Tsuda Ume: Pioneering Education for Women and ELT

Amy D. Yamashiro, Saitama Junior College; Ethel Ogane, Tokyo YWCA

Recognizing the lasting influence of important Japanese educators from the past can help contemporary English language teachers contextualize, and inspire their own professional lives. One particularly influential educator was Tsuda Ume (1864-1929), a samurai daughter and founder of Tsuda College (Tsuda Juku Daigaku), who led an extraordinary life during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). At the age of six, Tsuda was part of a government mission which sent five girls to the United States to study the role and education of American women. Later, as a student at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, she created an international women's network to fund overseas studies for Japanese women. Tsuda drew upon her experiences overseas and extensive study when she opened her school of higher learning for women. Today, Tsuda College, one of the leading women's universities in Japan, maintains a highly respected curriculum for English studies. By examining Tsuda's life, we can enhance our understanding of women's higher education and English language teaching in Japan.

To better understand Tsuda's achievement and influence, it is important to view her life history in the socio-political context of the Meiji Era. By opening her school, Joshi Eigaku Juku (Women's Institute of Language Studies, which later became Tsuda College), she directly challenged the prevailing neo-Confucianist views on women's education which were prescribed in documents during the Tokugawa Era (1600-1868). For instance, one prominent neo-Confucian scholar, Kaibara Ekken, advocated in 1672 that women needed no other education than the training necessary for their roles as wives and mothers (Passin, 1965a). Tsuda felt this "old time" training was effective in producing gentle and obedient women, but she argued that the women of her day needed a broader education which would prepare them for employment and self-support (Furuki, Ueda, & Althaus, 1984, p. 31).

Tsuda realized that Japanese women needed higher education to receive more respect and fairer treatment (Takahashi, 1989). Yamakawa Kikue, a student at Joshi Eigaku Juku from 1908 to 1912, described Tsuda in her memoirs:

Unlike other educators of this period, [Tsuda] ignored the Ministry of Education's policy that girls should become "good wives and wise mothers." She was a pioneer in educating women to become professionals. She rejected the slave morality and spineless submissiveness that characterized schools like Tokyo Women's College. She herself was independent-minded and forceful and was a natural-born teacher. (Hane, 1988, p. 165)

Yamakawa enjoyed the innovative language curriculum at Joshi Eigaku Juku which challenged female students not only to think critically about current events and Western ideas, but also to participate in classroom discussions. Tsuda believed that higher education was essential for Japanese women to gain independence and "prove themselves worthy of equal standing" with men (Furuki, 1991, p. 100).

Tsuda's educational policies appear fairly modern and remarkably similar to some contemporary feminist language educators in Japan who include Fujimura-Fanselow (1996), Hardy (1996), McCornick (1996), and Tsuruta (1996). Like Tsuda, feminist educators encourage female students to become active participants in the learning process and believe that studying ideas and issues in their English classes help students broaden their perspectives (McMahill, 1997; McMahill & Reekie, 1996). Tsuda's remarkable life can provide contemporary language educators in Japan with an influential figure for women's studies. Her experiences overseas and Christian faith led her to display unusual acts of independence during the Meiji Era and her actions may help illuminate the complexities of the issues that women still face in Japanese society. In the following sections, we will discuss Tsuda's life in historical context and point out important issues relevant to contemporary women and language teachers.

A Unique Overseas Opportunity

After the Meiji Restoration (1868), which followed Admiral Perry's forced opening of Japan in 1853, English became the most important foreign language in Japanese society. Western knowledge and foreign language study were perceived as keys to strengthening the country (Henrichsen, 1989, p. 121). Consequently, in 1871 the Meiji Government sent 51 students to the United States and Europe, including five female students, of which Tsuda was one. Her father welcomed this opportunity to send her on this international exchange in part because he was impressed by American technology and democracy during his own six-month stay in the United States in 1867 (Yamazaki, 1989). Before leaving Japan, Tsuda and her four fellow female scholars were given a mandate from Empress Haruko:

Your intention of studying abroad, considering that you are a girl, is admirable. When, in time, schools for girls are established, you, having finished your studies, shall be examples to your countrywomen. Bear this in mind and apply yourself to your studies day and night. (Furuki, 1991, pp. 11-12)

Tsuda later described her audience with the Empress and her mandate as a wonderful sign of the times marking "a new era for Japan" (Furuki, 1991, p. 11).

