Tsuda Umeko (1864-1929), one of the leading advocators for girls' education  and the founder of Tsuda college.

(Posted on October 13, 2021)

The current banknotes of 10,000 yen, 5,000 yen and 1,000 yen respectively have been in circulation since 2004. The government has announced that new banknotes will be circulated starting in 2024. A new 5,000 yen banknote will have the portrait of Tsuda Umeko, replacing the portrait of a female novelist, Higuchi Ichiyou on the current 5,000 yen banknote. How did Tsuda Umeko become an advocator for girls’ education and what did she accomplish?


First, we go back to 1871 when Tsuda was just six years old. She happened to be chosen by the Meiji government as one of six girls (actually the youngest) to study in the US. This was part of Japan’s first official mission to the US and Europe consisting of the country’s top leaders who took initiatives in bringing about the Meiji Restoration. Tsuda went to Washington D.C. and stayed with the secretary of the Japanese legation. She managed to complete primary and secondary education there. It was in 1882 when she came back to Japan at the age of 18.


Tsuda started teaching at a special school for peerage girls in Tokyo. But she strongly felt the “culture shock” of observing the status of girls and women in general and girls’ education geared for raising “a good wife and wise mother” in particular. Perhaps because of this uneasy feeling, Tsuda decided to go to the US for the second time in 1889. She attended Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia for three years and studied biology and education. It’s worthy of mentioning that during her stay, she managed to raise $US 8,000 through numerous public speeches about the need for Japanese girls to study in the US. So, with this fund she established a scholarship, which was effectively applied; altogether 25 Japanese women were sent to the US to study.


After Tsuda’s return to Japan, she was determined to set up a school of her own that will give advanced education for girls. The school, Women’s Institute for English Studies, opened in 1900 in central Tokyo with the help of her colleagues who went to the US together in 1871 and American classmates among others. Subsequently the school became Tsuda College after World War II and remains as one of the most prestigious women’s institutions in Japan. It’s now called Tsuda University.    












Tsuda Umeko (standing on the left)

 with colleagues and an American


As a result of the Meiji restoration, the Japanese education system made a drastic change adopting the essence of the American and European systems. During the latter part of the Edo period, so-called temple schools or private elementary schools provided reading and writing, and abacus practices for commoners’ boys and girls. Under the Meiji system, compulsory primary education for boys and girls was given for six years. Then, boys (but a small fraction of them) could go to secondary schools for five year, and subsequently high schools for further three years. Also, a small fraction of girls could go on to Girls schools for 5years and advanced girls’ schools for 3 years thereafter. Universities were basically not open to girls. There were teacher training colleges (free of tuition fees) for boys and girls separately. The education system was radically changed once again after World War II.  







Tsuda University, located in Kodaira

 City, Metropolitan Tokyo   

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