Meiji Gakuin University purchased what would become the university campus in the northern hemisphere summer of 1988 for $2.4 million ($4966122.68 when adjusted for inflation), and it spent $2 million ($4138435.57 when adjusted for inflation) to renovate the campus. The school opened to the public on May 11, 1989. The Meiji Gakuin Foundation established the school to allow Japanese students residing in America to receive a Japanese style education, so they could easily enter Japanese universities upon returning to Japan. The school's opening was originally scheduled for April 20 of that year. The opening was delayed due to the processing of paperwork from teachers and the students who resided in Japan by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
In 1989 Mayor of Sweetwater George Cansler said that the community had a positive reception to the school since it would lead to economic development and because the residents could use the school's recreational facilities for a fee. The week before the school's opening, it held an open house which 200 people attended. The open house included a Japanese tea ceremony and country music, reflecting the cultures of Japan and Tennessee.
A cross-burning incident occurred on the evening of Tuesday May 23, 1989, when a group or person placed a 6.5-foot (2.0 m) wooden cross at the school's entrance and set the cross on fire. Cross burnings were a method of intimidation against racial minorities used by White supremacist groups. After the incident, Jim Burris, the police commissioner of Sweetwater, and Mike Jenkins, the police chief of Sweetwater, made a public apology for the actions of the party who committed the act. The students did not originally understand what the cross burning signified since they were unaware of the significance behind American cross burnings.
Bob Fuller, a former dormitory parent, said that the September 11 attacks, the resulting fears of terrorism, and the decline of the Japanese economy harmed the school. Tennessee Meiji Gakuin was scheduled to close on March 31, 2007.