Organized Panel Session
In 1901 the fundraising campaign of well-known educator Naruse Jinzō (1858-1919) resulted in the creation of Japan’s first women’s university. His mission to educate Japanese women as “human beings,” “individuals,” and “Japanese” became foundational for Japan Women’s University (JWU) and the movement for women’s higher education. However this narrative overlooks another key figure who contributed significantly to the vision guiding the establishment and development of that institution. Naruse struggled to secure funds until Hirooka Asako (1849-1919) stepped in as the principal benefactor. Born into a prominent, traditionalist merchant family that forbade women from studying, Hirooka defied her parents and educated herself surreptitiously. With wealth from her self-made mining, banking, and insurance empire, Hirooka helped found JWU. Furthermore, beyond financial contributions Hirooka left her mark on the character of the school with her conviction that women’s higher education should cultivate “self-awareness,” “practical knowledge,” and service to the “family and the state.” She visited the campus, spoke before students like future renowned feminist Hiratsuka Raichō (1886-1871), and lectured about women’s education in addition to writing in periodicals. In contrast to Naruse, however, scholars have essentially ignored Hirooka Asako—even after a fictional 2015 Japan Broadcasting Company TV drama pulled her from obscurity. Using Hirooka Asako’s autobiography, journal articles, lectures at JWU, and other sources, this paper explores the origins of her view that women deserved broad, practical higher education. It then analyzes that outlook’s place in the development of JWU and within larger debates about women and learning in imperial Japan.