BMC honors Tsuda centennial

In 1871, the Japanese government sent 6-year-old Ume Tsuda to the United States as part of a delegation to study the role and education of American women. The youngest of the five girls in the mission, Ume eventually was the first Japanese student to attend Bryn Mawr (1889-1892). Bryn Mawr was her model and M. Carey Thomas her inspiration when she founded one of the first private institutions of higher education for women in Japan in 1900, The Women’s Institute for English Studies (Joshi Eigaku Juku). Known since 1948 as Tsuda College (Tsuda Juku Diagaku), it has maintained a close relationship with its western sister through the exchange of students.

Bryn Mawr has held a yearlong celebration of Tsuda’s centennial, with special lectures and commemorative events. On behalf of the College and President Nancy J. Vickers, Susan L. MacLaurin ’84, President of the Alumnae Association, attended the October 7 centennial ceremony in Kodaika, Tokyo, presenting a silk banner (at right) made by Fine Arts lecturer Emma Varley and theater designer and technical director Hiroshi Iwasaki, assisted by students.

Bryn Mawr also purchased two cherry trees that were planted in Fairmount Park during the Cherry Blossom Festival of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia in March, 2000. One tree was dedicated to Umeko Tsuda on the 100th year of the founding of Tsuda College; the other honors Elizabeth Gray Vining ’23, who tutored and then maintained a lifelong friendship with Emperor Akihito. Bryn Mawr also facilitated two Japanese documentaries of Umeko Tsuda’s life last spring and summer.

At a November 14 symposium on Japanese Cities and Architecture, five scholars discussed architectural planning topics, with special reference to issues of Tokyo. The event offered members of the community an opportunity to discover another culture and to reflect on their own.

Roman Cybriwsky of Temple University discussed the mixed signals in the way Tokyo presents itself to the public. The city "goes out of its way to put forward an ultra-cosmopolitan, modern face," which it is constantly renewing, but in a "great magic act" can suddenly transport the visitor to traditional neighborhoods.


"Umeko Tsuda: Study Abroad," by Tadashi Moriya, owned by Tsuda College. The painting depicts the five
girls gazing at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge from their ship, the America. Umeko is second from the left.

Tokyo has been rebuilt three times in the last century alone, after the Kanto earthquake, after the bombings of 1945, and through redevelopment during the real estate boom of the 1970s-early 1990s. Yet it still reflects its former shape as the castle town of Edo, built in a spiral around the Shogun’s palace.

Extreme public order persists in this chaotic city sprawl, and highly conformist behavior alongside extremely individualistic architecture. And although there is long tradition of public gatherings in Japan, Tokyo’s public spaces aren’t as truly public as they used to be, Cybriwsky said. "What looks public is actually private, under surveillance. Many new public spaces actually lack any members of the ‘public,’ they are ill-fitting places that are empty save for good-looking street furniture, where people come to pose for photographs."

Carola Hein, assistant professor in the Growth and Structure of Cities Program, discussed "Planning Vision and Visionaries in Japan" at the symposium as well as at a November 15 Center for Visual Culture Weekly Colloquium: "Dissolving the Metropolis: Neighborhoods in Japan, A Model for Western City Design?"

Hein had gone to Japan to study visionary plans developed for the post war reconstruction era, but found only few. The word "vision" in its positive western sense does not have an exact translation in Japanese, she said, corresponding more to "phantom." Instead, the Japanese say "bi-jon," writing it in a special syllabary used mainly for foreign loan and onomatopoeic words. Urban planning is understood primarily as providing infrastructure and as a pragmatic instrument for the organization of city space rather than as a long-term and large-scale process that takes socio-economic development and aesthetics into consideration.

Hein said that however chaotic the Japanese city may seem to westerners, elements of its traditional neighborhoods should be preserved and offer models for the west. Distinct "blocks" consist of dwellings along two sides of a shopping street, closed by gates, that can often be reached by a subway station. Each block has its own police box. The narrow alleys of the neighborhoods are safe for playing children and the streets for bicycling adults, who often work in the neighborhood. The Japanese street address system is so cryptic that outsiders must seek directions from the police, who also closely monitor the block’s inhabitants, ostensibly for safety and evacuation purposes.

"It is not the architectural design that makes a neighborhood livable but how it is connected to the social network," Hein said. "In Japan, this includes a mixture of residential types, from private houses to small apartment blocks, and different social and age groups in same neighborhood, not as segregated as in the United States."

Other symposium speakers were Cherie Wendelken of Harvard University on the avant-garde Metabolist movement, which peaked in 1958-61. The Metabolists rejected any visual reference to the past, seeing architectural works as natural growth forms in progress. Tetsuo Tamai of Chiba University discussed "Castle Towns in Japan—Edo/Tokyo as a Case Study," and Jeffry Diefendorf of the University of New Hampshire compared reconstruction planning in postwar Germany and Japan.

