This project showcases student project work from Japan and the World, a modern Japanese history course offered at Kanda University of International Studies. It focuses on important themes and individuals from the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) periods, when Japan was beginning to open to the world after centuries of government-enforced isolation.

All submissions are researched, whether in English or Japanese, and references provided. Comments responding to and exploring ideas, suggesting connections or further reading, are most welcome. As entries are written by non-native English speakers, please refrain from non-constructive comments about language use.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Sutematsu Oyama

By Marina Kuki

Sutematsu Oyama
Sutematsu Oyama

The person of my final project is Sutematsu Yamakawa (Oyama). She was famous as the first returnee from the United States of America and took a baccalaureate. When she was 12 years old, she studied in America at government expense as the first female Japanese international student in 1871. She lived there for 11 years. Furthermore, she tried to change Japanese women systems for her life. When I was a high school student, I studied her in the class of Japanese history. However, at that time, I knew only her background. In this class, I got a chance to learn about Japanese women who went abroad. Of these women, I was very interested in her experience, accomplishments in Japan and how she changed Japanese society, so I chose this person.

Firstly, according to Kuno (1993), Sutematsu could get the chance to work by marrying. In this era, unmarried women ranked low in Japanese society. If women were highly educated with a brilliant mind, they could not take a job inevitably. Sutematsu was also the one of them. She realized that Japanese way of thinking when she looked for a job. She was smart, but she was rejected by many companies. She did not like this unfair system, but she more felt sad that she could not contribute to the Japan because of being an unmarried woman. Therefore, she chose a marriage to get a helpful job for Japanese society. The reason why she persisted in working for Japan was that she studied abroad at government expense. She wanted to express her thanks to the Japanese. In 1883, she got married to Iwao Oyama. He was a Japanese field marshal in the Imperial Japanese army, so she could have an opportunity to work in a variety of fields. She played an active part not only in the political world but also the educational world.

Secondly, according to Kuno (1993), Sutematsu spread nursing schools in Japan. At that time, Japanese nursing system was not developed. She was very surprised that men took care of patients when she visited a hospital. She also learned about the nursing in New Haven for two years, so she thought that nurse was a suitable job for women, because women could handle it carefully. She decided to train girls and women at nursing schools. Unfortunately, Japan did not have money to build this school at that time, so she started a charity bazaar. However, the charitable work did not spread in Japan. Japanese did not have the custom of working to collect money for other people. In particular, high ranked people thought that money was a mean thing that was used by merchants. For this reason, many Japanese were surprised that noble women sold goods at a charity bazaar. It was held for three days. About 12,000 people took part in this bazaar, and she could collect much higher proceeds from the bazaar than she had expected. The proceeds went to the Yushi Kyoritsu Tokyo Hospital, now the Jikei University Hospital. After that, she continued to be interested in the training of Japanese nurses, and she explained that nurses were respected in American society. Therefore, she could spread nursing system in Japan.

Finally, according to Kuno (1993), Sutematsu took the lead in changing Japanese woman's society by her experience in America. She tried to increase the scholastic ability of Japanese women and make an environment where women could study English or other subjects. When Umeko Tsuda was founded the Women's Institute for English Studies (Joshi Eigaku-juku), Sutematsu cooperated with her. Moreover, she asked Alice Mabel Bacon to teach English to Japanese women students in Japan. Umeko was also one of the returnees from America, and Umeko was close to Sutematsu. Bacon was the host family’s daughter when Sutematsu went abroad to study, and Bacon was her best friend. They trusted each other, and they had the same aim to improve women’s education. A few years later, their school became very popular gradually, and first graduates became English teachers in Japan. Now, that university has produced many scholars. Therefore, their action led to the women’s social progress in the present time. Most Japanese girls and women could get an opportunity to go to school or work.

In conclusion, Sutematsu achieved a lot of success in her life. She continued to make an effort to improve Japanese women's education system and change Japanese women's society. Furthermore, she was always thinking about Japan and she worked for Japanese. As a result, Japanese women got an environment that they could study or work, and the state of Japanese women was improved.


Reference list

Kuno, Akiko. (1993). ‘鹿鳴館の貴婦人 大山捨松-日本初の女子留学生-’ (‘Unexpected Destinations’). Tokyo, Chukoron-Shinsha.