Edward Sylvester Morse (1838-1925) was a great polymath – notable for his work in natural history, ethnography and art history – but, perhaps most famous for his work in bringing Japan and the West closer together. Morse was one of the first Americans to live in Japan. He went there on a scientific expedition in 1877 and his enthusiasm and approach so impressed his hosts that he was made Chair of Zoology at the new Imperial University of Tokyo. But his interests were never limited to evolutionary theory and scientific methodology – in 1882 he turned his attention to ethnology and the documentation of life in Japan before it was transformed by Western modernization. In addition to preserving the household records of a samurai family and many accounts of the tea ceremony, Morse made notes on subjects as diverse as shop signs, fireworks, hairpins, agricultural tools, artists’ studios, music, games, printing, carpentry, the Ainu, gardens, household construction, art and architecture. An accomplished draughtsman, his pencil and ink drawings, enliven his diaries and correspondence and make his papers a pleasure to read.