The story of this Japanese woman changed her country forever

This powerful woman became Japan’s first college-educated female and changed the lives of Japanese women forever, sacrificing her own happiness. Read on to find out more about this inspiring story.

Before 1868, Japan was in a reclusive feudal state for 250 years. The country was isolated from the rest of the world. When the Meiji emperor came to power, the Japanese society started changing and moving to a Westernized form.

She was left all alone

Shortly after, the girls were separated. The eldest two (aged 16) gave up and returned home. Yamakawa and the other two girls spent another several months in the USA together – they were so afraid they only communicated with each other and didn’t learn any English.

Yamakawa was sent to a foster home and got a new name

All girls were sent to different families in the end. “Sutematsu” was a difficult name to pronounce for Yamakawa’s new guardians, so they gave her a new one – Stemats. Later she was sent to public school.

Sutematsu Yamakawa decided to change the situation

Yamakawa and the other two girls she was sent to the USA with - Shige and Ume - decided to work towards opening a school for girls in Japan. They had a common goal and a plan, but they didn’t have money.

Yamakawa married a man she didn’t love to pursue her dream

Ōyama Iwao was the Imperial Japanese Army general. He was 42 years old. He was a widower and had three children. He married Sutematsu in 1883.

Her new surname was Ōyama, which means “Great Mountain”

And the things Sutematsu did were great. First, she opened a school for noble women. As now she was close to the empress, she became a gossip target. Then her stepdaughter died of illness, and the society blamed Sutematsu. Everyone called her a villain. She was isolated from the people of her country again. But she continued working. She wanted to spread the knowledge and give every woman of her country a choice.

Have you ever heard this story before? Do you know any other interesting facts from women's history? Did Sutematsu's experience inspire you?

We are waiting for your comments!!

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What are your thoughts on this subject?
I've never heard of this. This is an amazing story about an amazing woman! This is a story that EVERYONE needs to know!
Sep 5, 2018 8:16PM
Betty Wiendels
Historically interesting! This Japanese woman was very brave and very well educated and helped many women education wise in Japan. Very inspiring!
Mar 28, 2024 4:23PM
Doris Dallaire
Had never heard of her. But she was a brave woman for sure.
Nov 20, 2022 9:38PM
Buddhadeb Pal
I think every country has one Sutematsu who worked for women emancipation through education between 18 and 19th century.
Jul 16, 2022 1:22AM
What an inspiration to all women. I describe all people.
May 10, 2022 9:35PM
What a woman.
Mar 17, 2021 9:03AM
Maria Merrydew
I had never heard this story before. She was a very brave and strong women.
Aug 6, 2020 1:17AM
Rafi Manory
Japan is still quite behind in women education and employment.
Oct 28, 2019 7:51PM
Philomena Lobo
No. Did not hear this story before. Quite an eye opener
Oct 17, 2019 4:59AM
Cheryl McMeekin
Very interesting story, never heard of her.
Sep 12, 2019 11:12AM
Joshua P. Hatcher
Education is the backbone of the human race.
Aug 28, 2019 8:38PM
Patricia Holt
Another historical subject to research. Very interesting.
Aug 27, 2019 1:29PM
Marian Spitzig
Very brave woman. I have never heard this story. Thanks.
Jul 17, 2019 7:56PM
Linda Stegall
Very interesting. Had know idea.
Jul 11, 2019 6:48PM
Lorraine Ribera
Great story
Sep 6, 2018 11:48PM
Andoy Angeles
It is something every woman who have the courage to make a difference must emulate!
Sep 6, 2018 3:27PM


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