My ‘Pen Pal’ Research Partner in Japan

Ichiro Fudai at home in Hanamaki, Japan

This is Ichiro Fudai. We’ve never met. But Ichiro has become a research partner after he learned about my book project on Eliza Scidmore through a TV program that aired during my research trip to Japan in 2013. Ichiro contacted me about a connection in his hometown of Hanamaki.

Ichiro, who has visited the United States and has excellent command of English, lives in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture. A close friend of Eliza Scidmore late in life, Dr. Inazo Nitobe, hailed from there.

Trained as an agronomist, Dr. Nitobe became a statesman and, like Scidmore, an advocate for international peace. Late in life he worked for the League of Nations in Geneva, where Eliza spent her final years. She socialized often with Dr. Nitobe and his American-born wife, Mary.

Nitobe became famous in the West for his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan. Analogous to a code of chivalry, bushido was the way of the samurai, emphasizing traits like loyalty, discipline, and honor. Published in 1899, the book became hugely popular and influenced people like Teddy Roosevelt and Robert Baden-Powell, who founded the Boy Scouts. After learning about Eliza’s friendship with Dr. Nitobe, Ichiro visited a local museum honoring Nitobe and sent me some background materials.

A manager for the city of Hanamaki, Ichiro is a history buff. Our online communication led to his help investigating another important link in Scidmore’s life.


This photo appeared in “National Geographic” in September 1896, with an article by Eliza Scidmore on a deadly tsunami along the Sanriku coast of northeastern Japan.

In September 1896 she published an article in National Geographic on a horrific tsunami that occurred the previous June off the Sanriku coast of northeastern Japan. It killed 23,000 people and wiped out entire villages.

The tsunami occurred not far from where Ichiro lives, so he began doing some research about the disaster in local archives. Thanks to his sleuthing, I’ve been able to fill in some critical details. Ichiro will certainly get an acknowledgment in my book. I hope we’ll have a chance to meet one day so I can thank him personally for his contribution.






Filed under Biography, Eliza Scidmore, Japan, National Geographic, Research

2 Responses to My ‘Pen Pal’ Research Partner in Japan

  1. Eiko Fukuda

    Inazo Nitobe was, like my great-grandfather Torajiro Watase, a graduate of the Sapporo Agricultural College (Hokkaido University – where there is a bust of him on the campus) and likely studied under science professors sent over from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He was Japan’s pre-eminent western educator in the 20th century — and was the president of my other’s alma mater, Tokyo Christian Women’s College before World War II — no doubt influenced by his American Quaker wife in his concern for girls’ education.

    In addition to Bushido, he wrote a book called “Jinsei Dokuhon” (A Primer of Life) which perhaps should be translated. I will read it and let you know!

    Best Regards,


    PS Would you be so kind as to put me in touch with your pen pal? My paternal grandmother – who was schooled by Baptists in Sendai (Morioka Prefecture, next to Iwate) – did relief work during the great tsunami he writes about!

    • Hi, Eiko.
      I’ll send along Ichiro Fudai’s email address offline. He’ll probably love hearing from you, as he’s quite an enthusiastic sleuth of local history. I found his help indispensable on the matter of Eliza Scidmore’s report on the area’s tsunami for National Geographic in 1896. It’s quite remarkable he originally found me through this website — and that he’s been fabulously helpful to my research even though we’ve never met!
      I’m hoping I’ll find more about Scidmore’s relationship with the Nitobes, as I know they were close and even vacationed together in Nice, I believe, after WWI. A couple of postcards have turned up, and there are references to Mary Nitobe at Scidmore’s death. Besides the ties with Mary Nitobe and influence of Quakerism, Scidmore and Nitobe were both passionate advocates for international peace.

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