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Part 5: New Japanese Women as Comrades — Fujinkai

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The 1920s began with the success of American women’s suffrage movement, and, around this time, a new type of Japanese woman came to Chicago, almost as if sucked in by the energy of the incredible American women of those days. These Japanese were liberal women educated under the social influence of the Taisho democracy in Japan. Yone openly welcomed these forward-thinking women from Japan.

From lett to right: Mrs. T. Matsumoto, Miss T. Koga, Mrs. M. Shimadze, and Miss K. Tsutsumi. Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1920.

In June 1920, Mrs. T. Matsumoto, Miss F. Koga, and Miss K. Tsutsumi, all visiting from Japan, joined Yone for a citizenship class at the Woman’s City Club and learned how to vote.1 The Woman’s City Club of Chicago was organized in June 1910 “to initiate and coordinate the participation of women in Chicago’s civic affairs and to promote the welfare of the city.”2

We cannot be sure who Mrs. T. Matsumoto was, but Miss F. Koga was Fuji Koga,3 principle of the Homei Kindergarten affiliated with Japan Women’s University in Japan, who was on a tour to visit and learn from kindergartens, reformatories, and juvenile courts in the US. She was familiar with Chicago because she had stopped in Chicago on her way back to Japan in September 1890 after coming to the US to study at a kindergarten training school that had been founded by Miss C. C. Vories in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1887.4

When she returned to the US in 1904 for further study in Boston, she enrolled in the Department of Education at the University of Chicago in 19055 and trained at the University of Chicago kindergarten.6 She was the first Japanese woman to study at the University of Chicago.

In 1920, Koga visited Merry Crane Nursery at 818 Gilpin Street in Chicago and was impressed with its excellent facilities, especially the way it placed beds in open air on top of the building.7 As an educator, in praising the rooftop beds, in spite of the fact that Chicago was notorious for its polluted air, did she actually think that the educational benefits of these outdoor beds outweighed the danger from air pollution? The other woman, the K. Tsutumi listed above, was Kotomo Tsutumi, who was an assistant professor at Nara Women’s Normal School, who had been sent to college in Wisconsin by the Japanese government.8

Was Yone a member of the Woman’s City Club of Chicago when she brought the other three Japanese women to class in June 1920? It is not clear which year Yone joined the club, but starting in about 1921, she was the only Japanese member of the Woman’s City Club of Chicago.9 As “the club grew from 1200 members in its inaugural year to over 4000 in 1920,”10 we can speculate that she was impressed with her experience at the previously mentioned citizenship class and decided to join the club. Yone’s participation in a meeting of the Woman’s City Club in 1921 was noted in the Chicago Tribune, which reported that “she was much impressed with the efficiency of the balloting system.”11 We can assume that she maintained her membership in the club until she left Chicago with her husband in 1934.

In 1929 Mrs. Matsuoka also joined the Woman’s City Club.12 Mrs. Shizuko Matsuoka was the wife of Tokichi Matsuoka, president of the Japanese Association and owner of the Oriental Trading Co, importer and wholesaler of Japanese goods, which opened in the early 1920s in Chicago. Local Japanese praised her membership as an example of the pioneering spirit of Japanese women, who usually hesitated to venture into white society.13 But she was only a member for one year because Matsuoka’s business moved to New York City in 1930.14

Mrs. Yaeko Kuwashima Yomiuri Shimbun, April 8, 1922

When a general meeting of Fujinkai was held in March 1921, the officers elected were Mrs. Yaeko Kuwashima, wife of Japanese Consul Kazue Kuwashima, as honorary president, Mrs. Violet Nagashio, wife of Minoru Nagashio, as president, Mrs. Mercelia Chino, wife of Haruka (aka “Gen”) Chino, as vice president, Mrs. Gloria Kiyohara, wife of Mitsuji Kiyohara, as secretary and Mrs. Ishizuka, wife of Akira Ishizuka, as treasurer.15

Minoru Nagashio started a bamboo furniture business at 498 West Madison Street in Chicago around 1900, and his store grew to become Nagashio & Co in 1904.16 He married an American woman, VioletMandeville,in June 1908 in Chicago. While Minoru continued his furniture business at 1923 West Van Buren Street until his death in February 1926, Violet worked as a confectioner at the same address17 and used the Japanese name Sumire for herself.18 Sumire is the Japanese translation of “violet”, which might be evidence of Violet’s efforts to assimilate into the Chicago Japanese community.

Haruka Chino came to Chicago some time before 1910 with his wife, Mercelia Hicks, and his son Yoneo, who was born in Missouri.19 He and Mercelia had met at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, married, and settled down there. Moving to Chicago and working first as tea “solicitor” for the Jewel Tea Company,20 his business grew into a wholesale Japanese goods import company.21

Mitsuji Kiyohara was the secretary of Shinzo Ohki of Oriental Show-You Co., a soy source manufacturer at 208 North Wabash in Chicago.22 Gloria Sakae Ota married Kiyohara in January 1921.23 She was Chicago born Nisei.

