Umeko Tsuda

Umeko Tsuda was a Japanese educator of girls (1864-1929) . At the age of six in the late 19th century, she crossed the ocean toward the USA with the Iwakura Mission and studied there for 11 years. After returning to Japan, she became involved in girls’ education. After she studied abroad again, she established the Eigaku Juku (English School for Girls) to nurture autonomous women. This developed into Tsudajuku University.

Life of Umeko Tsuda

 Umeko Tsuda was born in Edo to a family serving a feudal lord of Sakura. In the first half of the 19th century, Japan refused to trade or communicate with Western countries except for the Netherlands. However, shortly before Umeko’s birth, U.S. Admiral Perry arrived in Japan seeking trade and the opening of Japan. Using military threats, the United States succeeded in concluding a trade treaty with Japan. Soon after, Britain, France, and other countries signed similar treaties with Japan. These were turning points in Japanese history. Her father, Sen Tsuda, witnessed Perry’s arrival and was greatly shocked. He immersed himself in Western learning, especially in agriculture.

 Study in the U.S.

 Until then, the Tokugawa regime had maintained a feudal system in Japan. However, some lords and samurai felt threatened by the Western powers after the arrival of Perry and regarded reform of Japan as an urgent necessity. They believed that the Tokugawa regime was incapable of accomplishing this so that they came into conflict with this regime. In 1868, they formed the new Meiji government and overthrew the Tokugawa regime. In 1871, the Meiji government dispatched the Iwakura Mission to the USA and Europe to absorb Western advanced culture and technology.

 At the suggestion of Kiyotaka Kuroda, the Hokkaido Development Commissioner, it was decided to send female students to the U.S. at the same time. The U.S. was chosen as a model for the development of the vast Hokkaido region because the U.S. had already conducted large-scale development of the North American continent. The decision to dispatch girls was based on the belief that outstanding women were needed for pioneering there.

 Sen Tsuda became acquainted with important people in the new Meiji government. When he learned of the the plan to send female students to the USA, he recommended his daughter Umeko. This was approved. In 1871, at the age of six, Umeko left for the United States to study. Five female students in all were sent there, and Umeko was the youngest.

 For the next 11 years, Umeko studied in the United States. She grew up in an American family near Washington, D.C., where she received primary and secondary education and developed interests in art and literature. She also converted to Christianity.

 Girls’ Education in Japan

 In 1882, Umeko returned to Japan. In 1885, on the initiative of the Empress, the Peeresses’ School was established. At the recommendation of Japan’s first prime minister, Hirofumi Ito, Umeko became its professor and taught English. In 1889, Umeko went back to the USA. She studied biology at Bryn Mawr College and pedagogy at Oswego Normal School.

 In 1892, Umeko returned to Japan and resumed her professorship at the Peeresses’ School. Later, she also served as a professor at the Women’s Higher Normal School (now Ochanomizu University). While engaged in girls’ education, Umeko traveled to the United States again in 1898 to participate in the International Women’s Convention. On her way back, she stopped in England. She attended lectures on English literature and ethics at Oxford University. She also made a study tour of higher education for women.

 After returning to Japan, in 1900, Umeko resigned her positions at the Peeresses’ School and the Women’s Higher Normal School. In the same year, she established the Women’s Institute for English Studies (女子英学塾) in Kojimachi, Tokyo, in order to nurture outstanding, autonomous women. The school emphasized English language education and Christian culture. Along with running the school, in 1901, she founded a publishing company called the Eibun Shinshisha (英文新誌社). There, she produced English teaching materials and published books on English literature. Her school became Tsuda Institute for English Studies, which became Tsudajuku University in 1948.

 While contributing to the education of girls from middle-class families and above, Umeko also introduced Japanese women and education overseas. She died in 1929.

 Tsuda’s Theory of Girls’ Education

 Based on her experience at the Women’s Institute for English Studies, Tsuda describes her policy on girls’ education in “On Girls’ Education” (女教邇言). The Institute was attended by girls over the age of 16 who had received a full range of education of the age. However, from Tsuda’s point of view, their abilities were lower than expected. For example, their reading comprehension of original English texts was poor. Although the girls could translate them, they understood little of the meaning.
 According to Tsuda, the reason for this was that Japanese girls were too dependent on others. Or, “Today’s female students, in any case, lack the mind of independence”. In the above example, if they have a problem in reading an English book that they do not understand, they do not try to solve it by themselves. They immediately ask the teacher for the answer. Therefore, Tsuda encourages the girls to be courageous and find the answers on their own. That is not limited to reading. No matter what it is, whether it is difficult or not, Tsuda asks them to do it voluntarily by themselves first.
 If it is something new, Tsuda teaches it once to female students, but not twice. First, she lets them try it on their own. If that doesn’t work, then and only then does the teacher teach them. Or, if they make a mistake in their writing, the teacher first only makes a note of where they went wrong. Let them understand the mistake themselves. If they still don’t understand, then and only then does the teacher explain the mistake to them. In this way, the girls develop a sense of spontaneity and independence.
 Tsuda also describes how the boarding houses help female students develop a sense of independence and responsibility. Her institute had a boarding house where about 50 female students lived. Tsuda adopted a laissez-faire approach to it, with few rules, such as bedtime and wake-up times. The intention was to foster a sense of independence and responsibility among the students.
Tsuda says, If detailed rules were established for the boarding house, the girls would see them as dictated by others and would neglect them. This is what weakens their independence.This is the reason why Japanese women are dependent and weak-willed. Such mind is “a major weakness of Japanese women”. To remedy this, it is essential to cultivate a sense of responsibility.
 Through a laissez-faire policy, boarding students will develop a sense of responsibility and show initiative. In living together in a boarding house, they must consider the convenience of other students. Since there are no detailed rules, students must think about what they should or should not do, and then do it by themselves. They will think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.
 Acting with a sense of independence and responsibility is required to be active in the future. From Tsuda’s point of view, traditional Japanese customs “lack the idea of respecting responsibility. There has been no attempt to deal with things independently”. The lack of mind of independence and responsibility among women and female students in Japan is mainly the result of this custom. This does not mean that it is not useful to give them some kind of detailed orders or rules for their activities. This is because rules are no longer valid and can even become harmful if times and places change drastically. Therefore, it is important to cultivate the mind of independence so that each person can deal with their own circumstances. The Laissez-faire policy is required as a habit-forming practice that fosters independence and mind of responsibility. “This small and narrow school is the place to develop such habits in order to be prepared for avoiding failure in the future when you go out into the large society and the wide world”. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tsuda was looking forward to the global success of Japanese women.

Umeko Tsuda

Source: National Diet Library, Portraits of Modern Japanese (

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