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A Brief History of The Cambridge & Oxford Society

The records of the Society which still exist start in 1921, when the first entry in "Minute Book No. 2" records that "the 37th Annual Meeting and Spring Dinner were held at the Tokyo Club on 10th May 1921". The expression "37th Annual Meeting" may be incorrect and should perhaps read "37th Meeting" because succeeding entries show that usually at least two Meetings were held each year, each one numbered consecutively. It can therefore be assumed that the Society was formed in the early years of this century and maybe before then. A.B. Mitford, in The Garter Mission to Japan, refers to "a luncheon at our Palace to the Cambridge Society" given in 1906, but since he describes the Society as "a company of fifty or sixty Japanese gentlemen who had received their education at the English universities" it is possible that the guests were in fact members of The Cambridge & Oxford Society. Certainly, his account makes it clear that Oxford graduates were included among those present.

In his 1995 essay commemorating the 90th anniversary of The Cambridge & Oxford Society, the late Mr Giro Koike (Magdalene College, Cambridge, 1931-34) places the founding of The Cambridge Society in 1903 and the founding of The Cambridge & Oxford Society in 1905. He also explains why the Society is not called "The Oxford and Cambridge Society":

"When I myself returned home after studying at Cambridge, I had the feeling that the name [Cambridge & Oxford Society] sounded a bit out of place, even unnatural! So at the first meeting I was invited to, I asked some senior members about it. Shigezo Imamura (who subsequently became my father-in-law, though at the time I never dreamt of that happening!) gave me the following explanation.
He, and several British and Japanese friends who had spent time together at Cambridge, founded the Cambridge Society here in Japan, I think it was in 1903. There were already of course a number of Japanese Oxford graduates at that time, and some of them proposed to the Cambridge Society that they should link up and enjoy activities together.

From the early days, although both universities have been competing vigorously with each other in every field, they have also remained on extremely good terms with each other, and have a good mutual understanding as they have developed in a similar environment. So my father-in-law and his Cambridge friends received the idea of joint activities enthusiastically.

However, they made one proviso. Since the Cambridge Society already existed, the Oxford graduates would have to accept that O should follow C, with the joint Society taking the name C&O, or Cambridge & Oxford. The Oxford side reluctantly agreed, feeling they had no choice! And so it has been since 1905."
Giro Koike, "WHY THE 'CAMBRIDGE & OXFORD SOCIETY'?" - In Commemoration of the 90th Anniversary (Click for full text)

This being the most reliable information available about the earliest days of the Society, we held our centenary celebrations in 2005.

Noting that to the Japanese education is "something as sacred as religion itself" and that in contrast to their British peers the Japanese "do not look upon Oxford and Cambridge as places where a lad may go to amuse himself, idling away six months in each of three consecutive years, learning the art of living beyond his means", Mitford offers the following contemporary appraisal of a "Cambridge Society of Japan" gathering:

"A gathering of the Cambridge Society of Japan is, therefore, an assembly of gentlemen highly cultivated, not only in the learning of their own country, but also in those branches of study which are taught in our universities, and the conversation is perhaps more varied in such a group of men than it is in any similar body in the world. Questions of science, questions of letters, of history, of political economy, of philology, are discussed with just that tinge of oriental imagery which gives a spark of the divine fire to whatever it touches, stifling pedantry and brightening the narrow dullness of the common room."

Whether Mitford would be quite so impressed by more recent Cambridge & Oxford Society gatherings is impossible to tell. As the late Mr Hidehiro Takaki, (Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, 1927-30) notes in his essay commemorating the 90th anniversary in 1995 ("The Good Old Days" Click for full text), "the atmosphere [now] is much more informal than in those days I remember back in the early 1930s", but he also notes that "there are many more members, both Japanese and British as well as members from other countries" and that "the purpose is still the same, to build continuing friendship between men and women who have enjoyed the common experience of studying at these two ancient universities."

The Meetings of the Society during the 1920s generally took the form of formal dinners twice a year. The Society was several times honoured by the presence of the Crown Prince and other members of the Imperial Family, and also by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales and H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester on the occasions of their official visits to Japan. H.I.H. Prince Chichibu, who was at Oxford, was elected an Honorary Member of the Society in November 1927 and honoured the Society by regularly attending the Meetings.

