In freshman dress Robert Nishiyama wears a maroon "dink"
with his class numerals, a maroon knitted tie and a pin with his name on it.
He carries matches with which he must light the upperclassmen's cigarets. He
must also allow seniors to precede him through doors. Like all freshmen, he
is supposed to do this until Christmas vacation.
Kamikaze Goes to College
Life, October 4, 1948, pp. 124-8
Robert Yukimasa Nishiyama, a former Japanese Navy pilot in the
Kamikaze Special Attacks Corps, became the first Japanese person to attend an
American university after the end of World War II .
The five-page article with 14 photographs published in the fall of 1948 in
Life magazine focuses on his arrival and reception at Lafayette College in
Pennsylvania but provides almost no details on his life as a Navy pilot. One
photograph shows Nishiyama's "cadet class in the summer of 1944 posed in front
of cadet quarters," but the caption and article do not give any more details
regarding his Navy experience other than that he ended the war still waiting for
orders to make a suicide attack on American ships.
Nishiyama received a scholarship that had been
established with $10,000 from a life insurance policy on Robert Johnstone, who
had died fighting in Luzon in May 1945 as part of the U.S. Army. The Life
article indicates that the establishment of a scholarship to assist Japanese
students was the dying wish of Robert Johnstone, but actually it was not his
dying wish since his father convinced the rest of the family to establish a
tuition scholarship in his memory at Lafayette College, where Robert had
attended for six months as an engineering student prior to being drafted into
the Army . The scholarship was established in the
fall of 1945 for a Japanese student, but Occupation authorities in Japan did not
allow Japanese to travel overseas right after the war's end, so Nishiyama, as the
first student from Japan to attend an American university after the war's end,
did not did not enter Lafayette College until the fall of 1948 .
When Nishiyama was drafted into the Japanese Navy, he
was in his third year of studies of English at the Tokyo Foreign Language
University. He was married to Helen Matsuoka, who had grown up in California although
she had been born in Japan, and she had graduated from Stanford University just
prior to the start of the Pacific War . After the
war Nishiyama worked as translator for the American military in Korea. He entered
Lafayette College in the fall of 1948 when he was 22 years old, and a former
Marine named Lew Bender, age 26 at the time, asked to be his roommate. The
college agreed since they were both older than average age. Nishiyama graduated
from Lafayette College and returned to Japan, where he had a successful career in
business. From 1962 to 1985, he served as president and general manager for the
Japanese subsidiary of a U.S.-based electronic components manufacturer. He then
worked as marketing vice-president for the Pacific Basin of another U.S.-based
electronics company .
Naoko Shibusawa in her 2006 book titled
Geisha Ally: Reimagining the Japanese Enemy explores how many Americans after
the end of the Pacific War "began seeing the Japanese not as savages but as
dependents that needed U.S. guidance and benevolence" .
In Chapter 5, she discusses that postwar scholarships for Japanese students to
attend American universities, including the Johnstone scholarship, shared the
overall goal of re-educating the Japanese in the areas of peace and democracy .
The scholarships were created "not only to educate Japanese students but also to
teach Americans to confront their intolerance by dealing with Japanese students
in their midst" . Nishiyama turned out to be an
excellent selection in that he "extolled the generosity, openness, and goodwill
of the Americans he had encountered" and was "a grateful pupil of American
altruism and wisdom" . Nishiyama appealed to
American audiences as a "polite, earnest, grateful, and complimentary" student,
and he challenged "readers or listeners to rethink their preconceptions about
the Japanese, but did so modestly and judiciously" .
Shibusawa concludes below on the effects of the scholarships to send Japanese
students to American universities :
The scholarships no doubt benefited individual
Japanese, but instead of fulfilling their stated mission to promote
pro-American sentiments in Japan, these programs were more effective in
allowing some earnest Japanese individuals to show their people in a better
light. Rather than spreading good news about America in Japan, the students
helped Americans accept the Japanese as their "junior allies" in the Far
Only a sample of photographs from the original article
have been included on this web page.
A Japanese suicide pilot starts his freshman year
at Lafayette on a scholarship started by a dead GI
A little more than three years ago Ensign Robert Yukimasa Nishiyama, 19,
pilot in the Kamikaze Corps of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was awaiting orders
to go out and crash his explosive suicide plane into a U.S. warship. At about
the same time Private Robert Stansbury Johnstone, 18, a U.S. soldier in the
Philippines, had a premonition of death. He wrote home and asked his parents to
use his $10,000 government insurance to establish a scholarship which would
teach his enemies the American way of life. Shortly thereafter Johnstone was
killed by a Jap during the fighting on Luzon. And last week Robert Nishiyama,
whose country had surrendered before he was sent on a mission, showed up at
Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., as a student on the scholarship which
Johnstone's money made possible.
Johnstone's mother, when she met Nishiyama
for the first time, grasped his hand and said warmly,
"Welcome, welcome, we're so glad you're here at last."
Nishiyama had been one of 20 Japanese applicants for the Johnstone
scholarship. A foreign-language student in Tokyo, he speaks English very well
and impressed the scholarship board by his perfectly written letters. When he
got to the Lafayette campus he went to the president's office to meet Private
Johnstone's family. He stood around nervously until the Johnstone family came
in. Mrs. Johnstone quickly ran up and welcomed him, followed by Mr. Johnstone
and their younger son Bruce, a Lafayette freshman who towered over Nishiyama.
"Bob," Mrs. Johnstone said quickly, "was almost as tall as Bruce is." Moved by
the meeting, Nishiyama could only say to each of them, "I don't know how to
thank you." Then, with new roommate, Lewis Bender, an ex-Marine who is studying
to be a minister, Nishiyama went off to sign the papers, take the tests and buy
the "dinks" that go with every freshman's first college days.
Taking a test, Nishiyama reads questions on one page
and checks answers on another. He once attended an
American school in Tokyo but had never seen this type of
test. He was embarrassed when it had to be explained.
He finds college life is fast and friendly
Nishiyama was prepared for almost anything but the casual reception he got
from Lafayette classmates. He had learned something of the U.S. from his wife,
who had lived here most of her life and had graduated from Stanford University,
and from U.S. soldiers for whom he had worked as interpreter. In spite of this
he expected to find some bitterness and some people who would blame him for the
war. But his classmates were friendly and paid little attention to him. He
walked hesitantly into Easton to buy a pair of sneakers and found that the
storekeepers, who had heard of him, were very pleased to see him. He walked
back, and a sophomore took him to dinner. Then, suddenly, he found he was just
one of 500 confused freshmen going through an indoctrination program. He bought
books. He met his adviser. He selected his courses, signing up for American
history, English and French. When he graduates he wants to go back to Japan and,
in the spirit of Johnstone's scholarship, teach international relations.
Ensign Nishiyama, as naval cadet
in 1944, weighed 170 pounds, has lost 35.
Lafayette College has a web page entitled "Japanese
Ex-Kamikaze Pilot Attended Lafayette" about Yukimasa Nishiyama.
1. Shibusawa 2006, 184.
2. Shibusawa 2006, 185, 191.
3. Shibusawa 2006, 185-98.
4. Shibusawa 2006, 188.
5. Shibusawa 2006, 210.
6. Shibusawa 2006, 5.
7. Shibusawa 2006, 186-7.
8. Shibusawa 2006, 184.
9. Shibusawa 2006, 201, 203.
10. Shibusawa 2006, 205.
11. Shibusawa 2006, 212.
Shibusawa, Naoko. 2006. America's Geisha Ally: Reimagining
the Japanese Enemy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.