Tsuda Ume was born on December 31, 1864, the second daughter of a low-ranking samurai, Tsuda Sen. Within Japan's patrilineal family system, parents of her time would eagerly await the birth of a son. Sen was so disappointed at Ume's birth that he stormed out of the house and continued to show no interest in her even by the seventh day, when according to Japanese custom, the baby had to be named (Furuki, 1991; Rose, 1992). By 1871, given that two younger brothers had been born and Ume's elder sister had been adopted by her uncle, Sen may have offered to send Ume to the United States because he considered her to be expendable or because he could gain favor and prestige with the new government if Ume was successful (Rose, 1992).

Thus, in December 1871, six-year-old Tsuda, the youngest of the five girls, sailed across the Pacific Ocean to study the social and educational position of American women in the 1870s (Takahashi, 1989). For the next eleven years, Tsuda lived and studied in Georgetown, Washington D. C. under the care of Charles and Adeline Lanman who guided Tsuda's formative years with affection and sensitivity (Furuki, 1991). The childless Lanmans raised her as a beloved daughter. Receiving much praise for high scholarship and studiousness, Tsuda graduated from the Stephenson Seminary and the Archer Institute, both small private schools which provided individual attention to their students. Even Tsuda's natural mother agreed that Tsuda was fortunate to be raised and educated in the United States (Rose, 1992).

Women's Education in Japan

Women's education evolved during the Meiji Era as a result of universal primary schooling. Yoshida Kumaji advocated, in the Fundamental Code of Education of 1872, that primary education be accorded to both boys and girls (Passin, 1965b). Despite overall rising attendance rates, boys still outnumbered girls three to one in school by 1887 (Hane, 1986). Nevertheless, the growing number of primary schools combined with the government's commitment to staff coeducational public schools with a mix of female and male teachers created a need for more certified female teachers (Marshall, 1994). For this reason, teaching became increasingly acceptable as a profession for educated women. In addition, Japan's rapid industrialization created a need for an educated female workforce for factories and offices. For example, by the turn of the century, female workers outnumbered men in the textile industry (Nolte & Hastings, 1991).

In November 1882, Tsuda returned to a Japan that was becoming increasingly conservative. This was reflected in the Education Act of 1880, which abolished coeducation beyond the primary level and forced the government to open more women's secondary schools in the 1880s (Hara, 1995). The 1882 Monbusho annual report mandated differential streams of study for boys and girls in high school. This resulted in separate and unequal schooling by gender. The curriculum for girls emphasized moral education grounded in neo-Confucianist beliefs in addition to home economics and childcare (Marshall, 1994). Fukuzawa Yukichi, the founder of Keio University, was one who challenged this conservative bias, but other educators, such as Nishimura Shigeki, a former headmaster of the Peeresses' School, stressed the need to preserve traditional Japanese virtues for women (Marshall, 1994). Despite these views, the Education Act of 1880 prompted the government to create the Women's Higher Normal School in 1890 to certify female high school teachers (Marshall, 1994).

In an effort to control the existing and potential social chaos caused by Japan's rapid industrialization and modernization, the 1899 Girls' Higher School Law called on prefectural governments to provide at least one 4-year girls' secondary school in each prefecture. This education was primarily aimed at training women to become "good wives and wise mothers" (ryousai kenbo) (Hara, 1995). Christian missionaries had already begun opening private high schools for girls, starting with the Ferris Seminary in Yokohama in 1870 (Yamazaki, 1989). Among other things, the Girl's Higher School Law was aimed at diminishing the missionaries' influence over Japanese female education (Rose, 1992). In this way, conservative forces in the government were trying to reinstate neo-Confucianistic policies while simultaneously restricting Western influences.

