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Faith of Late Teacher Returned From Japan

August 07, 1986|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

Reiko Sakai flies home today, ending a journey that brought her more than 5,000 miles to pray at the grave of a woman she never met.

In fact, most of the 28 alumni from the Hokusei Schools attending a memorial service Tuesday at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena had never known Sarah Clark Smith.

But by founding a small Christian school for girls on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido in 1887, Smith left a legacy that was to profoundly affect the lives of thousands of students unknown to her.

The visit to the United States by the former Hokusei students marks the beginning of the 100th anniversary of Smith's journey to Japan. "As you saw, their feelings were so deep that many of them were crying," said Jun Arima, president of Hokusei College, shortly after singing "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" in Japanese at the graveside service.

Smith, the daughter of a Methodist preacher, arrived in Japan at the age of 36.

Unmarried and alone, Smith founded a small private school where she would continue to teach English and the principles of Christianity to young Japanese girls for the following 41 years. The Hokkaido campus, which has since expanded to include six schools and a coeducational college, is now home to 5,000 students.

Busen Kondo, at 92 one of the school's oldest living graduates and a resident of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, joined the alumni group to attend the memorial service.

The diminutive Kondo, who makes regular visits to the grave, said she entered the Hokusei school in 1904 while Smith was still teaching in Japan.

"She was rather strict," said Kondo. "But she liked me because I was so small and cute."

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