“As there are no precedents for women to enter the Imperial University, this is a serious incident that must be discussed thoroughly”

On August 16, 1913, Tōhoku Imperial University (now known as Tōhoku University) became the first Japanese university to admit female students. The university allowed four women to take the entrance examinations at its discretion. The Ministry of Education sent a letter, stating that, “As there are no precedents for women to enter the Imperial University, this is a serious incident that must be discussed thoroughly” and demanded an explanation. The university ignored their demands and accepted three of the four, Chika Kuroda (March 24, 1884–November 8, 1968), Raku Makita, and Ume Tange. They became the first female baccalaureates and spent several years as junior assistants and graduate students. Chika Kuroda and Ume Tange received their degrees in chemistry and Raku Makita in mathematics.

Japanese Women in Science and Engineering: History and Policy Change

Kuroda graduated from the Women’s Department of Saga Normal School and taught for one year before going to the Division of Science at the Women’s Higher Normal School and went on to enroll in a graduate course there. She completed the course two years later and became an assistant professor at Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School (now Ochanomizu University), before continuing her studies at Oxford. After returning to Japan, she became a worked for her mentor Rikoh Majima at Riken as a non-tenured part-time researcher, working with safflower pigments. In 1929, she became the second woman to received a Doctor of Science degree in Japan, the first being Kono Yasui who received hers from Tokyo Imperial University in 1927.

Her research on onion skin pigment contributed to developing Keruchin C, a drug to treat high blood pressure.

Japanese Women in Science and Engineering: History and Policy Change

After graduate school, Tange went to the United States where she received her Ph.D. in agriculture from Johns Hopkins University in 1927. On returning to Japan, she became a professor at her alma mater, Japan Women’s University and worked at Riken under Umetaro Suzuki researching vitamins.

Japanese Women in Science and Engineering: History and Policy Change

Makita also returned to her alma mater Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School to and joined the faculty. But she resigned her position when she married Heizo Kanayama, a Western-style painting artist.

Tōhoku Imperial University had the highest female enrollment among the imperial university system and women were in the law, liberal arts, and science departments. In 2001, the university established the Gender Equality and Multicultural Conviviality to promote gender equality, and adopted the Tohoku University Declaration for Gender Equality the following year and incorporated the Tohoku University Gender Equality Encouragement Prize, also known as the Sawayanagi Prize, named for the first President of Tohoku University, Seitaro Sawayanagi, who was instrumental in the allowing the first female students to enroll.

In 1999, the Kuroda Chika Prize was established to encourage female researchers in their scientific research and careers. 45 have been awarded over the last 15 years. The prize is awarded by the Aoba Society for the Promotion of Science, a group of mainly Faculty of Science alumni, which honours a female graduates who have produced outstanding achievements during their scientific doctoral studies. This prize is awarded to female students selected from the whole doctoral cohort across the Graduate School of Science and the Graduate School of Life Science at Tohoku University. This prize was founded in 1999 to encourage female researchers in their scientific endeavors and careers, and 45 female students have been awarded over the last 15 years.

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