Wheaton Welcomes its First Japanese Student

Shio Sakanishi circa 1925

Her name was Shio Sakanishi, Class of 1925. She was a prolific essayist, author and lecturer.

Born in Oiso, Japan, near Tokyo, Shio purposely sought out an American college where there were no other Japanese students. When she applied to Wheaton, President Cole encouraged her admission with a cable that read, “Send a heathen along. We will educate her,” she later recalled.

She distinguished herself at Wheaton and among her peers. While a student here, she gained renown for her speaking role at a conference on women writers at Mount Holyoke College, where she announced her intention to translate a biography of Mary Lyon into Japanese.

She went on to obtain a PhD in Aesthetics and Literature from the University of Michigan in 1929 and became a specialist in Japanese literature at the Library of Congress’ Division of Orientalia. She was the first Japanese citizen to be appointed there.

Student body on the steps of the library, 1925, with Shio Sakanishi front right
Student body on the steps of the library, 1925, with Shio Sakanishi front right

During World War II, she assisted Kenneth Langdon and “Wild Bill” Donovan of the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner to the CIA, in their attempts to gather strategic information on Asia for the war effort.

From September to November of 1945, Shio served in MacArthur’s General Headquarters during the occupation of Japan. She went on to participate in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Councillors of the Japanese National Diet, the National Public Safety Commission and the Broadcasting Review Board of the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation (NHK).

Matsumoto, H. (1985). Shio Sakanishi and the Japanese collection in the Library of Congress. Journal of East Asian Libraries 77(4), p. 10-15.

Robinson, G. (2016). The great unknown: Japanese American sketches. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, p. 6.