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The Education of Japanese Women: Yesterday and Today

Andrée Maheu, CND, and Agnes Ngo Nken, CND

In Japan, where higher education began late, there were two models at the beginning of higher education for women.

The first model was created by the first European and American Christians when they came to Japan. At the time, education was focussed on teaching English. Our CND school belonged to this model.

The second model was created by a pioneer named Umeko Tsuda. In 1871, at the age of 6, she went to the United States and received her education in Washington DC. Following her education, she returned to Japan and worked as a teacher in a school for women that was reserved for so-called noble women. Umeko realized that the education offered there was outdated. It focussed on helping the women become good wives and good mothers.

In July 1900 Woman’s English School, now called Tsuda College, opened. It was a small school in which education was free for all. In this school, the focus was on education for all women.

These progressive high-level courses were to be given for free. This would be the foundation of modern education for women.

After the Second World War, all the male colleges became coeducational. In 1946, the University of Tokyo welcomed its first 19 female students. These women were brave pioneers entering an all male university and trying to make a better life for themselves. They had to climb a steep slope to find their place in the toughest university in Tokyo. Their first subject of negotiation with the president of the university was the installation of women’s washrooms.

Even though it was a coeducational school, there was a significant difference between the environments in which the students received their education. While the entrance exams were identical, there were inequalities. It was very difficult for girls to succeed. Out of 298 students, only 2.1% were women. Those who did succeed had trouble finding their place in society. They were a burden on society. Furthermore, the education they obtained did not meet their needs.

Then a university for women was created. It was marked by a specialized environment that enabled the female students to pursue higher education. Education was divided into two categories: liberal and professional. Professional education included such skills as those of child care and of nutritionist, whereas liberal education provided skills in communication, linguistics and information technology.

Since the 1980s, the attitude of the female students towards social sciences has improved.

Challenges for the Future Education of Women

Japan is a society in which gender gaps still exist. In 2018, it ranked 110th on the gender gap index. Currently, the percentage of women in managerial positions is low. In coeducational schools, the odds of a female student becoming director are half as high as in an all girls school. However, any female students can become director of a school for girls. Colleges for girls offer an environment where it is possible to focus on student life without worrying about the opposite sex. In the future, emphasis must be placed on developing leadership in women.


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