In 1877, Dr. Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925), a zoologist from Portland, traveled to Japan to study brachiopods. Riding on a train through Shinagawa-ku, a ward of Tokyo, he spied what he immediately recognized as a large kitchen midden or shell mound. Shell mounds are formed when communities continuously discard kitchen scraps and unwanted items in the same spot over many centuries. Dr. Morse’s excavations and research at the Omori shell mound connected the Japanese people to thousands of years of forgotten history.
Morse went on to become the first non-Japanese professor at the Tokyo Imperial University and is considered the father of modern archaeology in Japan. The Shinagawa Historical Museum is dedicated to Morse’s work during the Meiji Era.
Dr. Morse’s Remembrances of Meiji Japan
Morse’s friend and fellow Japanologist, Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow, wrote to advise him, “Drop your damned Brachiopods...and remember that the Japanese are vanishing types and [we] are literally the last people who have seen them alive.” Dr. Morse went on to capture the images and descriptions of “Old Japan” at precisely the moment that “New Japan” was undergoing an unprecedented rush to modernize. His collection of Japanese pottery, which contains some 5,000 artifacts, is now kept at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, MA. It is considered one of the finest in the world.
In Words and Pictures, a Window to an Ancient Land
Dr. Morse was one of the first westerners to write at length on Japan. His two most famous books on the subject are Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings (1886), considered a landmark in the history of American architecture, and Japan Day By Day (1917). These snapshots in time, of the Japanese home, garden, and daily affairs, remain authoritative descriptions of bygone Japan and its people.
Portland and Shinagawa:
The Archaeology of a Friendship
The importance of Dr. Morse’s legacy in Japan inspired the establishment in 1983 of the special relationship that Portland and Shinagawa have through tshe Sister Cities International program.
Since then, the two cities have exchanged cultural, educational, information and trade delegations, creating lifelong friendships that provide prosperity and peace through person-to-person “citizen diplomacy.”
For more on the Portland-Shinagawa connection visit www.portlandmaine.gov/sistercities/shinagawa.asp