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1927 Map of the Arboretum

1905: Expedition to East Asia

A view along the Kisogawa, River below Nogiri, Japan. Photograph by John Jack, September 6, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.
Japan, On the Kisogawa, River below Nogiri, Japan. Photograph by John Jack, September 6, 1905.

Plants collected on this Expedition

Plant ID Accession Date Received As Origin Source

Expedition Stats

China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan

Event Type
Collection Type
Germplasm, Herbarium Specimens
Arnold Arboretum Participants
John George Jack
John George Jack, ca. 1904.
A portrait of John George Jack, ca. 1904. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

In 1905, John George Jack decided to visit eastern Asia – Japan, Korea and China. Already an experienced plant explorer when he embarked his trip, Jack became the first staff member after Arboretum director Charles Sprague Sargent to visit the region. He hoped that the things he would learn while abroad and the plants he might encounter, in particular the disjunct floras, would enrich his teaching and the collections of the Arnold Arboretum.

A notable figure in the early history of the institution, Jack’s story is perhaps less well known than some of his colleagues. However, his fifty-year dedication to the study of trees, to plant exploration, formal and informal education, and especially his instruction of a generation of Chinese botanists, is unmatched.

Jack’s introduction to an unpublished manuscript entitled Notes on Some Recently Introduced Trees and Shrubs outlined his goals and itinerary for the trip.

“The object of my trip was primarily rest and recreation for three or four months, combined with a desire to observe some of the interesting arborescent flora of central and northeastern Japan.”

We also have several unpublished biographical manuscripts that he wrote in the 1930s and 40s that give us a further insight into his journey. He focused his travels on Japan, Korea, and the region near Beijing, as political unrest at the time made extensive travel in the interior of China unsafe.

Dwarf trees at the Yokohama Nursery Company photographed by John Jack on August 1, 1905.
Dwarf trees at the Yokohama Nursery Company photographed by John Jack on August 1, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Although Sargent’s annual report for 1904/05, states that “Mr. J. G. Jack has started on a journey to the East to obtain material for the Arboretum in Japan, Korea, and northern China,” his journey was self-financed. For some unknown reason, Sargent opposed his trip. He refused to pay for any of Jack’s expenses and he docked Jack’s pay of fifty dollars a month (approximately $1,500.00 in 2020 dollars) for the duration of his six-month leave of absence. Jack suspected that Sargent did not want the trip to be perceived by plant collectors in the region, such as Ernest Henry Wilson (who would soon collect for the Arboretum), as impinging upon their territory.


Tokyo and Environs

John Jack photographed a stone bridge at the Lotus Hachiman temple in Kamakura, Japan on July 28, 1905.
John Jack photographed a stone bridge at the Lotus Hachiman temple in Kamakura, Japan on July 28, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Undeterred by Sargent’s lack of support, Jack left Boston at the beginning of July and arrived in the port of Yokohama, Japan, on the steamship Manchuria at the end of the month. Fellow passengers on the ship included William Howard Taft, then the Secretary of War, Alice Roosevelt, daughter of president Teddy, Congressman Nicholas Longworth, whom she would later marry, and a delegation of other U.S. government officials.

He spent next few days sightseeing and visiting gardens, parks, and temples in the greater Tokyo area. This included a visit to the Yokohama Nursery Company, where he saw their extensive collection of dwarf trees and bonsai. These miniature trees were becoming very popular at this time with American collectors such as Larz and Isabel Anderson, who would later donate their collection to the Arboretum.

Nikko and Lake Chuzenji

Nikko, Japan River above village
The river above village of Nikko, Japan was photographed by John Jack on August 10, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

“I went loaded with material for collecting both herbarium and living specimens… [Lake Chuzenji is] a beautiful and interesting botanical hunting ground, especially rich in its azaleas and rhododendrons and other plants of the Heath family. I made many notes and specimens in this locality…”

Jack had his first chance to seriously botanize in Japan when he journeyed to the Nikko area on August 10. The week he spent there must have been intensely busy. He spent time out in the field and collected numerous specimens. The herbarium vouchers Herbarium specimen: An herbarium specimen is a pressed and dried plant sample that is generally mounted on a sheet of paper. Specimens can be stored indefinitely and are used for a wide variety of botanical research. collected by Jack now reside in the Harvard University Herbaria. Ten can be accessed through an online database, and the remaining lot will be digitized in the future.

