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Among the most important and interesting groups of materials in the Griffis Collection are the 340 or so student essays. These are essays written in English for Griffis by students in Fukui and Tokyo (at the Kaisei Gakko), or for Margaret Clark Griffis in her two years as teacher at the Tokyo Government Girls’ School (Kanritsu Tokyo Jo Gakko). These are school compositions, mainly in fair copy (some with minor corrections by Griffis or Margaret Griffis). In aggregate they reveal quite clearly what assignments Griffis (and Margaret Griffis) made: the typical early assignment was to write an autobiography or relate a folk-tale; Griffis also asked students to give accounts of the geography of their home provinces in Japan, and later essays delved into subjects in culture (including “Children’s Games”; “The Money of Japan”; “Street and Shop Signs”; “Theater”), history, or historiography (for example, a comparison between Japanese and English approaches to history). Also assigned was the revealing topic “My First Impressions of Foreigners.” Astonishingly proficient in English, the essays were clearly intended to serve multiple purposes. From the start Griffis found them useful as original source materials on the Japanese nation and culture. Now, they provide an unparalleled view not only into early Meiji Japan, but also into the methods of the education Griffis introduced, the formidable powers ‑- in language, learning, and critical ability ‑- of these elite students, and the fascinating early results of this meeting between cultures and ideologies. (From the William Elliot Griffis Collection Finding Aid [Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries])

Below are transcriptions and analyses of selected essays under the subjects “My First Impressions of Foreigners” and “A Sketch of My Life.”