Rotary Club of Tokyo

Rotary Club of Tokyo
First Club of Japan
District 2580
The Rotary Club of Tokyo was the first Rotary club in Japan on 1 April 1921. When Rotary officially returned to Japan after WWII, the Tokyo club once again on 29 March 1949 became the first club chartered.

In this photo from April 1949, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida (seated) watches as George Means presents the charter to club president Masakazu Kobayashi.

Photo courtesy of Rotary International

Birth of the Tokyo Rotary Club, Oct. 20, 1920

In Jan. 1918, Umekichi Yoneyama visited the U.S. as a member of a Japanese financial delegation. In Dallas he was introduced to Rotary by a member of the Dallas Rotary Club, Kisaji Fukushima.

Upon return to Japan in 1920, Yoneyama Organized the first Japanese Rotary Club with himself as President and Fukushima as Club Secretary, and applied for a charter to the International Association of Rotary Clubs which was granted in April the following year.

Also see Jim Davidson: Rotary's special commissioner to Japan

Changes in the political attitudes of countries sometimes lead to the closure of Rotary Clubs for a period of time. Clubs in Japan, for example, were among the earliest to be created in Asia, but during the second world war closed down. Their story is typical.

In 1918 Umekichi Yoneyama from Tokyo had met up with a fellow Japanese, Kisaji Fukushima, of the Dallas Rotary Club during a visit to the United States. Returning home, he began to plan a Rotary Club for his own city, and on October 20, 1920, the Rotary Club of Tokyo was organised with 24 charter members under the Presidency of Yoneyama. The Club received its charter in April 1921 and others followed in Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama and several of the other principal cities in Japan. Yoneyama himself subsequently became a Director of RI in 1926. By 1928, the Tokyo Club was big enough and strong enough to host the Second Pacific Regional Conference, and clubs continued to be formed even as late as 1940 when the Niigata Club was chartered.

In the Spring of 1935 Paul and Jean Harris made a major journey to the Pacific region visiting Hawaii, China, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Japan. They arrived at Yokohama on the 'S.S. President Coolidge' with a party of 15 Rotarians and their wives, among them Tsunejiro Miyaoka, a Director of RI from the Tokyo Club and President of RI, Robert E Lee Hill from Missouri. The group were on their way to the Regional Conference to be held that year in Manila, the oldest of the rotary Clubs in Asia. On February 9, 1935 in the grounds of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo*, then as now the meeting place of the Tokyo Club, Paul and Bob Hill planted a 'Friendship Tree'. A photograph of this is on show in Evanston in the Paul Harris Gallery, item 104. Later in the Maple Club they met Yoneyama again who taught Paul how to use chopsticks.

Harris was unable to attend a normal meeting of the local Rotary Club, but instead went to a splendid special banquet, presided over by Yoneyama, and there Paul was given the honour of proposing the toast to the Emperor. Then it was off to Kyoto and to Osaka where he met Shozo Murata, the Governor of District 70 which comprised all the 22 Japanese clubs.

In Osaka the party went to a lunch meeting attended by Rotarians from most of the Japanese Clubs, and there to Harris' surprise, he was presented with a bust of himself for which he had sat months earlier in New York. (Is this perhaps the bust on display in the Paul Harris Gallery in Evanston, item 21?) From there, the group travelled to Kobe where they rejoined the 'S.S. President Coolidge' for the next stage of their voyage, this time to Shanghai........but that's another story!

With the change in political attitudes and against the background of the coming war, pressure was brought to bear on Japanese Rotary and the clubs were disbanded in 1940, the Tokyo Club, 214 members strong, closing on September 11. However, the spirit of Rotary did not disappear altogether and members organised a 'Wednesday Club' in December 1940 to keep alive the ideals of the movement.

On March 29, 1949, the Rotary Club of Tokyo was revived officially by RI and was allowed to keep its old charter number of 855. Clubs elsewhere in Japan were progressively reopened. By 1961 the Tokyo area was sufficiently strong that it was able to host the Annual Convention of RI and in the past 40 years, the number of clubs throughout the country has grown enormously. Metropolitan Tokyo with over 140 clubs is now, with Seoul in Korea, the most populous Rotary city in the world. A handful of clubs in Tokyo, including the original one, provide a helpful simultaneous translation of all business into English.

*The present hotel replaced the original designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the foyer of which can still be seen in Meiji Mura near Nagoya, where it has been re-erected.

A full account of the above story appears in a history of the Tokyo Club published in 1991 for the club's 70th anniversary. The details of the Paul Harris visit can be found in 'Peregrinations 2'.

Basil Lewis

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