Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Empower Women from the Educational Pioneers

One of the summer homework assignments in Japan is a book reflection.  You read an assigned book and write about it.  It includes a summary and your own responses.  Reading an assigned book was not my favorite thing.  In fact, I didn't like to read books in general.  But I enjoyed thinking and writing.  The catch was that this writing piece could be the ticket to winning the Book Reflection Contest in the fall.  Needless to say, I never missed this assignment.  Thus, even though I have been away from this assignment since my middle school years, the cycle of "read, reflect, describe (discuss and/or write)" has remained as a habit within me.

It is sadly true that I didn't really read much during my twelve years of public education.  Reading for joy was not emphasized or encouraged very much.  I was good to go if I comprehended text from the text books.  I never questioned it until my senior year in high school.  Without my friend who introduced to me her favorite books, I wouldn't have been a reader at all.  Thanks to her, I LOVE reading now!

Here I am, picking up the book, Daughters of the Samurai A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura (not an assigned book).  Though I knew a little about Ume Tsuda, the founder of the prestigious Tsuda College in Japan and a Japanese Female Education Advocate from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, I didn't imagine this book would give me so much information about her journey and accomplishments with her fellow female leaders.

Some intriguing facts are that the main three women (Ume, Stematsu, and Shige) were born into the traditional Samurai Families and experienced the terrible bloody situations during the Japanese Revolution War.  Although the Confucius society allowed males to have more opportunities such as education, the Japanese new government decided to promote Women's education by sending young girls (their age ranged from 7 to 14) to America to receive the Western education.  The Japanese officials expected these girls to bring their knowledge back to Japan and teach women so that the country would become stronger. Women's education was quite a radical idea especially back then in the male dominant society.

Sending seven year old girls (without parents!) to a foreign country was another crazy idea, especially when Japan opened the international commercial port just a few years prior to it.  Then, they don't come back for ten long years?  No wonder why they never felt at home in their own native land when they returned.  Despite the struggle, Ume founded her own school which provided superior Western education to all women regardless of their family rank with help from Sutematsu and Shige.

After both Sutematsu and Shige married wealthy military men shortly after their return from America, their contribution to the new Japanese society was amazing.  Shige especially, I would like to mention, was a wife, mother of children, and a professional pianist and teacher.  Of course, she could afford nannies and servants because of her husband's military rank and wealth. Being a working mother in the early 1900s sounds very impressive compared to the national norm of women's states.

Here is my question.  I remember learning of the Japanese new government sending "males" to study abroad as the Iwakura Mission.  However, my history text books and High School history teacher never mentioned that the Iwakura Mission took five young girls as a part of their mission.  I was even in the girls' only High School!  It is ironic for me to learn about these historical and courageous Japanese female leaders in the 21st century in the U.S.  How powerful it would be if young girls all over the world (not just in Japan) learned about historical female leaders and their journey.

According to some resources such as the Gates Foundation, Chelsea Clinton, and Emma Watson ,  still, women's education is lacking globally.  My summer reading, Daughters of the Samurai, gave me important opportunities to understand the history details, reflect on my own experiences, and open a door to look at the subject from multiple points of view.