Despite the increasing number of female high school graduates, there were few options in post-secondary education for women. Naruse Jinzo was able to win support for Nihon Women's University, which opened in 1901, by arguing that women needed a general education, including studies in ethics, art, music, and physical training to make them good wives, mothers, and dutiful citizens (Furuki, 1991, p. 99). Tsuda's school, Joshi Eigaku Juku, was established on a different set of ideals--to create women who could be active, responsible members of society--which she acquired during her experiences in the United States and applied in the establishment and operation of her school for women (Yamazaki, 1989). Tsuda wanted to produce a women's elite--independent and professionally-skilled women working as high school English teachers--based on academic achievement, and she had no doubts about women's abilities to pursue academic studies on par with men.

Creating an International Women's Network

Following her return to Japan in 1882, Tsuda felt she had a mission, a "unique destiny" (Yamazaki, 1989, p. 130) to prepare Japanese women for their new lives and roles in a fast changing Japan. To achieve her goal, she realized that she needed further education. At the age of 24, in 1889, Tsuda returned to the USA and enrolled at Bryn Mawr College majoring in biology. She excelled academically and collaborated with a famous geneticist on a research paper which was published in a scientific journal in 1894 (Furuki et al., 1984). While at Bryn Mawr College, she developed her skills in public speaking and fund-raising. Her fund-raising speeches enabled her to establish an American support network for Japanese women's education starting with a scholarship fund for Japanese women to study abroad (Takahashi, 1989). This fund helped many Japanese female students, several of whom became active leaders in Japanese women's education after World War II, including Matsuda Naoko, a principal of Doshisha Girls' High School; Kawai Michiko, the founder of Keisen Gakuen; and Hoshino Ai and Fujita Taki, the second and fourth presidents of Tsuda College (Furuki, 1991). In one of her speeches, Tsuda argued that Japanese women could exert greater influence and power for good in society, if they received higher education and professional training (Furuki et al., 1984). After meeting the high academic standards at Bryn Mawr, Tsuda wanted to introduce a similarly rigorous curriculum for women in Japan.

Implementing Her Educational Philosophy

Confident that she had both the educational qualifications and the private financial support, she was ready to start her own school. One month before the opening ceremony of her school, Tsuda revealed her pragmatism and aspirations in a letter dated August 6, 1900:

We are offering higher courses in English and preparation for the government examination for teacher's certificate in English, so we call it a School of English, but some day it will be more than that and will offer other courses of study. (Furuki et al., 1984, p. 377)

On September 14, 1900, with the support of her network of American women, she opened Joshi Eigaku Juku.

One goal for the new women's institute was to prepare female students to pass the government examinations for the high school teachers' certificate in English (Furuki, 1991). In 1905, graduates of Joshi Eigaku Juku were granted exemptions from taking English teacher certification examinations, because Tsuda required her graduates to become poised public speakers and capable conversationalists in English (Furuki, 1991). Her school was the first, and for 18 years the only, women's institution given this privilege. The institute's success attracted the attention of the Tokyo Higher Normal School and the Tokyo Foreign Language School, government schools that certified male English teachers. These two top schools for men sent their students to observe language instruction at Tsuda's school (Furuki, 1991).

But the main goal of Joshi Eigaku Juku was to produce women of strength and independent thought. Mishima Sumie, a student who entered the school in 1918, wrote of Tsuda's teaching policies:

We were required to prepare thoroughly beforehand and give our opinions in class. We could argue with the teacher and did not have to agree with her if we were not convinced. It was a revelation for me to know that a girl might have her own idea about anything and argue with her honorable teacher. (Furuki, 1991, p. 121)

Although Joshi Eigaku Juku prepared women to become language teaching professionals, Tsuda urged her students not to confine themselves to a narrow course of language study. Rather, she encouraged them to use English as a tool in discovering new ways of thinking, ideals, and points of view. Tsuda lived to see many graduates of her school appointed to teaching positions in high schools all over Japan.

