Joseph Hardy Neesima was born in 1843, in Joshu (presently Gunma Prefecture) at the residence of Annaka Domain in Edo. Living in Japan during its isolationist period, Neesima’s interest to go abroad increased because he had been studying Dutch since he was young. Being an avid reader of the Chinese translation of the Bible, Neesima left for America violating an overseas travel ban in 1864. Supported by Mr. and Mrs. Hardy, devoted Christians, who warmly accepted Neesima into their family as a “foster child,” Neesima studied at Phillips Academy, Amherst College, and Andover Theological Seminary deepening his knowledge on Christianity and education.
After Neesima returned to Japan in 1874, he met Kakuma Yamamoto, who was the counselor of Kyoto Prefecture at that time, also a brother of his future wife Yae. Together with Professor Davis, the three of them planned to build a school that would provide education based on Christian principles in Kyoto. On November 29, 1875, Doshisha Eigakko (English Academy) was established.