Kishida Toshiko (1863–1901)

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Kishida Toshiko (1863–1901)

Writer and political activist for women's rights, who is known as Japan's first woman orator. Name variations: also known as Nakajima Toshiko; (pseudonym) Nakajima Shoen. Pronunciation: Key-SHE-dah Toe-SHE-koe. Born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1863, into a family of cloth merchants; died in 1901; mother was Kishida Taka ; married Nakajima Nobuyuki (a political activist), in 1884.

Because she had excelled in her study of the Chinese and Japanese classics, Kishida Toshiko was the first commoner to serve as a lady-inwaiting to an empress. She served Empress Haruko , the consort of the Emperor Meiji. Kishida abruptly left court in 1882, however, to embark on a national lecture tour, sponsored by the Jiyuto (Liberal Party). On this tour, she drew standing-room-only crowds of mostly women and gained national fame. In her lectures, she spoke of women as participants in the establishment of a new Japanese society. She criticized the marriage system, in which women had no right to divorce; the concubine system, in which men could have multiple wives; and the lack of educational opportunities for girls. She attacked the traditional, Confucian values popularly expressed in the three obediences, in which women were under the control of their fathers, husbands, or sons throughout their lives. Kishida urged women to become educated as a basis for the promotion of equal rights for women and men. "I hope in the future there will be some recognition of the fact that the first requirement for marriage is education," she wrote. "Daughters must be taught basic economics and the skills that would permit them to manage on their own. Even a woman who expects to be protected during her husband's lifetime must be able to manage on her own, armed with the necessary skills, if he should die." The Peace Preservation Law of 1887, which prohibited women from publicly engaging in political activity (it is thought that Kishida, in particular, was meant to be the target of this law), effectively brought to an end her career of speaking for women's rights. She continued, however, to teach and write for Jogaku zasshi, and was said to have made a fortune in real estate dealings.


Sievers, Sharon. Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983.

Linda L. Johnson , Professor of History, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota