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   wikimedia.org

Famous Translator in in Meiji Era Japan
wikimedia.org

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.

References

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.