In September 1870 Griffis was invited to Japan by Matsudaira Shungaku, for the purpose of organizing schools along modern lines. In 1871, he was Superintendent of Education in the province of Echizen. In recompense, he was provided with a salary of $2,400, a house in Fukui and a horse.
Griffis with a group of his students.
In 1872-74, Griffis taught chemistry and physics at Kaisei Gakko (forerunner of Tokyo Imperial University). He prepared the New Japan Series of Reading and Spelling Books, 5 vols. (1872). He also published primers for Japanese students of the English language; and he and contributed to the Japanese press and to newspapers and magazines in the United States numerous papers of importance on Japanese affairs.
Griffis was joined by his sister, Margaret Clark Griffis, who became a teacher at the Tokyo Government Girls' School (later to become the Peeresses' School). By the time they left Japan in 1874, the Griffis had befriended many of Japan's future leaders.
He was a member of the Asiatic Society of Japan, the Asiatic Society of Korea, the Historical Society of the Imperial University of Tokyo, and the Society of the Sixth Year of Meiji.
Returning to the United States, Griffis attended Union Theological Seminary; and after finishing his studies in 1877, he was called to the ministry in a series of churches -- at the First Reformed Church, Schenectady, New York (1877-1886); at the Shawmut Congregational Church, Boston, Massachusetts (1886-1893); and at the First Congregational Church, Ithaca, New York (1893-1903). Concurrently, at Union College in 1884, he earned a higher degree, Doctor of Divinity (D.D.). Rutgers awarded him an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) in 1899.
In 1903 he resigned from the active ministry to devote himself exclusively to writing and lectures. authorship and lecturing. His books on Japan and Japanese culture were complemented with extensive college and university lecture circuit itineraries. In addition to his own books and articles during this period, he also joined Inazo Nitobe in crafting what became his most well-known book, Bushido: The Soul of Japan.
The prolific writer was also a prolific traveller, making eleven trips to Europe -- primarily to visit the Netherlands. In 1898, he was at the enthronement of Queen Wilhelmina; and he attended the Congress of Diplomatic History. He was amongst the group of Bostonians who wanted to commemorate the Pilgrim's roots in Holland; and the work was rewarded with the dedication of a memorial at Delfshaven and the placement of five other bronze historical tablets in 1909. He was one of four Americans elected to the Netherlands Society of Letters in Leiden.
In 1926, he was invited to return to Japan for the award of a second Order of the Rising Sun. A private rail car was provided by the Japanese government, and he visited several cities in the course of this return trip.
Griffis was a founding member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (later to become the American Academy of Arts and Letters), the American Historical Association, and the U.S. Naval Institute. He died at his Winter home in Florida in 1928.
One of Griffis' sons, Stanton Griffis, who would become U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Egypt, Spain and Argentina under President Truman. Stanton Griffis was ambassador while Juan and Eva Peron were in power and wrote of his experiences in a book titled "Lying In State".
Griffis' life and publications are here organized chronologically.