He also marked plants in anticipation of a return in October to collect seed. Courtesy of Japanese forestry officials, there were visits to lumbering areas in nearby Yumoto to observe the loggers in action and Jack documented in photographs the devastation that clear cutting and subsequent forest fires were wreaking on the landscape.

On August 10, 1905, John Jack photographed two tall trees, a Sciadopitys vericillata and a Taxus cuspidata at the Nikko Futarasan-Jinja Chugushi Shrine, Lake Chuzenji, Japan.
A man and a boy photographed by John Jack beside a Fagus sylvatica asiatica. Lake Chuzenji, Japan. The trunk of the tree was over 3 feet in diameter at breast height. August 10, 1905.
A sawmill being powered by a water wheel near Yumoto, Japan in a photograph by John Jack, August 11, 1905.
John Jack recorded the effects of forest fires on land that had been logged about 12 years previously. The hillisde was originally covered with Abies, Tsuga, Larix, Betula, oak, and other trees. There was some sprout growth but the ground cover was mostly dwarf bamboo (Japanese name Kumasasa). In Yumoto, Japan, August 11, 1905.
John Jack photographed Professor Kingo Miyabe standing beside a Salix urbaniana in Sapporo, Japan. Sapporo on August 21, 1905.
John Jack photographed Professor Kingo Miyabe standing beside a species of willow (Salix cardiophylla) in Sapporo, Japan, on August 21, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.


In mid-August, Jack traveled north to the island of Hokkaido, and paid a visit to Sapporo. There he was hosted by Professor Kingo Miyabe, of the Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University), whom he had known over a decade earlier when Miyabe was a doctoral candidate at Harvard University.

Kingo Miyabe

Miyabe had long ties to Massachusetts and to Harvard. Born in the last years of the Shogunate, he came of age during the Meiji Restoration, a time of transition in Japanese society. The government founded an agricultural college in the American model in 1876, in the sparsely populated northern island of Hokkaido, and brought in Dr. William Clark from the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts, Amherst) to get the enterprise up and running. Miyabe matriculated in the second class of students admitted to the school. Although he studied there after Clark had departed, Clark’s influence, especially in ethics, was still keenly felt at the school for many years after. He took Clark’s parting words, “Boys, be ambitious!” to heart, graduating in 1881, and in 1886 enrolling at Harvard University.

In Cambridge, he studied with Asa Gray and William G. Farlow. He and Jack knew each other then. After graduating in 1889 with a Doctor of Science degree for his dissertation, The Flora of the Kurile Islands, he returned to Sapporo and became a professor at his alma mater. His expertise in northern Japanese plants led to several major floristic studies, including Icones of the Essential Forest Trees of Hokkaido, a copy of which is held in the rare book collection of the Arboretum Library, a gift from the author.

Professor Miyabe treated Jack to an in-depth view of the forest flora of the island and Jack found a new Magnolia variety, M. kobus var. borealis Sargent. His camera was also quite busy recording the timber-related industries on the island.

Larix gmellinii var. japonica photographed in 1905 on Iturup, in the Kuril Islands. The trees have bent from the prevailing winds.
The timber yard or depot at Akkeshi Harbor, Kushiro, Hokkaido photographed in 1905. The timber was being stored for export.
Abies sachalinensis and Picea ajanensis in the Shari State Forest, Kitami Hokkaido. 1905.
Timberland that had been logged out and burned near Isoya Station, Hokkaido. Photograph by John Jack, August 17, 1905.
Castanea japonica photographed by John Jack near Fukushima, Japan, September 4, 1905. The tree was about 30 inches (76 cm) diameter at breast height.
A man standing beside a large Japanese chestnut (Castanea crenata) near Fukushima, Japan in a photograph by John Jack. Jack recorded the tree to be about 2 1/2 feet (76 centimeters) in diameter. September 4, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Jack apparently received a group of photographs of logging and forestry related images when he was in Japan or perhaps sent on after he returned home. His personal camera used 3.25″ x 5.5″ (8 cm x 14 cm) film and those prints are are all carefully dated with the month, day and year. The photos he received as a gift are dated 1904 and 1905 only, and show regions of Japan that Jack did not visit, such as the Kuril Islands and the Yoshino River in Kagawa Prefecture.

Nagano Region

Towards the end of August, Jack returned from Hokkaido by way of Sendai, where he stopped off to see the Shiogama Shrine and other sites. He paused in Tokyo for a few days rest before setting off again, presumably by rail, to the town (now city) of Nagano. His new destination were sites in the mountains in the central part of the country that are today a popular scenic area.

