Potential Period Drama Fodder: Umeko Tsuda

For at least a few weeks, with some exceptions, I will be blogging about awesome historical figures who would make EXCELLENT subjects for period films or dramas. Their life stories are not the typical type we are used to seeing in the Western world, but let’s be honest: we need to see different types of stories on screen and different types of stories in books.

C’mon, period film makers. Admit it, you’re tired of remaking Dickens and Austen, too.

We are starting with Umeko Tsuda. Imagine: a Japanese small girl, aged six, who is signed up by her father to join the first expedition of young Japanese girls to be sent to the United States for their education.

It is 1871, not long after the Meiji Emperor has taken on the reins of governing. Japan is hastening to change at a fevered rate to compete with the West and this includes educating their girls in Western ways.

Ume, as she was known then, is the youngest girl. She and the others sail away from Tokyo to San Francisco.

Umeko Tsuda, aged 6, 1871

Ume lived with a childless couple in Washington, D.C, and attended elite schools, learning English, French, Latin, math, science, and music. She stayed in the United States until she was 18 years old.

When she returned to Japan, Ume experienced a considerable amount of culture shock. Picture it: this young woman was sent away from her family to another country. She has lived with Americans for most of her life. She has not seen her own family in years. Returning to a country that is supposed to be hers, Ume realizes that she does not know anything about the place. She has also forgotten most of her Japanese language over the years, too.

She tutored girls at a school in Tokyo for a while, but didn’t enjoy her circumstances and decided to return to the America to attend Bryn Mawr, where she majored in biology and education and graduated in 1892.

Graduating from Bryn Mawr.

She returned to Japan to teach again, but found the level of girls’ education in Japan to be substandard and started her own school, Joshi Eigaku Juku–the Women’s Institute for English Studies–in Tokyo.

Umeko Tsuda died in 1929. The school she founded is still running, now known at Tsuda University, and it is still a women’s college.

Umeko Tsuda is set to be on the 5,000 yen bill from 2024.

Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey From East To West by Janice P. Nimura.
Bryn Mawr

Further Reading:
Tsuda Umeko and Women’s Education in Japan by Barbara Rose
Meiji Maiden: Umeko Tsuda and the founding of higher education for women in Japan by Theresa G. McCue.

2 thoughts on “Potential Period Drama Fodder: Umeko Tsuda

  1. I only like the BBC versions of Austen. No one can do better, in my opinion, so it's best to just elevate the awesomeness we already have. ^_^Umeko's story would make an interesting historical movie. Definitely an inspirational one, but I can see how it could be dramatic as well. Given modern day Japan's focus on education, it's hard to believe that America ever did it better, but I went to public schools.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.