8 influential women and girls in modern Japanese history

By Alexandra Ziminski

In Japan’s greatest and most progressive moments, we tend to overlook those on the sidelines—instrumental but forgotten. More often than not, these integral components are women.

Women have stirred the world into action as writers, artists, politicians, astronauts, entertainers, mothers and advocates—and I think it’s about time we remember their names.

Here are eight Japanese women who have influenced the world.

1. Ichiyo Higuchi

Photo: iStock/solidcolours

You might recognize Ichiyo Higuchi’s face from the ¥5,000 note in your wallet. However, she is renowned as much more than Japan’s first female professional writer.

As with many great writers, Higuchi was never out of the shadow of hardship. After the death of her brother and father, she decided to become a novelist to support her family.

Her work is often peppered with her own experiences and recurring motifs: unrequited love, grief, gender politics and class divides, to name a few. This is especially true in her acclaimed personal diaries, which caught the public’s attention for their untapped honesty in the Meiji Period.

Having a brief but powerful literary career, Ichiyo Higuchi died at age 24 in 1896.

2. Shidzue Kato

Shidzue Kato was deeply moved by Margaret Sanger who advocated birth control and established the Birth Control League in 1931. Photo: Public Domain

Shidzue Kato was the pioneer of the birth control movement and one of the first women elected to join Japan’s Diet. While living in America, she met with Margaret Sanger, a prominent feminist and birth control activist of the early 20th century.

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Yoko Ono..............who did she influence?

Paris Hilton and The Kardashians?

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Ridiculous !

Yoko ono was a Nancy Nobody before she met Lennon

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

John Lennon and the world in general owes a hell of a lot to Yoko Ono's creative genius. Her 1964 book, 'Grapefruit', contains original concepts around 'Imagine' that Lennon later used for his song. Her Art and conceptual exploration of ideas were all things he latched onto in his solo career. Her Art was clever, original and hugely under rated in my opinion. I think Yoko Ono's significance as an artist was substantially damaged by the racist meta narrative that she somehow corrupted and beguiled Lennon with her 'Oriental Ways'.

Utter nonsense. I'm a big fan.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Eh!! How come Megumi Igarashi didn't make the cut?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )


Interesting point of view. You know who always took Yoko Ono seriously? John Lennon.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Tamarama - my thoughts exactly.

Yoko was slighted by the media, public and Beatles fans in general, for no reason other than being herself.

That they couldn't grasp what she was "on about", left them with ignorant derision as their only ploy.

One only has to look at the admiration she has drawn from serious artists, musicians, performers to know that she has had a positive impact.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Japan is absolutely number one in the world when it comes to influential, intelligent, brave and humble women, since Murasaki Shikibu and her Genji Monogatari a thousand years ago. From Meiji until now, the average education of girls in Japans all provinces is formidable.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

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