Again, he spent time examining the lumber industry in the area. The devastation wrought by clear cutting was extensive and his camera’s unflinching eye recorded the painful scenes. Jack may have planned to use the photographs for his teaching, or they could have been taken in preparation for a possible publication about Japanese forestry.

He took timeout to botanize as well. A specimen of Philadelphus collected on September 3 in Narai, is now in the Harvard University Herbaria. Jack was assisted for the Japanese leg of his trip by a student from Tokyo who acted as a guide and translator. We do not know the man’s name but he appears in several photographs standing beside trees to provide a sense of scale. In the Nagano portion of the trip, a forestry official may also be seen in some of the images wearing light colored trousers and a dark colored jacket. Both men wear clothing in a western style.

Children on street at Miyanokoshi, Japan, were photographed by John Jack on September 3, 1905.
A timber slide of Chamaecyparis obtusa Ogawa forest, Kiso, Japan, photographed by John Jack on September 5, 1905. Altitude 4500 feet (1372 m).
John Jack photographed this devastated scene of cut over slopes at the Ogawa lumbercamp, Kiso, Japan on September 5, 1905.
A large Castanea japonica photographed by John Jack along the road from Narai to Fukusawa, Japan, September 2, 1905. Jack records that the trunk was about 30 inches (76 cm) diameter at breast height. Altitude about 3500 feet (1067 m).
John Jack photographed this large Zelkova serrata on September 2, 1905 in Niegawa, Japan, Niegawa. He recorded its diameter at breast height to be between 36 and 48 inches (91-122 cm).
Children pose for John Jack's camera beside a massive Chamaecyparis obtusa at a temple in Fukushima, Japan, on September 3, 1905. He records the tree's diameter at breast height as over 12 feet (3 m).
A forestry official poses for John Jack's photograph beside a Tsuga sieboldii along the trail from Ogawa to Adera, Japan. Jack records the trunk diameter at breast height as 26 inches (66 cm). In the Adera river watershed. September 5, 1905.
A Japanese forest inspector astands beside a Pinus pentaphylla in the Ogawa lumber camp, north slope, Japan. September 5, 1905. 4700-4800 feet (1433-1463 m) altitude.
A view of the Taedong River in Pyongyang, Korea (today North Korea), in front of the Japanese inn the Mina. Photograph by John Jack, September 19, 1905.
A view of the shore and boats along the Taedong (Tai dong) River in Pyongyang, North Korea (Ping Yang, Korea). Photograph by John Jack, September 19, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.


From Japan, Jack sailed to Busan (Fusan), Korea. From there he took a train northwest across the country to Incheon (Chemulpo), where he spent the second half of September exploring the region around Seoul with a side trip to Nampho, Pyeongannam-do, North Korea (Chinnampo) and Pyongyang (Ping Yang).

Unfortunately the Japanese government, which was occupying the country as a result of the Russo-Japanese War, would not allow travel out of the immediate environs around Seoul, Nampho, and Pyongyang. This precluded chances for extensive botanical collections in the interior of the country as he had done in Japan. He made one collection of an herbarium specimen in Chinnampo, Pyeongannam-do, in what is today North Korea, of Fraxinus chinensis var. rhynchophylla that is now in the Arnold Herbarium. We also have a complete list of his collections on this trip

While he did not have as much chance to botanize as he might have wished, Jack took a number of photographs of the people and places he saw in Korea. They are an historical document of the country just prior to its annexation by Japan in 1910. As an ethnographic record at the turn of the 20th century, we see scenes of daily life, buildings, and traditional dress of the local inhabitants.

Korea laborers standing at a landing on the Taedong River, Pyongyang, Korea (now North Korea). Photograph by John Jack, September 19, 1905.
A pond and small structure on the grounds of East Palace, Seoul, Korea. Photograph by John Jack, September 24, 1905.
Granite slopes of solid and disintegrated rock, destitute of forest cover, chiefly due to having been cut over for logging. Bukhansan Mountain (Pouck-Han), Seoul, Korea (now South Korea). Photograph by John Jack, September 25, 1905.
Koreans on the platform of a station on Seoul-Busan Railroad (Kei-Fu Railroad). Note the Japanese guards of the occupation forces standing in the middle and left of the picture. Photograph by John Jack, September 15, 1905.
Populus tomentosa. China. 4 1/2 ft. in diameter near Sha-ho, on the Beijing-Nankou road (Peking-Nankow road). Photograph by John Jack, October 7, 1905.
A man stands beside a large poplar (Populus davidiana var. tomentosa) near Shahezhen (Sha-ho), on the Beijing-Juyong (Peking-Nankow) road, in a photograph by John Jack. He measured the tree at 4 1/2 feet (122 centimeters) in diameter. October 7, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.


