had undergone the most dramatic changes.
This installation explored the impact of western influence on Japan's transformation that lasted well into the 21st century.
Japan as a nation is inherently very serious about social hierarchy. Positions like preacher and teacher are naturally honored and respected. The fact that Hepburn and Oltmans were Americans definitely reinforced that fact.
Historical forces pushed and pulled people towards different places. Power dynamics sometimes were more explicit, such as between nations in terms of financial and military power. Sometimes they were more implicit and imbedded in living conditions and daily interactions. The Meiji Restoration ushered in an era that equated westernization** to betterment, and this impression has lasted to this day. Foreigners in Japan sometimes have more leeway in social acceptance than Asian Americans in the US.
**Although it should be noted that in this sense "westernization" is mostly associated with white people.
I was amazed when I visited PHS for the first time. Before I went there, the operative word in Presbyterian Historical Society was Presbyterian. I expected to visit a religious organization but was pleasantly surprised to find out it's not that different from other archives. As I continued my research, it became clear that religious and historical forces were intertwined and inseparable. That gave me the initial idea for my exhibit where the Christian faith crossed over to the secular side and influenced the Japanese society beyond religion.
Collection Materials on Display at PHS
Japanese-English dictionary (editor: Hepburn)
Invitation to the Emperor’s garden party
Meiji Gakuin Employment certificate
Newspaper clippings on Hepburn and Oltmans’ awards for their contributions to Japan’s education
1993 Meiji Gakuin U. chapel holiday card
Voices from Japan recording disk
Other Research Materials
Guide to the Sarah Clarke Oltmans Papers
Japanese American Internment During WWII: Pearl collection