Reflections on Tsuda Umeko

Reflections on Tsuda Umeko

Pioneer of Women's Education in Japan

Ōba Minako
Translated by Tani Yū

Japan Library series
Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture


¥2,500 + tax

ISBN 9784866581811
210 mm x 148 mm / 264 pp. / March 2021

Japan’s five-thousand yen banknote will have a new face as of 2024, and that face is Tsuda Umeko (1864–1929), who devoted her life to the education of Japanese women. Umeko founded one of Japan’s first schools of higher education for women—a school that later became Tsuda College. Half a century after her death, an old trunk in the college attic was found to contain hundreds of personal letters written by Umeko to her foster mother in America, Adeline Lanman.

Umeko had been sent to America as a young child to learn English and the ways of Western civilization. She returned to Japan at eighteen, completely Americanized and a stranger in her own country. The “attic letters” are a fascinating chronicle of her repatriation to late-19th century Japan, and of her encounters with iconic figures such as Japan’s first prime minister Itō Hirobumi.

This book shows how the passionate young girl metamorphosed into one of Japan’s foremost educators, by following the thoughts of Umeko herself as she recorded them in her letters. The story is told by Ōba Minako, a writer who graduated from Tsuda College and was herself a returnee to Japan after a decade in the United States.

Tsuda Umeko was awarded the 42nd Yomiuri Prize for Literature (1990).

ŌBA Minako
Ōba Minako was born in Tokyo on November 11, 1930. She graduated from Tsuda College in 1953 with a degree in English literature, then married and moved to the United States in 1959 when her husband took a position as a chemical engineer in Sitka, Alaska. She and her family lived there until 1970.

In 1968, her debut novel, Sanbiki no kani (Three Crabs) won the Akutagawa Prize, a prestigious literary prize awarded to new authors, thus opening her way to a writing career. Apart from several dozen novels, she wrote essays, literary criticism, poetry, and a play, and co-edited a number of literary anthologies. She also translated children’s books from English into Japanese and Japanese classics into modern Japanese.

Ōba was awarded numerous prizes, including the Women Writers’ Prize for Garakuta hakubutsukan (The Museum of Odds and Ends) in 1975, the Tanizaki Prize for Katachi mo naku (Without Form) in 1982, the Noma Prize for Naku tori no (Of Birds Crying) in 1986, the Yomiuri Prize for Tsuda Umeko in 1990, and the Murasaki Shikibu Literary Prize for Urayasu uta nikki (Urayasu Poem Diary) in 2003. She played an active role in the Japanese literary world and served as the first female member of the Akutagawa Prize selection committee, vice president of the Japan P.E.N. Club, and head of the Women Writers’ Association. She was elected to the Japan Art Academy in 1991.

A number of her novels and short stories have been translated into Western languages, including the novels Three Crabs, Of Birds Crying, and Urashimaso in English; Träume fischen and Tanze, Schneck, Tanz in German; and L’île sans enfants and Larmes de princesse in French.

Ōba Minako died on May 24, 2007. She was 76 years old.

*information as of time of publication

Japan Library series

Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture

¥2,500 + tax
ISBN 9784866581811
210 mm x 148 mm / 264 pp. / March 2021

ISBN 9784866581934 (ePub)
ISBN 9784866582047 (PDF)

Preface to the English Edition / 1. Return / 2. Dreams / 3. Impatience / 4. Fretting / 5. Indignation / 6. Invitation / 7. Waiting / 8. Connections / 9. Founding / 10. Seedlings / Commentary

"Oba aimed to portray Umeko Tsuda as 'not as a public historical figure, but as a living, breathing woman' in her book. By overlapping her own life with Umeko’s life, she succeeded admirably."

Professor Mayuka Sato, Ph.D.
Musashi University
Japan Forward




Original Japanese Edition


大庭みな子 著

小学館 刊