Category: World Biographies

Ukiyo-e by Hiroshige  Library of Congress, U.S.A.

Ukiyo-e by Hiroshige
Library of Congress, U.S.A.

by Carmen Sterba

American Commodore Matthew Perry’s black ships reached Yokohama during 1853, when Japan was isolated for 250 years from any kind of interaction with the West, including trading. Soon after Perry negotiated trade treaties with the Tokugawa government, ships came from Britain, Russia, Holland, France and elsewhere to sign treaties for trade and to allow Westerners to live in Japan. Fifteen years later, the Tokugawa shogun retired under pressure, the new Emperor Meiji moved into the Shogun’s castle in newly named Tokyo and the Meiji Era began. Modernization hurled ahead at astounding speed. One of the biggest changes was the adaptation of new technology from the West. Among many other changes was the establishment of schools for girls and young women.

First Japanese Girl’s School Founded in Japan

Famous Translator in Meiji Era Japan

Famous Translator in in Meiji Era Japan

The first girl’s school was founded by Mary E. Kidder, an American missionary in Yokohama in 1870. The first graduate of Ferris Girl’s School was translator and writer Wakamatsu Shizuko (1872-1895). Her life is the saga of an orphan from a proud samurai family. She was educated at a Christian school, learned English, became a teacher at Ferris, and found that translating Western literature was her forte.

Wakamatsu was her hometown, so Shizuko later chose this name for her pen name as a translator. The truth is that her name had been changed several times once she became an orphan. Her father had fought with the Aizu Clan against the imperial forces during the Meiji Restoration, was defeated, imprisoned and believed to have died. When her mother died two years later, Shizuko was adopted by a family in Yokohama.

Missionary Mary Kidder’s Favorite Student

At that time Miss Kidder taught English lessons in the home of the missionary James C. Hepburn who published the first Japanese-English dictionary and translated the Bible into classic Japanese. Later, when Shizuko’s father surprisingly returned alive, she began to board at Miss Kidder’s school. According to author and Japanese literature professor Rebecca L. Copeland, “[Mary] took special care of Shizuko, inviting her into her home and giving her a taste of the maternal love the child had craved. Moreover, Christianity gave Shizuko a sense of familiar fellowship and self-worth.” After graduating, Shizuko first taught at Ferris.

Modernist Meiji Literary Circles

Copeland reiterates, “Shizuko’s life resembled a random interweaving of various cultures. beliefs, classes and circumstances.” With her bi-lingual education, knowledge of both Japanese and Euro-American literature, the life as a writer and translator suited her. Soon Wakamatsu Shizuka became known in the Meiji Literary Circles among Koda Rohan, Higuchi Ichiyo, Mori Ogai, Miyake Kaho, and others. S

Wakamatsu the Translator and Children’s Literature

Wakamatsu had definite goals in her article writing and translations. As a writer, she was influenced by the morals of Chinese Confucianism and American Puritanism. She chose themes and books for translation which would inspire Japanese girls and women. Her most famous translation was Little Lord Fauntleroy. And, though she also translated portions of Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Longfellow and other luminaries, she preferred children’s literature. Since Wakamatsu had lost her childhood during a time of unrest, it must have been a solace that she could use her talent for poetical English and classical Japanese in her translations. Her greatest legacy is how she inspired the new genre of children’s literature in Japan.

Christians in the Meiji Era 1868-1912

In addition, she began a column for foreign missionaries in Japan to nurture their understanding of Japanese culture. Wakamatsu’s life and work was one of sensitivity and moderation between Anglo-American and Japanese cultures. Although she was educated in a progressive style for women of her time and held strong Christian beliefs, she was always proud of her Japanese language, classics and traditions. She became a role model on how to balance the lure of Western culture and not lose the best of Japanese culture in the midst of modernization. As a historian, Anna Hartshorne wrote during the Meiji era, “the country [Japan] can make such radical changes and yet retain its own intense individuality.”

In 1889, Shizuko married Iwamoto Yoshiharu. It was a modern ‘love marriage’ and they had much in common since they were both writers and Christians. E.S. Booth, a principal at Ferris observed that Shizuko “was a new woman in the highest and best sense.”

Ferris University in a New Era

Even now, the Christian schools that began with the wave of Japanese modernism are still standing over one-hundred years later. Ferris grew to be one of the most respected female educational institutions. The legacy of Mary E. Kidder is now both Ferris Girl’s School and Ferris University. During the four years I taught at Ferris University in Yokohama, I admired the president of the university, Mr. Toru Yuge whose speeches at graduation inspired the women graduates to have high standards and exceed their expectations; Kidder and Wakamatsu would have approved. The motto of Ferris University is “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4.


Copeland, Rebecca L. “Behind the Veil: Wakamatsu Shizuko and the Freedom of Translation,” Lost Leaves: Women Writers of Meiji Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

Hartshorne, Anna. Japan and Her People, eds. Brent Massy and Christopher West, Jetlag Press, 2007.

Historian Marius Jansen put Fukuzawa on a pedestal in The Making of Modern Japan, “Beyond the voyage of 1860 and the time of his death in 1901 Fukuzawa earned recognition as nineteenth-century Japan’s foremost modernizer. Founder of Keio, destined to become Japan’s first private university, commentator on cultural and public matters in a never-ending series of essays and books, his influence permeated every aspect of Meiji life.”

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Photo by Carmen Sterba on Jan 2007.

Abbess Kakusan founded Tokeiji as a convent used as a sanctuary for women in distress. Naahime (Tenshu) escaped death at Osaka Castle and was spirited away to the safety of this sanctuary in Kamakura.

One of the most popular temples in Kamakura, for both Japanese and overseas tourists, is Tokeiji, the first sanctuary for women in Japan. It was a 10 minute walk from my home to this temple. There I first learned how samurai women had found safety in its Pine Grove Forest. In 1285, Lady Horiuchi, of the Adachi clan, established Tokeiji convent after the death of her husband Hojo Tokimune, the 8th regent of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333).

In the beginning, the women who arrived there were victims of clan wars. However, when peace came to the country at the beginning of the Tokugawa (or Edo) period in 1600s, the women who arrived at the gates were mostly townsfolk who desired shelter from abusive husbands and in-laws.

Women Hostages and Runaways

Horiuchi took vows as a nun right before Hojo Tokimune died; she became Abbess Kakusan Shido. Tokeij’s convent lasted almost 700 years before being changed into a monastery. One of the reasons she used the convent as a sanctuary was that during infighting between the Hojo clan and the Adachi clan, part of her family was killed. The person responsible was her own son, Regent Hojo Sadatoki. It was a grueling aspect of the medieval period to experience the sudden break up of clans with families killed and women taken hostage. Women were also taken as hostages for political marriages. It was within this environment that Kakusan decided to use her convent as a sanctuary for women.

Kakusan (with Sadatoki) petitioned the emperorfor those who were in distress. According to Sachiko Kaneko Morrell in Zen Sanctuary of the Purple Robes, the petition stated, “being treated unjustly, some commit suicide or take other extreme measures. I request that this humble temple code provide that if such women reside in this convent for three years, the marital relationship will be severed.” Later, it was later changed to two years. The sanctuary continued until the convent was changed to a monastery in 1902 after women’s shelters and legal courts for divorce were established.

The Granddaughters of Hideyoshi and Ieyasu

Before Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi died in 1598, he requested Tokugawa Ieyasu and other daimyo to guarantee the safety of his son, Hideyori. Ieyasu broke his promise. In 1614-5, there were two sieges by Tokugawa forces against Hideyori at Osaka Castle where his wife Senhime, Ieyasu’s granddaughter; his mother, Yodogimi; and his children lived. Among those who rallied around Hideyori, were samurai who had converted to Christianity in the late 1500s and early 1600s before the persecutions of Christians grew. There were also samurai who were loners (ronin). Ieyasu and his son, Shogun Hidetada, won the battle with their greater strength of forces.

As Osaka Castle began to burn, Hideyori and his mother prepared for suicide as Senhime and her stepdaughter, Naahime, were allowed to leave the castle before it burned. Knowing that Tokeiji was a sanctuary, Senhime made sure that arrangements were made for the seven-year-old and some of her maids to escape by palanquin from Osaka to Kamakura. Unfortunately, Naahime’s eight-year-old brother was beheaded by the Tokugawa.

The Trauma of a Young Girl

What could it have been like for the small girl to be torn away by the death of her family and the only place she knew? Her ride to Tokeiji and safety was necessary so she would not be taken hostage or killed. As the palanquin was carried along the seaside route to Kamakura, what images of the battle and fire raced through her mind? Nahime only knew that she would become a nun at a forest temple for the rest of her life.

Sources from Catholic Priests and English Tradesmen

Japan experienced the arrival of Portuguese and Spanish priests in the 15th-17th centuries, as well as traders from England and the Netherlands. Some of them wrote diaries. One shipwrecked Englishman, Will Adams was able to establish a relationship with Ieyasu. He learned Japanese, became a samurai and a landowner in the Yokosuka. There was a yearly excursion to Edo for the priests and traders from Nagasaki in the south. Richard Cocks, the head of the East India Company, reported in his diary that he and Will Adams (as interpreter) passed through Kamakura on their way to Edo in 1616. Their remarks about the small daughter of Hideyori living at the Tokeiji convent were copied as the following (which was originally in Old English):

“The little daughter of Lord Hideyori took the tonsure to be a nun in Tokeiji, only to save her life, for it is a sanctuary & no justice may take her out.”

Richard Cock’s Diary entry for October 18, 1616.

The Hori Incident in History and Anime

Naahime was named Tenshu Hotai and eventually became the 20th abbess of Tokeiji. An alarming incident happened which shows her strength and courage. A daimyo, Kato Akinari was a cruel and decadent man who was outraged by advice from his loyal retainer, Hori Mondo. Hori sent his wife and children to Tokeiji for safety and hid from Kato. When Kato’s assassin arrived at Tokeiji, Tenshu refused to let the women them go. The assassin left because no man could enter the gate of Tokeiji’s sanctuary. There is a manga on the Hori Incident. It is greatly sensationalized, but the part about Tenshu and her continued correspondence with Senhime is quite accurate.

Abbesses Kakusan and Tenshu are exceptionally courageous samurai women. There is little written about women in medieval history. Legends of samurai women have been passed down and repeated in The Tales of Heike and other literature, but Kakusan and Tenshu were real people who studied, prayed, wrote poetry and helped other women who had no place to run to. In fact, Tokeiji is called the “run to temple” (kakikomidera).

This article is copyrighted by Carmen Sterba and first appeared in Suite 101 Online Magazine and Writer’s Network on May 15,2011.


Morrell, Sachiko K and Robert E. Morrell. Zen Sanctuary of Purple Robes: Japan’s Tokeiji Convent Since 1285, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Rozmus, Lidia and Carmen Sterba, eds. The Moss at Tokeiji: A Sanctuary for Women in Kamakura (1285-1902), Santa Fe: Far North Press, 2010.

Tokeiji Official Website, Retrieved from

Joseph Hardy Niijima

Niijima Jo, Founder of Doshisha College and Husband of Yamamoto Yae

Niijima Jo, a young samurai risked his life to travel to America before the Government of Japan allowed it and came back as a respected leader.




Pa Jin wrote Family, a modern classic novel in 1931, which is still well read today. The author was influenced by his study in France, classic Russian literature by Leo Tolstoy and plays by Hendrik Ibsen. This “coming of age” novel appeals to Chinese youth.


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While still living in Kamakura, a friend told me about a Buddhist temple that had sheltered Japanese Christians about 400 years ago, so we immediately walked to Koshoji. The friendly priest offered to show us the cross that was attached beneath the thatched roof of the temple gate. Then, he shared an elaborate European candlestick in the shape of a cross. As we heard the story of the Hidden Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) who had been sheltered there during the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), we made comparisons with stories of Christians who hid Jewish people in their homes during the Nazi occupation of Europe. This meeting was a real moment of east/west unity for the three of us.

