Iwakura Tats and Iwakura Asahi were well-born Japanese brothers who were sent by their father, Prime Minister Iwakura Tomomi, to study at Rutgers College in 1870. The brothers’ arrival to Rutgers College was facilitated by Guido Verbeck, who was serving as head of the Imperial University in Tokyo at the time. Verbeck sent the Iwakura brothers along with three other students he believed to be promising subjects of American education to the United States. A letter of recommendation for the brothers, written by Verbeck, accompanied them upon their arrival to the United States, which was received by John Ferris in New York City.
Verbeck vouched for the intellectual ability of all five students that he sent to the United States, but he offered particular attention to the Iwakura brothers in his writings. In further correspondence with John Ferris, Verbeck referred to the father of the brothers as “the Prime Minister and the most influential man in the Empire.” Iwakura Tomomi, Asahi and Tats’ father, displayed particular progressive efforts by entrusting Guido Verbeck, a Dutchman and Christian minister, to educate his children in Nagasaki. He further accepted Verbeck’s endorsement of Rutgers College as a suitable educational institution for his sons.
While at Rutgers College, the brothers developed notable relationships with prominent Rutgers College professors that would help build strong ties between Rutgers and Japan. In particular, Asahi and Tats formed a close personal relationship with Dr. David Murray and his family. This relationship proved significant because once the Iwakura Embassy arrived in Washington, Murray was selected to become a senior member of the Ministry of Education in Japan. Murray’s relationship with the Iwakura brothers made him familiar to Iwakura Tomomi, who led the Iwakura Embassy, and made Murray a prime candidate for a position in the Japanese Ministry of Education. Due to the relationship the brothers developed with Dr. Murray, once he reported to Japan for his duties to the ministry, Asahi personally escorted Murray to a meeting with his father. David Murray eventually rose to become the Superintendent of Education in Japan and is regarded as someone who pioneered the modernization of education in Japan. The Iwakura brothers’ academic endeavors and their relationship with Murray facilitated interactions that furthered this momentous modernization.
Duke, Benjamin. Dr. David Murray: Superintendent of Education of Education in the Empire of Japan, 1873-1879. New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 2019.