Jack sailed from Incheon to Yantai (Chefoo), and Shandong (Shantung), China and then on to Beijing by way of Tianjin (Tientsin).

“I arrived in Peking where in the surrounding region, some very interesting days were spent in examining the vegetation and collecting.”

In China, Jack did not have any severe restrictions on his movements, so he made the most of his time collecting plant material. He did not neglect his siteseeing however, and made an expedition out to the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs.

While he was in Beijing he connected with an old friend, Frank Nicholas Meyer, who had just arrived in China to collect plants of economic value for the United States Department of Agriculture. The two spent some time botanizing together in the area and Meyer took Jack to see his seeds and specimens that he was preparing to send to America. Jack evidently admired Meyer, saying,

“He did much more in the way of useful plant introduction than many others who have been more prominently advertised.”

Jack returned to Japan during the middle of October. His youngest brother Milton, a clergyman, arrived in Japan at this time from Canada, on route to take up a missionary post in Taiwan. The brothers visited together and Jack journeyed again to Lake Chuzenji to collect seeds from the plants he had marked earlier. He had noted numerous rhododendron and azalea species and gathered their seeds for shipment to the Arboretum.

Sophora japonica on the streets of Beijing (Peking), China, protected on streets by stone, brick and mortar, or mud circular walls. Photograph by John Jack, October 3, 1905.
A view of the inner face (in foreground) of the Great Wall of China near gateway of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou (Peking-Kalgan) road. Photograph by John Jack, October 5, 1905.
A orchard near the base of the hills north of Beijing (Peking) near the Ming Tombs. Photograph by John Jack, October 6, 1905.
A gate in wall of the Manchu (Tartar) portion of Beijing (Peking), China. The photograph was taken 830 a.m. by John Jack, en route to Nankou (Nankau) and the Great Wall, October 4, 1905.
Huxinting tea house in Shanghai, China. Photograph by John Jack, November 3, 1905.
The Huxinting Teahouse in Shanghai, China. Photograph by John Jack, November 3, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

Journey Home

A view of the Suez Canal, Egypt. by John Jack, November 29, 1905.
A ship plies the placid waters of the Suez Canal in Egypt on November 29, 1905 in a photograph by John Jack. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

In early November Jack finally sailed for home. He would continue his circumnavigation of the globe on the Princess Alice. Departing from Kobe, Japan, the ship put in at Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Columbo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon). In Columbo, a day’s layover allowed him to visit the tropical garden at Kandy. His journey continued on to Naples, Italy, via the Suez Canal.

Jack spent several days in Naples where he saw the ancient ruins in Pompeii. He finally sailed for America on December 8 on the Konig Albert, arriving in New York on December 21. Jack considered this trip a success, notwithstanding the recently concluded war between Russia and Japan which hampered his movements somewhat.

A view of Naples, Italy from the Hotel Britanique. Photograph by John Jack, December 5, 1905.
A view of Naples, Italy from the Hotel Britainque by John Jack on December 5, 1905. Archives of the Arnold Arboretum.

His travel expenses were about $2000 (nearly $60,000 in 2020 dollars), so it came as a pleasant surprise when Sargent, in an uncharacteristically apologetic manner, admitted the great value of Jack’s collections and allowed him all his back pay of $300 which had been stopped during the trip.

In Boston

On this trip, Jack collected 158 taxa Taxon: In biology, a taxon (plural taxa) is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms seen by taxonomists to form a unit. of woody and herbaceous plants. A list of those plants, written in Jack’s own neat script, resides in the Arboretum Archives. He delivered the seeds to Arboretum propagator Jackson Dawson to be germinated, grown, and later transplanted on the grounds. The herbarium vouchers collected by Jack now reside in the Harvard University Herbaria. Ten can be accessed through an online database, and the remaining lot will be digitized in the future.

Dig Deeper

The Arboretum Library has digitized a collection of John Jack’s photographs from this trip. They are available through Harvard’s catalog Hollis Images. You can further narrow your search using the delimiters in the Refine My Results column on the right. There is an option to limit the search by date, author, repository, place, and other parameters.

John Jack was profiled in Arnoldia, read the article here.