Otis Cary, 1989. Source: Otis Cary and His Broad Vision, 1921-2006

During World War II, whenever fellow Americans asked Otis Cary (AC 1943) where he came from, he felt pained to have to answer “Massachusetts.”  It was a half-truth.  Though the product of Deerfield Academy and Amherst College (the latter having also educated his father and grandfather before him), Otis Cary was born and raised in Japan.  He always considered it his home.  His family’s roots there, in fact, reach back to his grandfather Otis Cary (AC 1872), who arrived as a Christian missionary in 1878, a mere 24 years after the opening of that long-secluded country to foreigners.  The younger Cary thus developed absolute fluency in Japanese — not just linguistic, but cultural.  When he died in 2006, having served as a professor and Director of Amherst House at Doshisha University for 45 years (Amherst’s sister institution in Kyoto), he was widely considered one of the foremost American authorities on Japanese culture.

As a Navy lieutenant during World War II, Cary interrogated Japanese prisoners of war. He approached his subjects much as his grandfather had done in his missionary work: proselytizing, in this case, for the American cause of democracy and reconstruction. According to many accounts, Cary broke through to the prisoners through humor, kindness (in the form of candy, magazines and cigarettes) and his fluent colloquial Japanese, which, coming from a sandy-haired American, was always shocking.

A sampling of the dozens of letters to Otis Cary from former Japanese POWs.

The letters shown above, written by many of the former POWs to Cary in the decade after the war, are among the many fascinating documents in the Otis Cary Family Papers.  The collection (ca. 17 linear ft.) represents a major new primary source at Amherst for the study of Japan, alongside the Joseph Hardy Neesima Collection, Uchimura Kanzo Collection, Doshisha University Collection, Charles L. Kades Papers, John Dower (AC 1959) Papers, and others.  The Cary Papers were received earlier this year from his widow, Dr. Alice Cary, and are still awaiting archival processing.

Otis Cary, his parents Rosamond and Frank (AC 1911) and wife Alice, May 1948. (Photo: Robert H. Grant)

A preliminary survey indicates that the papers include Cary’s family and professional correspondence, scrapbooks, photograph albums, military records, writings and speeches, as well as a variety of Doshisha-related materials closely documenting the Amherst-Doshisha relationship over nearly a half-century.  But not only Otis Cary’s papers are represented here; diaries and letters of his grandfather, missionary Otis Cary (AC 1872), as well as those of his father Frank Cary (AC 1911), are also preserved.

One thought on “Amherst’s Man in Japan: Otis Cary (AC 1943)

Leave a Reply