Tsuda Umeko and Women's Education in Japan


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Barbara Rose

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Tsuda Umeko was one of five young Japanese girls sent to the United States in 1871 by their government to be trained in the lore of domesticity. The new Meiji rulers defined a "true woman" as one who had learned to rear children who would be loyal and obedient to the state, and they looked to the "superior culture" of the West as the place to obtain such training. Eleven years later, Tsuda returned to Japan and presented herself as an authority on female education and women's roles. After some frustration and another trip to America to attend Bryn Mawr College, she established one of the first schools in Japan to offer middle-class women a higher education. This readable biography sets her life and achievements in the context of the women's movements and the ideology of female domesticity in American and Japan at the turn of the century.
Barbara Rose presents Tsuda Umeko's experiences as illustrative of the profound contradictions and ironies behind Japan's changing views of women and the West. Tsuda was sent abroad to absorb what could be of benefit to Japanese women, but she was denied any official distinction on her return to Japan both because she was female and because the Western culture she had adopted was no longer in favor. In Japan, Tsuda had to adapt to the increasingly narrow confines of the official definition of the domestic ideal as the only proper role for women. By characterizing women's work in the home as a vocation and by expanding women's educational horizons, Tsuda and others of her generation hoped to enhance women's self-respect and gain for them a measure of independence. But domesticity, though empowering, was finally limiting; it restricted women to a life within the imposed boundaries of a single sphere of action.

"A very good read that weaves together many important issues in a creative, imaginative way. It has something new to say to readers in Japanese studies, women's studies, and education."—Joseph Tobin

"In her well-researched study, a former English instructor at a Japanese college details the efforts of a samurai daughter in turn-of-the-century Tokyo to improve the lot of upper-class women. Sent by the Japanese government to the U.S. at age six to absorb Western ideas, Tsuda Umeko . . . returned to Tokyo with notions reflecting an American reformist vision of feminine roles. . . . This very readable scholarly work opens intriguing vistas on Japanese women's history."—Publishers Weekly

"A welcome addition to the study of women's education in Japan. . . . Contains much useful information on the broader subject of the background of Japan's emergence as a modern nation."—Edward R. Beauchamp, Monumenta Nipponica

"A well-written and attractively produced contribution to women's studies generally as well as to the history of education in Japan."—John Honey, Journal of Educational Administration and History

"This book contributes to the scholarship by fleshing out a well-known character who has been treated up to now only one-dimensionally as a near icon. Rose skillfully portrays the paradoxes and difficulties of a woman's life lived consciously between two worlds, with a psychological home in neither. Better than anyone before her, Rose has succeeded in capturing the incongruities in Umeko's life and in using them to raise larger issues about the nature of Japanese society and its treatment of ambitious women."—Richard Rubinger, History of Education Quarterly

"Through a fascinating biography of Tsuda Umeko, a prominent Japanese woman educator, this eminently readable book examines the education of women and their place in Meji Japan, incidentally presents material on similar matters in the United States, and offers a case study of a woman whose education was entirely outside her own culture. . . . [A] finely crafted work."—Patricia E. Roy, Historical Studies in Education

Winner of the 1993 Canada-Japan Book Award given by the Canada Council
ISBN: 9780300051773
Publication Date: January 29, 1992
224 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus.