Category: Japanese 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.”

Latest Historical Biographies Articles by Carmen Sterba

A Driving Force in the Moderization of Japan: Fukuzawa Yukichi – 29-Jun-12

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.





Latest Asian Literature Articles by Carmen Sterba

Bryr Mawr College Grad Tsuda Umeko

“Bi-Cultural Educator Tsuda Umeko and Her Vision” and

“Wakamatsu Shizuko: From Samurai Orphan to Modern Meiji Woman”

Click on these two articles below:



Basho Meeting Two Travelers by Taiso Yoshitoshi

Click on the three articles below:


Latest World Poetry Articles by Carmen Sterba


Novelist Higuchi Ichiyo honored on the 5000 yen bill

Diary of a Thirteen-year-old Girl in Heian Japan

Hosokawa Yusai and the Armistice of the Sake of Poetry

Modern Realism: The Voice of Higuchi Ichiyo

Look for these titles above in the link for “Asian Literature” or “Carmen Sterba” below:


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.

Church Statue of Hosokawa Gracia

The beloved devotion in Japan to both medieval noblewoman Hosokawa Tama Gracia and 20th century novelist Miura Ayako intersected with Miura’s choice to write a historical novel on Gracia, which was published in Japanese as Hosokawa Garasha Fujin in 1975. The English version is Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife’s Love, Strife and Faith translated by Susan Tsumura in 2004. Unfortunately, neither Hosokawa nor Miura are well known outside of Japan.

There are similarities in the lives of these two highly respected women even though they lived 400 years a part. Both of their lives were shaped by the devastation of war, yet their suffering led to a spiritual awakening, which came about when they dedicated their lives to Christ and became part of a dedicated Christian minority in their own culture.

Hosokawa Tama lived through crisis after crisis. As the daughter of Daimyo Akechi Mitsuhide and the wife of Daimyo Hosokawa Tadaoki, she had to be trained how to bear the life of a samurai woman and know that her life was constantly in danger. Oda Nobunaga, her husband’s Lord, was a conniving and cruel leader. He had set up a shrine for his underlings to worship him. He detested the militant Buddhist priests, though he welcomed the Catholic priests who had come from Portugal and Spain in the 1500s. Nobunaga played everyone and was not to be trusted. However, it was unimaginable that Mitsuhide would assassinate Nobunaga. After the assassination, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had Mitsuhide killed and immediately took over leadership. Usually, the family of the assassin would all be killed, but Tadaoki and his father, Fujitaka, wanted to save Tama’s life by sending her into exile instead.

Another crisis was when Tama made the decision to dedicate her life to Christ through baptism and took the Christian name, Gracia (Garasha). Tadaoki was so angry that he blamed and battered her Christian maids. The next crisis in their lives was when she was taken hostage. Beforehand, Tadaoki and Gracia had discussed what to do if this happened:

“You mean that you are prepared to die?”

“Yes, my lord. Do you remember what I said to you once? You wanted me to give up my belief in Deusu [God]. I answered that I would not obey you in that even if you killed me, but I would obey you in anything else.” (pg. 419)

At the end of WWII, Miura Ayako was devastated by the war and was faced with thoughts of despair and suicide. While in a hospital, she was encouraged by a Christian friend to find hope in Christ, and her life was turned around. Though she had one health crisis after another in the years ahead, her faith never faltered. In spite of all, she became a fine writer. Lady Gracia was Miura’s first historical novel. Though Gracia was Catholic and Miura was Protestant, she must have felt that Gracia was her “sister in faith” and the person she wanted to write about most of all.

It took many years for Lady Gracia to be translated in English. Miura died in 1999. Tsumura’s husband made the suggestion that Susan translate Hosokawa Garasha Fujin. Recently, I was able to arrange an interview with Susan Tsumura:

Susan Tsumura: He suggested Lady Gracia as the one most likely to appeal to Western readers, and since I had read it (long before) and knew the period, I decided on it. I met Mr. Miura fairly early on in the process and gave him a letter about my aims. He said something like, “The important thing is for the readers to understand, isn’t it?” After the publication I greeted him briefly after a talk he gave in Tokyo.

Carmen Sterba: What parts of the historical novel were the most difficult to translate into English (beyond what you noted in your preface)?

ST: Some were straight translation problems–I am not used to describing complicated actions, so I had to work on those. At least there were no battle or fight scenes. Also, I had to work hard on interpreting the non-modern Japanese material. There were lots of poems to both understand and translate, I am sure you can tell I am no poet! I put an emphasis on clarity rather than nuances.

CS: In addition to your sources, did you also rely on your own discernment and instinct?

ST: I relied on sources and my own judgment. One of the most useful books for me was Michael Cooper’s They Came to Japan, which I assume you know. It has translations of some of the material Miura used and lots of information on contemporary customs, as the reason Tadaoki did not fan himself when talking to Hideyoshi (LG p.315) and that when Hideyoshi put the [fish] on the missionaries’ plates (p. 375), it was an honor. Also, when Miura was clearly following a source I tried to find the original. The major ones were Frois’s History of Japan and the Jesuit Reports (for references see the Samurai Archives wiki site) though Miura could not have used those directly since they were not published yet) and Takayanagi’s biography of Mitsuhide . . .

ST: Perhaps the biggest change I made, though it involved only two sentences, was this: Miura assumed that the reader knows Mitsuhide would kill Nobunaga, and states so clearly twice. I could not assume it, and I made the references vague, so it would be as much of a shock to the reader as it was to the characters, though when looking back there were pointers. I think the story works beautifully that way since Miura really develops it. However, at the beginning of the last chapter I left in Miura’s statement that Gracia would die, since I wanted the reader to concentrate on what was happening rather than wasting emotion wondering if she would live or not.

I would recommend this book for all Japanese History buffs. Though I was not able to find it for sale on in North America or Europe, it can be found on the Japanese in English or Japanese.