|by Deadra Johns
1939. Japan was warring with China and strengthening its alliances with Germany and Italy. “The political situation was complicated,” according to Bokko Tsuchiyama, (PTS M.Div. in 1944; Th.M. in 1945; Ph.D. in 1964). On the day the recent movie
Pearl Harbor opened in the U.S., Tsuchiyama reflected on what it was like to be the son of a Japanese pastor during World War II.
In the fall of 1939 Tsuchiyama would turn twenty, the age when Japanese men were drafted. His father, Tetsuji, had visited Chinese churches in the war zone, where he learned firsthand what happened to Japanese pastors, and to the children of pastors, who were in the armed forces—they were sent to the front lines to an almost certain death. “Christians were not so welcome in Japan,” Tsuchiyama said. He recalled being ostracized by a group of students from his high school because he refused to join them when they worshiped at Shinto shrines.
Fearing for his son’s safety, Tsuchiyama’s father urged his son to go to the United States to study, as he himself had done more than a quarter century earlier. So in the fall of 1939, Tsuchiyama entered Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois. Throughout his time at Greenville tensions between the United States and Japan grew. Tsuchiyama graduated in June 1942, just six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and he was uncertain about where he should go next. It was uncomfortable to be Japanese and living in the United States after Pearl Harbor. But it was dangerous to go back home, and going to Europe was out of the question.
(second row, second from right) with his classmates
Tsuchiyama turned to his father for
advice. When he told his father that he wanted to go to
seminary, his father said that there was only one option:
Princeton. His father knew Princeton firsthand; he had
earned a Th.M. at Princeton in 1928. Tsuchiyama recalls
that his father was comfortable with Princeton because it
was “scholarly.” In 1942 Tsuchiyama enrolled in
PTS’s accelerated program, which had been established to
fill the growing demand for military chaplains, and so
earned his degree in two years rather than the customary
Tsuchiyama has fond memories of his time
at Princeton. He remembers, “This was the best place in
the world to live in the war time—very peaceful. The
students and professors were very cosmopolitan,
broad-minded, generous, and kind.” He particularly loved
PTS president John Mackay. Best of all, because of the
scholarship aid he received, he didn’t have to work.
During college he had earned tuition money by peeling
potatoes, sweeping and scrubbing floors, shoveling snow.
But at Princeton he could focus all his attention on
He completed his degree in 1944, but
stayed on to earn a Th.M. in 1945. By that time the war
was nearly over, and he looked forward to returning to his
But the connection with Princeton
continued. While serving as pastor and lecturer in
churches and colleges on both sides of the Pacific,
Tsuchiyama developed a passion not only for ministry but
also for early childhood education. In 1955 he returned to
Princeton to begin work on a Ph.D. in Christian education,
with Professor D. Campbell Wyckoff as his advisor.
He credits Princeton with providing him
with the tools and credentials for his impressive
half-century career as pastor, professor, university
president, and children’s center director. He
established a college to train ministers and teachers,
founded a children’s research program, and worked with
the Economic Social Council of the United Nations to raise
the standard of early childhood education in developing
Asian countries. He describes his work as a Christian
testimony to a secular society.
Over the years, attending Princeton
Seminary has become something of a Tsuchiyama family
tradition. In 1983, Tsuchiyama’s daughter and
son-in-law, Noyuri and Toshio Watanabe, each earned
masters degrees at PTS, becoming the third generation of
Princeton graduates, which began with Tsuchiyama’s
father and includes Tsuchiyama’s younger brother,
Bokumin (Class of 1956).
|Bokko Tsuchiyama (middle) with
President and Mrs. Gillespie during his recent visit to
Tsuchiyama attended the Seminary’s
annual alumni/ae reunion this past May. During the reunion
luncheon he presented President Gillespie with a check for
$10,000. He said that he wanted to give something back to
a place that had given so much to him: “I am very
grateful to the Seminary for good education, training in
pastoral ministry, Christian education, and social welfare
ministry. Everything I did was rooted in Princeton,
spiritually and intellectually. For me Princeton is a very
precious place. I love Princeton Seminary.”
Deadra Johns is coordinator of donor
research and institutional planning.