On November 15, Meera Viswanathan, associate professor of comparative literature and East Asian studies at Brown University, addressed the "knotty" question of modern Japanese women’s literature from the Meiji restoration (1868), which followed Admiral Perry’s forced opening of Japan in 1853, to the present.

Cosponored by the Brown Club of Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr College, Viswanathan chose her topic, "Modern Japanese Women’s Literature: From Blue Stockings to Mountain Witches," to honor Umeko Tsuda, telling the audience: "She has had more impact on modern Japanese women and women writers than any of us can imagine."

One thousand years ago, Japan had perhaps the world’s greatest tradition of literature, written by a group of court women in the Heian period, but modern writing by Japanese women is categorized separately as "women’s literature." "Yet it is truly great," Viswanathan said.

"I want to disabuse you of the idea that Japanese women have not been interested in feminist issues, that they have been docile, doll like creatures," she said. Their discussions about women’s identity and women’s literature have been extremely diverse, encompassing a range of views from those that underscore the importance of environment and possibility in shaping women to those that are concerned with an essential difference of women and its meaning. Viswanathan recommends beginning with two anthologies, To Live and To Write: Selections by Japanese Women Writers 1913-38, edited by Yukiko Tanaka ed., and Japanese Women Writers, edited by Noriko Lippit and Kyoko Selden.

Unique destiny of Umeko Tsuda
Ume Tsuda was the second daughter of a low-ranking samurai, Tsuda Sen, who was so disappointed by her birth that he stormed out of the house. Although he himself had visited the United States and was impressed by American technology and democracy, it is likely that he volunteered Ume for the delegation as an expendable family member (her elder sister was adopted by an uncle) or in order to gain prestige with the new government.

Ume lived and studied for 11 years in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., raised as a beloved daughter by Charles and Adeline Lanman, who were childless. She chose to convert to Christianity and graduated from the Stephenson Seminary and the Archer Institute, both small private schools where she was praised for her scholarship and studiousness. When she returned to Japan in 1882, she had forgotten Japanese and had to reeducate herself in the culture.

At this time reactionary forces in the government were trying to reinstate neo-Confucianistic policies dictating that women should be only generally educated to become "good wives and wise mothers." Shocked by the low social and educational position of women, Ume determined never to enter a regular Japanese marriage, seeking only one based on love and mutual respect.

In 1885, Ume was hired to teach English at the Peeresses’ school established by the Imperial Household. She began to realize her "unique destiny" to prepare Japanese women for new lives and roles but needed more education to achieve her goal. Before leaving the United States, she had been introduced to a Philadelphia Quaker, Mrs. Wistar Morris, who brought her to the attention of President Rhoads of Bryn Mawr. At the age of 24, in 1889, Ume enrolled at Bryn Mawr with more graduate than undergraduate status. She studied English literature, German, philosophy and biology, and excelled academically, particularly in science. Her Bryn Mawr paper, "Orientation of the Frogs’ Eggs," was published in The (British) Quarterly Journal of Microbial Science (1894). Ume was offered a fellowship to stay on to pursue her degree, but felt obligated to her government to return.

While at Bryn Mawr, Ume also developed her skills in public speaking and fundraising. With Mrs. Morris’ help, she established an American support network for Japanese women’s education, starting with a scholarship fund for Japanese women to study abroad.

Just as M. Carey Thomas had demanded that Bryn Mawr students meet the same standards as Harvard students, so too Ume Tsuda’s college would adopt the highest, most rigorous standards of Tokyo University, the premier institution for men.

In 1902, Ume became legally independent of her family and modernized her name by adding the character ko (child), becoming Umeko. This may seem contradictory to contemporary women, but was a fashionable practice among women of her background. Although she was criticized by feminists for advocating ladylike decorum while opposing activist groups and women’s suffrage, Ume’s goal was to produce a women’s elite—professionally skilled and economically independent women working as high school English teachers, one of the socially acceptable occupations for women. Tsuda College, which has sent more than 22,000 highly capable women to all walks of life, is using its centennial as a springboard into another future. "In the twenty-first century, our global community will face many grave, multinational issues—protection of the environment, an expanding population, scarce resources—which call for a concerted effort and the wisdom of all, regardless of gender, generation or nationality," says President Naoko Shimura. "In such an era, women will need to transcend the past objective of gender equality and participate more positively in society and make their own unique contributions."

Centennial commemorative projects include building The Umeko Tsuda Center, which will be the site of workshops and various public lecture series to promote open academic inquiry. The center will be equipped for distance learning programs. All facilities on campus will be refurbished, including the remodeling of the former president’s house as a guest house for exchange programs.

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