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Einstein and the School Children of Japan 〜 The Centennial of Einstein's Japan Visit

Albert Einstein is regarded as the greatest physicist of the 20th century. He was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his "discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect," as well as famous for his proposal of the general theory of relativity among many others. Einstein received word of his Nobel Prize on board a ship bound for Japan in 1922. After landing in Kobe on November 17, he spent 43 days traveling across Japan from Tohoku to Kyushu, being received by enthusiastic crowds everywhere he went.

Today, Einstein's heritage is carefully preserved in the Albert Einstein Archive at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It is not widely known that among them are drawings and a letter from a Japanese elementary school teacher and his pupils, received in 1949.

From War-torn Japan to Einstein

It was the Otsuka Branch of Takatsuki Elementary School in Takatsuki City of Osaka Prefecture during the Pacific War (*1). After hearing about Einstein the scientific genius from K. Shimakawa, the teacher and master of the Otsuka Branch, some of his school children decided to send Einstein drawings for Einstein's birthday. The war-torn Japan was short of food and supplies, still, the children were absorbed in drawing with crayons and drawing papers that the teacher had finally acquired from little he found (*2). However, it was not until 1949 that Einstein received them, because only a few years after the war ended, the teacher was finally able to mail to the United States the children's drawings with his letter. The children's drawings were colorful and lively drawings in stark contrast to the time of war they were under. And Teacher Shimakawa's letter were filled with their thoughts on the development of science and hope for peace. Einstein might have not known of their circumstance, but he must have felt deeply moved.

*1 December 8, 1941 - September 2, 1945 (Japan Standard Time)

*2 Judging by the author of the drawing and the record of Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the time when the drawings were made can be presumed between December 1944 before the war ended in August 1945.

Drawings by the Japanese Children

©︎The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Courtesy of the Albert Einstein Archives, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Digital images by Ardon Bar Hama

Teacher Shimakawa's Portrait Photo and

Letter enclosed with the Drawings

©︎The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Courtesy of the Albert Einstein Archives, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Digital images by Ardon Bar Hama


An Author

In early June 2022, Efrat Machikawa, the embassy’s Culture and Science Affairs Attaché, together with members of The Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka, embarked on a special mission and visited Takatsuki-city of Osaka Prefecture to meet one of the children identified as sending Albert Einstein a drawing.

The following is Attaché Machikawa’s recount of her special encounter:

Ms. Setsuko Yoshida and her best friend were very excited and welcomed us at the beauty salon, where they work together for almost 60 years. Setsuko-san, now 85 years old, made her drawing when she was a second grader at the Otsuka Branch of Takatsuki City Elementary School.

After some greetings and getting to know each other, I shared with Setsuko-san the special timing of the visit as it falls during the year marking the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Israel. I introduced her to Israel in brief and shared some information on the Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem. Setsuko-san was very surprised and enthusiastic to learn how her drawing ended up in Israel.


・Middle: Setsuko shared with Ms. Machikawa of her story from the time of drawing.

・Right: With Setsuko (left) and her best friend.

Setsuko-san shared her memories of the time she and her classmates made the drawings under conditions where they had to evacuate when the air raid alarm sounded during the wartime. She still remembers how happy they were when their teacher managed to get hold of the precious crayons they drew with, a luxury unaffordable at that time.

Years had passed after the war and once Setsuko-san graduated from high school, her father, due to the hardship of that time, recommended her to earn a profession. She became a secretary and very quickly realized her salary was less than what she thought she deserved. The young lady being brave and full of talent decided to take her future in her own hands and opened her own Beauty Salon business where she still works today. Her determination and success paving her own way were inspiring!

It was touching to find out what happened behind the story of the drawing sent to Einstein and to learn that Setsuko-san proudly keeps every document related to Einstein she found, in a special folder. It was also heartwarming to realize how an initiative of one enthusiastic teacher, had such a strong impact on his young students for so many years.

[Photo] Attaché Machikawa holding the Friday, August 5, 2022 morning paper of the Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka

in which the interview article with Setsuko-san was published.

As an educator in my background, I felt the visit strengthened the belief education can form miracles. The message of developing cross-cultural connections overcoming differences was indeed very powerful.

The visit ended with a short tea ceremony Setsuko-san’s best friend who helps her performed. Setsuko-san thanked the Embassy for reaching out and for reminding her of the bright days she had during the challenging times of the 1940s. Likewise, the Embassy thanked her for the beautiful lesson she gave us on the invaluable connection between Education and Peace.

While thanking her for being a part of the Israel-Japan connection in a very special way, Setsuko-san replied she was happy to find she had a part in it, even it is a modest one, as she would have never thought that could happen and added, “I will never forget today”.

Neither would we!

Setsuko's Drawing

©︎The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Courtesy of the Albert Einstein Archives, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Digital images by Ardon Bar Hama


Hope for the Future Generations

The Albert Einstein Archives also has another interesting collection - the original draft of an autograph letter signed (*) that Einstein wrote to Japanese school children in 1930. It was a contribution to the "Shonen Club," a monthly magazine published at the time by the Dai Nippon Yubenkai Kodansha. The contribution written in German was sent to Kenichi Katoh, the editor of Shonen Club. The message was translated into Japanese and published in the 1931 issue of Shonen Club.

*There might be some differences from the actual letter sent.

Einstein's original draft of the autograph letter

©︎The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Courtesy of the Albert Einstein Archives, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Digital Images by Ardon Bar Hama

"It is in this spirit that I, an old man,

send greetings to you, the school children of Japan,

in the hope that your generation by its qualities of brotherhood

may someday put my generation to shame."

Albert Einstein


English translation from

Nathan O., Norden H., (Eds.). (1960). Einstein On Peace. Simon & Schuster.

His words for the Japanese school children from 1930 can transcend generations.

In the 21st century, we hope that this same message will be passed on to our generation and to the next.


・Special Thanks・

The Albert Einstein Archives, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka Headquarters

Kansai Television Co. Ltd.

The "Let's Write a Letter to Einstein" , a joint initiative of the Embassy and the Einstein Exhibition, was inspired by letters and drawings from the school children of Japan that Einstein treasured and kept. One-hundred years have passed since his visit in Japan in 1922. We hope that the many stories that are hidden behind the history of Einstein's connection with Japan will be further uncovered in the future.

*Click HERE for the "Let's Write a Letter to Einstein" and award winning letters from today's children.


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