Yoshioka Yayoi (1871–1959)

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Yoshioka Yayoi (1871–1959)

Japanese physician who was the founder of Japan's first medical school for women. Pronunciation: Yoeshe-o-kah Yah-yo-ee. Born Washiama Yayoi in 1871 in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan; died in Tokyo, Japan, in 1959; daughter of Dr. Washiama Yosai (who introduced Western medicine to his home region); marriedYamada Arata (a German-language instructor), in 1895; children: one son.

The medical profession in Japan was slow to permit women to practice. Though women were allowed to take the qualifying examination for medical practice beginning in 1884, it was necessary for them to obtain much of their medical education overseas. But Yoshioka Yayoi wanted to follow in the professional footsteps of her father and her two elder brothers. In preparation for study in Germany, she enrolled in a German language academy run by Yamada Arata, whom she later married.

Wishing to have a dual-career marriage (virtually unheard of in Japan at the time), Yoshioka opened a medical clinic for women across the street from her husband's language academy. Among Japan's first women professionals, Yoshioka was one of the few to maintain a successful marriage. The Yoshioka home became a center for young, Tokyo professionals, and she was a mentor to women who came to Tokyo to establish their professional careers. In 1900, when the medical school which had previously admitted women reverted to admitting only men, Yoshioka responded. She merged her medical clinic, where she was training women students, and her husband's German-language academy into Tokyo Women's Medical Institute—Japan's first medical school for women.

There was a great deal of public criticism leveled against women who engaged in "grossly unladylike" activities like dissecting cadavers. Yoshioka countered these criticisms through the school's paper, Joikai. During her 53-year tenure as president, the Tokyo Women's Medical Institute (today, Tokyo Women's Medical University) educated more than 7,000 women doctors. Yoshioka also operated a hospital (Tokyo Shisei Byoin) and was an active participant in government organizations. In 1955, she received the Fujin Bunka Sho, the highest award given to women in Japan.


Chieko Irie Mulhern. "Hani Motoko : The Journalist-Educator," in Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, pp. 208–235.

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