Tsuda's Personal Choices

Takahashi (1989) argues that Tsuda's overseas experience, international support network, and Christian faith may have provided her with the necessary resolve to make personal choices that countered Japanese societal expectations. When Tsuda returned to Japan in 1882, she was shocked by the low social and educational position of Japanese women. From her Christian upbringing, she was infuriated by the double standards which permitted Japanese men to openly keep mistresses and father children outside of marriage. Thus, at the age of 18, describing marriage in Japan as an unfair and a restrictive institution for women, Tsuda resolved that, "nothing would induce me to make a regular Japanese marriage... So I think I will decide to remain single all my life unless circumstances change me" (Furuki, Althaus, Hirata, Ichimata, Iino, Iwahara, & Ueda, 1991, p. 34). It is interesting to note that her primary reason for not marrying was actually romantic in nature, for she wanted a marriage based on love and mutual respect (Furuki et al., 1991), not unlike many Japanese women today (Yoshizumi, 1995).

In 1902, not long after opening her school, Tsuda chose to become legally independent of her family. She registered herself as shizoku (the samurai class) to identify with the "samurai spirit," and added the character ko (child), becoming Umeko, to modernize her name (Furuki, 1991). To contemporary women, adding ko may seem ironic and contradictory; however, in Tsuda's time ko was fashionable among women of samurai background. Setting up her own household was a manifesto of social independence. Tsuda wanted to gain control of her finances which her father had maintained since she began working. Furthermore, during Ume's first stay in the United States, Tsuda Sen fathered an illegitimate son with a housemaid. Furuki (1991) contends that the patriarchal ie (household) familial practice of openly accepting and raising illegitimate half children deeply disturbed Tsuda's Christian sensibilities and strengthened her resolve to be independent. Her decisions not to marry and to become independent, were not only necessary for her to establish and maintain her school, they also foreshadow the dilemma of contemporary Japanese women in choosing between family or career and the struggles of those opposed to the ie system, such as the current movement to allow married couples to have separate surnames (Tanaka, 1995; Yoshizumi, 1995).

Feminist Criticism

Among Japanese feminist activists and social reformers, some had been and are disappointed by Tsuda's reluctance to directly challenge the existing social order of her day. Yamakawa Kikue, a former student, appreciated her education at Tsuda College, but was dissatisfied and critical of what she saw as Tsuda's political naivete, recounting that Tsuda censored socialist and feminist texts (Hane, 1988, p. 166). In addition, other students of her time were forced to quit activist circles with threats of having their diplomas withheld (Rose, 1992). Contemporary feminist scholars, such as Rose (1992), have criticized Tsuda's opposition to women's suffrage, her resistance to being a social agitator, and her reluctance to demand full equality between the sexes. In light of this feminist criticism, it may be useful to view Tsuda's educational policies as effective within her historical context, for she wanted to create "women who could succeed in a competitive male world" (Takahashi, 1989, p. 146). At the same time, it must be acknowledged that Tsuda's privileged background and socially conservative views may have limited her direct impact to a handful of elite women.

Lasting Influence

Tsuda's lasting influence lies primarily in Tsuda College. This includes her impact on the formation of women's higher learning and English language teaching. In line with Fujimura-Fanselow's (1995) arguments for creating more Japanese female role models, Tsuda College has provided crucial leadership opportunities for its female student body, faculty, and staff up to the role of president. Concurring with educational research in the United States on the effectiveness of single-sex colleges to raise female self-esteem and academic achievement (Sadker & Sadker, 1994), it has been observed that students at Tsuda College "recognize that they have a chance to take leadership roles within university life that only boys would normally take if they were in a coed school" (cited in Cutts, 1997, p. 164). In addition, Tsuda College is recognized as having "one of the most successful and prominent parliamentary debate teams in the country" (M. H. Lubetsky, personal communication, February 6, 1998).

From her experiences in the United States, Tsuda believed that Japanese women could similarly lead responsible and productive lives. She shared her overseas experience through her scholarship fund which sent other Japanese women abroad for study, and through educating women at her school. Challenging female students to go beyond the limits of traditional gender-role socialization, she helped to create a new generation of Japanese women, professionally skilled and capable of leading active and independent lives. Since Tsuda established her school to train women to become English teachers, she was a pioneer in women's higher education and English language teaching. As an individual Japanese woman who struggled against rising conservative forces, Tsuda Ume can serve as a source of inspiration for contemporary women, teachers and students alike.



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