Kimi Takagi, A Trailblazer for Women’s Education in Modern Japan
SPICE's newest online course, Stanford e-Eiri, seeks to continue her vision “to educate women to become trusted and productive members of the society.”
Era of Enlightenment
“It is said,” a Japanese social theorist and educator, Yukichi Fukuzawa, wrote in his best-selling book An Encouragement of Learning (1872–76), “that heaven does not create one person above or below another.” His philosophy upheld that all are created equal. Through his influential writings, Fukuzawa criticized the ill conduct of men towards women as uncivilized customs of feudal society and argued for equal ownership of family property. He envisioned that women’s self-protection must start with the provision of general education followed by basic knowledge of economics and law (Nishikawa, 1993, p. 9). While such ideas of equality and enlightenment may sound commonplace in this day and age, they represented progressive thoughts in 19th-century Japan where people had lived for hundreds of years under archaic norms. His writings and speeches played an immensely important role in introducing and disseminating Western ideals. Some two million copies of the volume were sold (Koizumi, 1966, p. 20). Historian Andrew Gordon maintains that Fukuzawa’s visions represented the “most important intellectual voice … of the entire Meiji era” (2002, p. 80).
A Girl in Yokohama
Many say that birthplace deeply influences the person you become. Yokohama at the time was rapidly growing as one of Japan’s first designated ports under the Harris Treaty (1858) where foreigners could reside and trade. Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the area flourished as Japan’s foreign trade grew, and in 1889 the city of Yokohama was established. Watching her hometown quickly evolving from a port town into a trading epicenter, Kimi Takagi must have felt the breeze of modernization and enlightenment. In 1892, Takagi was among the Japanese adolescents who crowded the Port Opening Memorial Hall to hear Fukuzawa speak. His notion of dokuritsu jison (independence and self-esteem) struck a chord with the 15-year-old adolescent so profoundly that she felt determined to “find a way to make my own mark in the world,” a sentiment that Takagi later shared in the first newsletter of the school that she would go on to found (Takagi Academy, 2008, p.4).
Takagi’s enlightenment was almost crushed by the customary gender expectations of Japan’s remaining filial piety. Born in 1881 as the oldest daughter of 13 children, Kimi was expected to serve her parents and help raise her younger siblings. Japan had introduced its compulsory public education in 1872, however, gender-based inequality still prevailed. In 1892, the enrollment rate for girls remained less than 50% while it was 80% for boys. Male students could go on to attend middle school (7–11th grade) and high school and college. Female students, on the other hand, could only proceed to koto jyogakko, secondary school for girls, which primarily focused on equipping women with domestic skills such as sewing and housekeeping rather than the general education that boys received (Harrington, 1987). Only 5% of school-aged girls were able to receive secondary education through the end of the 19th century (Gender Equality Bureau).
Woman of Will, Woman of Entrepreneurship
Takagi summoned up her courage and told her parents that she wanted to attend a secondary school in Tokyo. Not surprisingly, her wish was immediately turned down by her parents who expected her to help them with the family’s prosperous textile dyeing business. Takagi persisted. “Dearest parents, please imagine that your eldest daughter is already deceased,” appealed the young go-getter with a desperate gaze. With that resolution, Takagi enrolled herself at the Tokyo Girls Sewing School (now Tokyo Kasei University), marking her first step toward her independence. Indeed, Takagi walked the walk, following through her promise to pay for her own secondary education by earning her three-year tuition through extra sewing jobs she would pick up through graduation.
Her hard work and determination earned job offers at two prestigious institutions for women in Kyoto and Yamagata. They came with her principal’s reference, a testament that Takagi excelled at school. What impresses me most is her decision to turn down such respected opportunities to start a new school. She later explained how her gut feeling whispered to trail-blaze her own path instead of “letting yourself serve as an employee.” Her instinct was to go directly against the persisting bias that women were attributed to men and the existing structures that men created. Instead, Takagi envisioned herself as an independent and productive member of modern Japan who could stand on her own feet. With her precocious entrepreneurial spirit, the 23-year-old educator founded Takagi Women’s Academy in 1908. Initially a small sewing tutorial class, Takagi’s initiative to provide quality education to women continued to grow through the Taisho and Showa era, and her class grew into an institution with over 500 students. Takagi’s founding vision “to educate women to become trusted and productive members of the society” celebrated a centennial as it continued to live on as the motto of Takagi Academy.
Launch of Stanford e-Eiri
As the Takagi Academy celebrated its 112th year, Stanford e-Eiri was launched in August 2020 in collaboration with SPICE. The online course to explore the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflects the vision of Chairperson Akiko Takagi (left), great-granddaughter of the founder, who succeeded the school’s leadership in 2008 from her late father. Renaming the school as Yokohama Eiri Girls’ High School, Chairperson Takagi aims to cultivate female leaders who can innovate and contribute to global society. SPICE’s Stanford e-Eiri utilizes principles of design thinking and inquiry-based pedagogies as the foundation of the course. The inaugural class consisted of 14 high school juniors who bravely took on the challenge to design and lead lessons on SDGs of their choice. Collaborating with their teammates, the students developed, strategized, and facilitated informative classes. Over the course of four months, these globally minded adolescents explored topics of environmental sustainability, urban health, circular economy, educational inequality, and local and global hunger. The students were also asked to critically assess issues that intersect with gender and inequality. The lecture-based portion of the course culminated with a talk on the history and ecosystem of Silicon Valley, as a prelude to the students’ upcoming cross-cultural exchange with American students from an all-girls school in the San Francisco Bay Area.
While not widely known, ceaseless efforts by visionary female leaders have paved the path of women’s education in Japan. Kimi Takagi was one such trailblazer. We hope that Stanford e-Eiri will serve as the platform for more women to follow suit and make their own marks in the world.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Eiri faculty: Ms. Akiko Takagi, Chairperson; Mr. Tatsuo Yamazaki, Principal; Mr. Katsuo Ban, Dean, iGlobal Division; Mr. Minoru Shimura, Assistant to Dean and Teacher, iGlobal Division. Special thanks go to Chairperson Akiko Takagi, who provided valuable historical accounts of Kimi Takagi, including the audio recording of her speech delivered during the academy's 50th anniversary in 1958. Last but not least, my heartfelt congratulation goes to Chisa, Hana, Kaho, Kinari, Mei, Miu, Momoka, Nene, Reika, Rinon, Shiori, and Yuka for taking on the challenges and successfully completing the course. The inaugural class will always have a special place in my heart.
As always, I thank all of my colleagues at SPICE for their support and encouragement throughout the process. I am greatly indebted to Dr. Gary Mukai for providing me this invaluable opportunity.
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Gender Equality Bureau, Japanese Government website
https://www.gender.go.jp/about_danjo/whitepaper/r01/zentai/html/column/clm_03.html [access date, January 28, 2021]
Yokohama Archives of History
http://www.kaikou.city.yokohama.jp/journal/100/index.html [access date, January 28, 2021]