Fusae Ichikawa, 1933

In October 1921, suffrage and labor activist and founder of the New Woman’s Society (Shin Fujin Kyokai) Fusae Ichikawa came to Chicago from Japan. Although she stayed in Chicago for only a year, she seemed to have a strong influence on Japanese women in Chicago. She placed “situation wanted” ads in the Chicago Tribune several times, advertising “Japanese School Girl-near Hyde Park, write F 5007 Dorchester”24 and “Japanese girl for private family, good exp, good city ref.”25 

While working as a “schoolgirl” for several homes, she attended a free school for immigrants, visited the Woman’s City Club with Yone, visited the headquarters of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), listened to a speech at Jane Addams’ Hull House by Jeannette Rankin, the first woman to hold federal office in the US, and participated in meetings of Women’s Trade Union League of Chicago and other progressive groups.26  Ichikawa sent reports to the media in Japan on the activities of the League of Women Voters, on a speech by Nancy Astor (the first British woman seated as a member of Parliament) and on various aspects of American women’s social and political activities.27 

In addition, Fusae Ichikawa led the Japanese Female Students Group, which deliberated on the future of young Japanese women.28

Hide Inoue, 1931

In February 1922, Hide Inoue came to Chicago and stayed at the JYMCI.29 While in Chicago, she founded the Japanese Woman’s Peace Society of Chicago, a branch of the Japan Women’s Peace Association of Japan,30 at the residence of Sakae Kiyohara (3106 East 83rd St). Yaeko Kuwashima, wife of Consul Kuwashima, was chosen as chairperson. The aim of the group was to promote international friendship for the purpose of building world peace.31 

Besides Yaeko Kuwashima, Sumire Nagashio and Mercelia Chino were also members of this new group.32 And Sumire Nagashio was a member of both the Japanese Woman’s Peace Society of Chicago and the Women’sInternational League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).33 The group had sixteen members of Japanese and American women and held monthly meetings to make speeches and give lectures.34

After studying at the Chicago Normal School, University of Chicago35 and Teachers College at Columbia University36 between 1908 and 1910, Hide Inoue became a peace activist and professor of home economics at Japan Women’s University. She led the Japan Women’s Peace Association, which was founded in Japan in 1921, and affiliated with the WILPF in 1924. Its aim was “to educate women with regard to the issues of internationalism and world peace, and to cooperate with other organizations for similar aims.”37 She was also one of the promoters of “A Federation of Girls’ School Alumnae” founded in Tokyo in 1918.38 

Inoue was in Chicago on the way back from the international conference of the Women’s Committee for World Disarmament held in Washington D.C. in November 1921. Having been invited to the conference by Emma Wold, the Committee Chair, Inoue gave a speech about the role of Japanese women as a representative of the Japan Women’s Peace Association at the conference.39

In Chicago, in addition to organizing the Japanese Woman’s Peace Society of Chicago, Inoue attended a convention of the National Association of Deans of Women held at the Blackstone Hotel on February 23, 1922.40 After listening to speeches by representatives of Chicago League of Women Voters and the Woman’s Trade Union League at the convention, Inoue sought a role for educated Japanese women to play in improving the situation of women around the world.41

Those women—members of Fujinkai and the Japanese Woman’s Peace Society of Chicago—were very active in their meetings; they discussed developing a closer relationship with Americans, as well as planning events to promote social reform. The Pageant of Progress was a great opportunity for these women to get involved in Chicago society as members of Chicago’s women’s clubs.

The Pageant, held at Municipal Pier (now Navy Pier) under the auspices of the Illinois Federation of Women’s clubs, from August 1 to 5, 1922, had a series of shows called “Good Will Tour of the World” at the Edgewater Beach Hotel,42 and the show on August 2 was called “Japan Day.” Several Japanese women and children participated in the event; for example, Mrs. Tanaka performed Shigin, a recitation of Chinese poems, and Michitaro Ogawa (aka Ongawa) performed traditional Japanese dance.43 This “Mrs. Tanaka” may have been Itoko Tanaka, wife of Shigeaki (aka Nariaki) Tanaka, a dentist who had just graduated from the Chicago College of Dental Surgery in June 1922.44

In an effort to promote international friendship, on January 3, 1924 a joint event of Fujinkai and the Japanese Woman’s Peace Society of Chicago was held at the Japanese YMCA (747 E 36th Street): a New Year’s dinner party to entertain foreign students in Chicago. Students from China and India, Hawaii, Japan and representatives of the University of Chicago and Northwestern University enjoyed the well-attended party.45 

Fujinkai president Sumire Nagashio also invited Jane Addams to the party.46 Although Addams could not come to the party due to health reasons, she sent greetings to the students, which were very much appreciated. Sumire emphasized the importance of the party in her letter to Addams, suggesting that it would “promote good-fellowship among the students and bring about a better understanding, not only between the students, but between the countries they were from and that was one step toward Peace.”47

Read Part 6 >>


1. Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1920.

