Seinan Gakuin

by Jon Platt | December 21, 2018

How Baylor Went Global

Heading southwest on the Sanyo Main Line out of Hiroshima, it takes two and a half hours to reach Fukuoka, a coastal metropolis. Fukuoka is the largest city on the southern Kyushu island of Japan. In autumn, the mountainside landscape to the east and south becomes a tapestry of color by the changing foliage. Within this city of 5 million are the 400-year-old remains of Fukuoka Castle; the Fukuoka Art Museum, which houses works from Mark Rothko and Salvador Dali; and the largest Baptist college outside of the United States: Seinan Gakuin University.

Over a hundred years ago, in 1906, the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention sent Charles Kelsey Dozier on a mission to Japan. Ten years later, Dozier helped to found Seinan Gakuin. In 1949, the Japanese government recognized Seinan as an accredited, private Baptist college.

The campus itself spans close to 20 acres. It is an urban campus, far from the expansive greenery at Baylor, and has been remembered as having “Soviet bloc style” architecture, composed of concrete and 90-degree angles. Modern updates, however, have brought in a beautiful chapel with expansive white walls, light-grain wooden accent, and a towering set of organ pipes. A library with access to more than a million volumes and a cafeteria, where students share conversation and meals, have also been added.

The university is expansive, growing, and strives forward with a vision of further greatness. This progressive vision, though, is nothing new for Seinan.

“We at Seinan Gakuin have long been warmly appreciative of our cordial relations with Baylor University. In the past so many of our faculty have received so much during their periods of study at Baylor . . .” wrote Seinan Gakuin’s president, Eiichi Funakoshi, in February of 1971, to Baylor’s president, Judge Abner McCall.

For years, Baylor had opened its doors to Seinan scholars as an effort to aid in the expansion of excellence in Christian education across the globe. In 1968, Baylor hosted a group of Japanese delegates – faculty and students, alike – who were from Seinan. This group was touring American universities, studying different models of education to take home to the other side of the Pacific.

In continuing his letter to McCall, President Funakoshi explained that, in 1971, Seinan was working to realize the vision of its deceased chancellor: to participate and reciprocate in an international, academic, student and faculty exchange program. The president told McCall that Seinan had received “positive expressions of interest” from the University of Richmond and New York State University, but to unite the world’s two largest Baptist universities was an ultimate dream.

“Would it be possible for Baylor University and Seinan Gakuin University to mutually benefit in [such] a program . . .?” Seinan’s president posited. “Would Baylor be able and interested?”

As it turned out, Baylor was interested.

At the beginning of 1971’s fall semester, McCall began work on this relationship, one which is still alive and mutual today. He formed a committee of ten university leaders, with Dr. James Wood serving as the chair. After the work of the next two semesters between this committee and a parallel one at Seinan, President McCall journeyed to Japan to meet Funakoshi and see the university Baylor would soon partner with. Ahead of the judge’s trip he sent a gift – “something typically American,” which one could not find in Japan. It was a book of water-color painting by John James Audabon.

Following the success of his trip abroad, McCall returned the favor by inviting Funakoshi to visit Baylor. On July 10, 1972, the Japanese guests arrived in Waco. Two days later, McCall and Funakoshi signed a formal agreement of fraternal relationship between the great Baptist university of central Texas and the great Baptist university of southern Japan.

For Baylor, the program was set to advance the studies of students “interested in Asian, International or other studies who academically benefit from a planned period of study at Seinan Gakuin,” the original agreement reads.

“Our future lies as much in the East as it does in the West,” McCall said at the time.

“Hiroki Yamamoto is worried about his English,” reads an article in the Baylor Report from September 1972, when four Seinan exchange students arrived for the 1972-73 school year. (Baylor did not reciprocate students that term. “The primary reason for this,” the same article in Baylor Report explains, “is that the average Baylor student is not fluent in Japanese.”) 

At the time, Yamamoto said he felt like a “stranger” to Baylor, but that the numerous receptions and genuine hospitality of Baylor faculty and students helped to make him feel a little less alien. And, while there were some differences and cultural barriers, Yamamoto said, there were fewer than one might think, thanks to the modernization of Japan following World War II.

“We have Dairy Queens and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan, also. The kids dress pretty much the same and we enjoy much of the same music American young people do,” he said.

In the spring of 1973, five Baylor students were chosen as the pilot exchange students to Seinan Gakuin. They were: senior Anthony Brown, a history major; senior Melody Brown, a music major; sophomore Pauline Greger, a foreign service major; graduate student David Hattox, who was studying history; and sophomore Nancy Hopkins. English Professor Clement Goode was also selected to go as an exchange professor from Baylor.

Certainly, while this relationship between Seinan and Baylor benefited students and professors who participated in the exchange, Baylor Trustees also reciprocated the affection to the sister institution by honoring Funakoshi with an honorary Doctor of Law.

Within his archived letters in the Texas Collection, Thomas Turner writes to Dr. Kazuomi Ouchi of Seinan Gakuin, “All of us here are delighted that President Funakoshi is to receive one of our Honorary Doctorates; he will be one of our most valued ‘exes.’”

This expression, one of honor and fraternal connection and brotherly love, is what keeps the relationship between Baylor and Seinan Gakuin strong. Across all letters collected, whether from McCall or a Seinan administrator, this is the recurring sentiment: It is an honor – for Baylor and for Seinan – to send and to host in an exchange program between the two largest Baptist universities in the world.

 

Additional reporting by Britain Seago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *