In 1868 Japan embarked on the Meiji period, which led its previously isolated society to modernize and have a much greater connection with the wider world. This period delivered fundamental changes to the country’s social structure, economy, foreign relations and education. During these times, diplomatic voyages like the Iwakura Mission became possible. The mission’s goal was not only to deal with diplomatic affairs overseas, but also to study educational systems and structures of the United States and Europe. Because of this mission, the first Japanese woman was able to get a college degree.
Sutematsu Yamakawa, born in 1860, was only 12 years old when she became one of the five young women to travel to the U.S. with the Iwakura Mission. However, according to the story she didn’t have a say in the situation, and was forced to go to the unfamiliar land against her will. Sutematsu’s brother signed her up to go to America without asking her, in order to have fewer mouths to feed in the family.
Sutematsu had never left Japan before, and she spoke not a word of English. And yet she was thrown into a foreign environment with four other girls. They all were terrified and tried to keep to themselves. Gradually, they were separated and sent to different foster homes.Despite the rough start, Sutematsu persisted. She did very well academically and got excellent grades at school. She was the only girl in her class to go to college. Sutematsu became the most educated Japanese woman of the time.
After a decade in the U.S., she headed back to Japan. The young woman was eager to change her country. She paired up with other two girls who were sent abroad and began to pursue a common goal: opening a school for girls. To achieve this goal Sutematsu had to marry a man she did not love. But her sacrifices paid off. She managed to open the school and later helped to fund a women’s college.Read this beautifully illustrated story about an inspiring woman below.
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