2. The Encyclopedia of Chicago, page 884.

3. Misaki Shimazu, List of Visitors to the US Chicago Japanese YMCA.

4. Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1890; Noriko Kawamura, American Women Missionaries at Kobe College 1873-1909, page 155.

5. Annual Register 1905-1906.

6. Chosen Shimpo, February 24, 1907.

7. Nichibei Shimbun, February 10, 1921.

8. Yomiuri Shimbun, May 9, 1922.

9. Membership List 1928-29, 1930-31, 1931-32, Woman’s City Club of Chicago Bulletin May 1928, 1929 & 1930. Yomiuri Shimbun January 25, 1922.

10. The Encyclopedia of Chicago, page 884.

11. Chicago Tribune, April 19, 1921.

12. Woman’s City Club Bulletin, May 1929.

13. Nichibei Jiho, April 20, 1929.

14. Nichibei Jiho, March 8, 1930.

15. Nichibei Jiho, March 5, 1921.

16. 1905 Chicago City Directory.

17. 1916 Chicago City Directory.

18. Sumire Nagashio’s letter to Jane Addams dated December 13, 1923, Janes Addams Papers Reel 15.

19. Robinson, The Great Unknown, page 28, 1920 census.

20. Robinson, ibid.

21. Nichibei Jiho August 27, 1921.

22. 1923 Chicago City Directory.

23. Cook County Marriage Index

24. Chicago Tribune, October 30,. 1921.

25. Chicago Tribune, December 4, 1921.

26. Ichikawa Fusae, Ichikawa Fusae Jiden Senzen-Hen, page 100-113.

27. Yomiuri Shimbun, January 24, February 3, 4, 12,13,14,15,21,28, April 25, May 26, July 6, 14, 1922

28. Nichibei Jiho, April 8, 1922..

29. Misaki Shimazu, List of Visitors to the US Chicago Japanese YMCA.

30. Sumire Nagashio’s letter to Janes Addams dated December 13, 1923, Jane Addams Papers Reel 15; Nichibei Jiho, April 8, 1922.

31. Chicago Tribune, February 27, 1922.

32. Nichibei Jiho, April 8, 1922.

33. Sumire Nagashio’s letter to Janes Addams dated December 13, 1923, Jane Addams Papers Reel 15.

34. Nichibei Shimbun, November 19, 1922.

35. Annual Register 1909-1910.

36. Charlotte De Forest, The Woman and the Leaven in Japan, page 189.

37. Ibid.

38. De Forest, The Woman and the Leaven in Japan, page 105.

39. Inoue, Hideko, Fujin no Me ni Eijitaru Sekai no Shin-Choryu, page 21.

40. Ibid, page 39.

41. Inoue, Fujin no me ni eijitaru sekai no shin-choryu, page 39-48.

42. Chicago Tribune, August 3, 1922.

43. Nichibei Jiho, August 26, 1922; Takako Day, “Michitaro Ongawa: The First Japanese American Chicagoan,&rdquo (Discover Nikkei, December 7, 2016).

44. Oshu Nippo, March 12, 1924; Consul Kazue Kuwashima’s letter to Foreign Ministry dated October 28, 1922, Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 3-11-1, The Dentos 1922, Chicago College of Dental Surgery, Loyola University School of Dentistry.

45. Nichibei Jiho, January 19, 1924.

46. Nagashio’s letter to Jane Addams dated December 13, 1923, Janes Addams papers Reel 15.

47. Nagashio’s letter to Jane Addams dated January 8, 1924, Jane Addams Papers Reel 16.


© 2023 Takako Day

activism Chicago fujinkai (women's club) Illinois Japanese Woman’s Peace Society of Chicago political rights social action suffrage United States women's clubs
About this series

Throughout the history of Japanese immigrants/immigration to the US, women have been treated as secondary citizens, existing only in the shadows of men. This series describes the Japanese women's community in pre-war Chicago, Illinois, a community that was organized by a bilingual Japanese Christian woman, that involved various kinds of women in Chicago and from Japan, and made significant contributions to the larger Chicago community.  

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About the Author

Takako Day, originally from Kobe, Japan, is an award-winning freelance writer and independent researcher who has published seven books and hundreds of articles in the Japanese and English languages. Her latest book, SHOW ME THE WAY TO GO HOME: The Moral Dilemma of Kibei No No Boys in World War Two Incarceration Camps is her first book in English. 

Relocating from Japan to Berkeley in 1986 and working as a reporter at the Nichibei Times in San Francisco first opened Day’s eyes to social and cultural issues in multicultural America. Since then, she has written from the perspective of a cultural minority for more than 30 years on such subjects as Japanese and Asian American issues in San Francisco, Native American issues in South Dakota (where she lived for seven years) and most recently (since 1999), the history of little known Japanese Americans in pre-war Chicago. Her piece on Michitaro Ongawa is born of her love of Chicago.

Updated December 2016

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