Skip to content

1925's Extraordinary Reunion in Japan

Old Nassau

Happi Coats

Yoshio Osawa and class president (and legendary football coach) Charlie Caldwell singing Old Nassau in their Japanese Tokyo reunion Happi Coats. The Japanese katakana writing on the lapel says Princeton University (プリンストン大学) The kanji on the sleeve says fuku kotobuki (福寿) “good luck blessings”

After building a successful company, J. Osawa sent his son Yoshio to the Lawrenceville School for two years of English polishing in 1919. Arriving at Princeton with the Class of ’25, Osawa quickly gained friends. He ran track, debated at Whig, and was described in his PAW memorial as one of the best-liked men in the class.

He immediately then went to work for his father, and by 1932 also started the first talking picture studio company in Japan as a subsidiary. It merged in 1937 with Toho, the largest movie producer and distributor in Japan, and Osawa became a member of the board. He eventually became president of both the trading and huge integrated film companies.

Meanwhile came the 10th reunion of the Class of 1925, in the middle of the Depression and the gathering of fascist and militarist regimes across the globe. In the teeth of this, the class decided to go all-out on a Japanese P-rade theme, complete with orange-and-black parasols and scarves supplied by J. Osawa & Company courtesy of Osawa.

When he was invited, to huge acclaim, to say a few words to the class in thanks for his long-distance award, Osawa proclaimed his gratitude and invited the entire class to join him for a repeat performance in Japan.

As friction between Japan and its neighbors increased and the military asserted itself, Toho as the nation’s largest studio was pulled into propaganda films rather than be liquidated. (We should note many U.S. studios did the same.) Osawa had enough cover to continue his more artistic interests on the side, for example nurturing the first films of the famed Akira Kurosawa. After V-J Day, Osawa was tried along with 5,000 or so others as “Class B” criminals for their activities in support of the state during the war, and removed from power during the American occupation. He was restored just as he sent his son to Lawrenceville in 1951, in preparation for Princeton’s Class of ’57. In 1954, Toho released Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, and the company’s business moved back into the international mainstream. It also unleashed Godzilla, borrowing from both King Kong and the nuclear fallout of the war, and Toho’s long-term financial success was assured; it remains Japan’s largest film company to this day. A year later, Osawa called class president Charlie Caldwell, and 10 years following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, repeated the invitation for the class to come to Japan.

On May 14, 1956, 18 classmates and their families arrived in Tokyo and spent eight days of astonishing cultural tourism under the guidance and planning of Osawa and the shepherding of Caldwell, including Kabuki, geisha, sumo, a reception at the U.S. embassy, and traveling 1,500 miles by train, plane, and bus with sightseeing, receptions, and parties at every turn. Osawa’s wife Tazuko presented the class with the custom Happi coats festooned with tigers to wear over their blazers, as shown above.

'25 in Japan Part I

'25 in Japan Part II

Osawa appropriated a film crew from the studio and documented everything via a 23-minute professional-movie (credited as “A ‘Seaweed’ Osawa Production,” using his nickname going back to undergraduate days), along with a four-page spread in PAW, this was likely the best-documented mini-reunion in Princeton history. There was coverage in both Time and Life magazines. In Osawa’s name, the class established a scholarship for Japanese students at Princeton. The ’25-Princeton Club of Japan gala (shown in the movie) was also the kick-off for a big drive by the club to revive itself, including the establishment in 1958 of the Osawa Fellowships, which bring Princeton students to Japan each summer.

More on the Osawa Fellowships

One of the recipients of this fellowship was Toshio Hara, who went on to serve as the President during the early days of the Princeton Club of Japan. In expression of its gratitude, the Hara Family donated a generous sum to the Princeton Club of Japan. The Club voted to use the funds to host two undergraduate students to Japan every summer to encourage interactions, develop mutual understanding and friendships between ordinary Japanese people and foreigners. “In July 1958, Hamilton Meserve and Jack Huddleston landed at Haneda Airport for their adventure in Japan”.

Initially, the Osawa Program was designed to have students reside in Tokyo for six weeks during which time they would be given assignments to meet and teach English to diverse groups of people (e.g., office workers, housewives, students, Geisha in tea houses in Asakusa, etc.). This activity had the added benefit of providing a modest income for to cover costs for running the program.

Luckily, the University took an active interest in the program after funds from the Hara family were exhausted. During his tenure at Princeton-in-Asia, Bob Atmore energetically expanded many programs, including ours. In 1994 Masakazu “Max” Tsumuraya was given executive responsibility of the program, and he has done an outstanding job organizing a big party to welcome Osawa Fellows – a gathering that has become the main summer event for Tigers in Japan.

Curator's note: Thanks to Gregg Lange '70 of PAW and to Staughton Lewis '93 of the Princeton Club of Japan, who kindly allowed their material to be modified for use in this exhibit.


Gregg Lange, PAW, April 22 2021

Princeton Club of Japan