The Arrival of Spanish and Portuguese Missionaries on Japanese Shores

Beginning with Francis Xavier’s arrival in 1549 on Japanese shores, Portuguese and Spanish missionaries began to teach and evangelize to the extent that these years are often referred to as “The Christian Century”. According to scholar Michael Cooper, “It has to be borne in mind that if Europe was interested in Japan, so Japan was also interested in Europe.” Many of the missionaries like the Portuguese Fr. Luis Frois became fluent in the Japanese language and customs; thus, they were invited to speak with the military rulers of the land, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi HIdeyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu or Hidetada.

Two of the Most Famous Japanese Christians

The priests established seminaries and also taught Western “theater, singing, music and painting.” In 1582, four young Japanese converts traveled with Jesuits on a ship to Lisbon and Rome. As the years went by, there were up to 100,000 or more Japanese who were baptized, including samurai and townspeople. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were fairly tolerant of the foreign priests in the beginning.

Takayama Ukon was one of the most outstanding Catholic converts (Kirishitan). Hideyoshi often partook of the tea ceremony with Ukon and foreign priests. One day, Ukon heard from some priests about a very cultured woman who had visited their church to ask to be baptized. She quoted from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. Intrigued, they sent someone to follow her home and found out she was Hosokawa Tadaoki’s wife. She had formerly lived in exile after her father, Akechi Mitsuhide, assassinated Nobunaga. During that time, she had become inspired by her Christian maid, Maria. Once she moved back with her husband, he would not let her leave the house because of her beauty; thus, Ukon advised Tamako to be baptized at home with Maria as a proxy. Afterwards, she was known by the Christian name of Gracia (Garasha). Though Tadaoki had an interest in Christianity, he was livid about his wife’s baptism.

The Beginning of Martyrdom

Ukon had been tested by Hideyoshi to give up his faith and to stop his evangelizing. When he refused, Hideyoshi took away his lands and position, so for a while, Ukon went into exile until he was in favor again. In 1597, Hideyoshi ordered the death by crucifixion of 26 priests and converts in Nagasaki. Ukon had been on the list, but had been crossed out.

In 1600, When Tadaoki was away, Hosokawa Gracia and other samurai wives were taken hostages in a ploy for power. Gracia refused to give in and was probably killed by the hand of one of the Hosokawa retainers to preserve her honor by order of her husband. There are conflicting reports about whether she was killed or committed suicide; however, the priests believed it was the former, not the latter.

Christianity was Banned in Japan for Over Two-hundred Years

After Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun, Ukon was expelled from Japan, sent to the Philippines, and died in 1615. The same year, Ieyasu conquered Osaka Castle where Toyotomi Hideyori’s support included Christian warriors and Western priests. In the following years, the third shogun, Iemitsu banned Christianity. By 1643, Westerners were expelled and trade with Europe was halted (but trade with the Dutch was allowed on one island). All Japanese Christians were told to recant their belief or be tortured to death. Christianity was outlawed for over 250 years, yet there were those who went underground, the Hidden Christians.

The First Protestant Missionaries and the Return of the Catholic Fathers

After American Commodore Matthew Perry landed in 1853 on his black ship, various treaties for trade and allowing foreigners to live in port cities were made with the Japanese government (bakufu). Soon afterwards, Protestant and Catholic missionaries arrived. In 1865, a church was built in Nagasaki at the location of a church in “The Christian Century.” A few Japanese approached the French priest, Fr. Petijean. They asked about Jesus and Mother Mary. These were descendants of the Hidden Christians who had passed on their tradition from generation to generation.

The Meiji Restoration in 1868 ended feudalism and the 250 years of the Tokugawa military government. Three years later, the Meiji government planned the Iwakura Embassy as a fact-finding mission to the USA and 17 countries of Europe. A plea to revoke the edits against Christianity, was one of the results of Japanese leaders meeting with heads of state across the world. Soon after the Iwakura Embassy returned to Japan, the 250 years of prohibition ended.

Kunitake, Kume. Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA and Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 2009.
Kuno, Akiko. Kirsten McIvor trans. Unexpected Destinations: The Poignant Story of Japan’s First Vassar Graduate. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993.
Miura, Ayako. Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife’s Love, Strife and Faith. Tokyo: IBC Publishing, 2004.