Tsuda Umeko (津田梅子, 1864-1929) was a Japanese educator and the founder of Tsuda College.

Tsuda Umeko (津田梅子)

Tsuda Umeko (津田梅子) was born in Edo (modern-day Tōkyō) as the second daughter of Tsuda Sen (津田仙, 1837-1908). Sen, a low-ranking samurai of Sakura Domain (present-day Chiba Prefecture) was an expert on Western agricultural sciences who propagated Westernization and Christianization as well as co-founder of Aoyama Gakuin University. Initially, his daughter was called Ume (after the Japanese apricot), but she changed her name to Umeko in 1902.

The first female Japanese students abroad

The first female students abroad: Nagai Shige (10), Ueda Tei (14), Yoshimasu Ryo (14), Tsuda Ume (6) and Yamakawa Sutematsu (11).

In 1871, when she was only six years old, she was sent to the United States on the Iwakura Mission with 54 other students. She was the youngest of only five girls selected by the Hokkaido Colonization Board and the first Japanese woman to study abroad. In Washington, D.C., she lived with a childless American couple, Charles Lanman, the secretary of the Japanese legation, and his wife, Adeline. Umeko, then still known as Ume, enrolled at Georgetown Collegiate School and at the Archer Institute, both private girls' schools. In 1872, about one year after she had arrived, she decided to convert to Christianity.

Graduation at Bryn Mawr College

Graduation at Bryn Mawr College

In 1882, Umeko returned to Japan and took up a position as a tutor in the household of Itō Hirobumi. Later, she taught at the Kazoku Jogakkō (華族女学校, Peeresses' School). In the beginning, Umeko suffered a cultural shock and found it difficult to readjust to Japanese society and to accept the prejudices and the inferior role women were supposed to play in daily life. Her friend Alice Bacon encouraged her to resume her studies in the United States. In 1889, she attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and St Hilda's College in Oxford to study biology and education. Back in Tokyo in 1892, Umeko continued teaching and founded Joshi Eigaku Juku (女子英学塾, Women's English School), now known as Tsuda College, in 1900.

Alice Bacon

Tsuda Umeko (left), Alice Bacon, Uryū Shigeko, and Ōyama Sutematsu in the United States

The school started with only ten students, but its modern curriculum and liberal atmosphere contributed to its fast growth. It prepared its female students for economic independence as secondary-school English teachers, at that time one of the few socially acceptable occupations for women, and thereby helped transform not only women's higher education in Japan but also women's social status. In 1905, the school was officially recognized as a professional school.

Around that time, Umeko became the principal organiser and first president of the Japanese branch of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). In 1907 and 1913, she revisited the United States to promote cultural and educational exchange between the two countries. Despite her poor health, she continued to work for her school. In 1919, she suffered a stroke and retired to live in Kamakura, where she passed away in 1929 following a long battle against diabetes. She is buried on the grounds of Tsuda University in Kodaira, Tokyo.

Although a pioneer of female education and a staunch supporter of women's social reform, she was not in favour of feminist movements and opposed women's suffrage. The new 5000-yen bill to be issued in 2024 will feature Tsuda Umeko.




  • Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric, Japan Encyclopedia, Harvard 2005
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