During the 1930s it was decided to hold informal luncheon Meetings each month, as well as the one or two formal dinners each year which were held to celebrate special occasions such as H.M. King George V's Silver jubilee and H.M. King George VI's Coronation. Luncheon Meetings of a more formal kind were also held to mark special occasions, such as to welcome H.I.H. Prince Chichibu on his return from representing H.M. The Emperor at King George VI's Coronation.

In 1938 it was recorded that an Oxford and Cambridge Society of the Kansai had been formed, and it was agreed that an exchange of information of the activities of the Society and visits between the Members would be of mutual pleasure.

As might be expected, the war interfered with the Society's activities, and a note in the Minute Book on 19th January, 1942 indicated that no further Meetings of the Society would be held. On 14th February, 1950, however, at a Meeting held at the Canadian Legation, it was decided to reconstitute the activities of the Society on a formal basis after some three years of informal activity. This Meeting was described as the "67th Meeting of the Society".

Thereafter, Meetings were held fairly regularly at the rate of six to ten a year until the late 1990s, when they started being held almost monthly. The Presidency of the Society is a position more often than not graciously accepted by H.M. Ambassador to Japan, and the Society has benefited enormously over the years from the enthusiastic support of its eminent Presidents. In addition to lending their support to the Society's regular activities, the Presidents have hosted many luncheons and cocktail parties for members at their official residence, and for the past several years an early summer evening party at the President's residence has been a regular part of the Society's annual calendar of events. While these invitations are by no means taken for granted, they are certainly greatly appreciated by the many members who attend. The Society is further honoured by the regular attendance at these Meetings of those members of the Imperial Family with Oxbridge connections.

While the main purpose of the Society has always been to provide opportunities for Cambridge and Oxford men and women living in Japan to meet socially, it has also tried to support the activities of people representing the two universities when they visit Japan. The records show receptions for eight visiting Vice-Chancellors, four from Cambridge and four from Oxford, for various visiting Masters (also known variously as Principal, Provost or President) of Oxbridge colleges, and for the Librarian of the Bodleian Library. Receptions have also been held for visiting boat crews, rugby teams and College Choirs, specifically those of King's, St John's, Girton and St Catharine’s Colleges, Cambridge, and of New College, Oxford. On 16th May, 1983, the President gave a lunch party to honour H.I.H. Prince Naruhito, now the Crown Prince, who was to go up to Oxford the following Michaelmas Term.

Other activities of the Society have included golf tournaments, the first of which was held on 19th November, 1932, when Cambridge beat Oxford by 5 points to 2. Well established as annual events, C&O golf tournaments have latterly been taking place twice or even three times a year.

A fairly recent innovation was the institution of informal monthly "Second Tuesday Get-togethers" in the bar of what was then known as the Ginza Tobu Hotel but which has since become the Courtyard by Marriot Tokyo Ginza Hotel. These started in April, 2000 and have proved popular among members, who are able to attend as they please without giving prior notice. They are held in addition to slightly more formal events organised at the rate of at least one a month, except in August and, occasionally, January.

The Cambridge & Oxford Society, Kansai Chapter was re-inaugurated at The Century Club in Osaka on November 6th, 1998. The inaugural dinner was attended by then President of the Society, Sir David Wright, and Mr Eikichi Itoh, KBE was nominated Chairman. For further information on the Kansai Chapter, click here.

The Society celebrated its centenary in 2005 with a series of events held over the weekend of 25th March. Separate reports on these events may be found among the event reports on this site (to the right of this history; please scroll up).

The Cambridge & Oxford Society, Tokyo has a current membership of some 290 people and is fulfilling its constitutional function of providing opportunities for them to meet socially. It is hoped that the Society's second century will be as enjoyable for members as its first.

Mr Tomoyuki Imai (St Antony's, Oxford, 1960 - 61) writes about "The C&O Society in the sixties" (click for the full text).

Mrs Doreen Simmons (Girton, 1950-53; Hughes Hall, 1953-54) writes about her C&O "Reminiscences" (click for the full text).

Mr Teruhisa Nakamura (Worcester, Oxford 1964) writes about the centenary C&O Centenary (click for the full text).

The text of a speech that Mr Teruhisa Nakamura (Worcester, Oxford 1964) prepared for his Gokurosama party. (click for the full text).

Mr Yoshi Shimizu (Worcester Oxford 1992) writes about his memories of C&O Kansai. (click for the full text).

C&O Society Obituaries