History of UT Women
Last updated: 19 March 2022
Michiyo Tsujimura, born in Saitama in 1888, was raised in a family of nine. Her father, the principal of an elementary school, encouraged his daughters to become teachers. After graduating from high school in 1909, Tsujimura entered the Division of Science of Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School (now Ochanomizu University), where she studied under Kono Yasui and developed an interest in research. However, students were required to teach after graduation, and so from 1913 Tsujimura taught for 7 years in Kanagawa and Saitama.
Hokkaido Imperial University, in a liberal move for the time, began accepting women into a non-regular course in 1918, and 32-year-old Tsujimura seized the chance to become an unpaid research assistant in the Food and Nutrition Laboratory. In 1922, she transferred to the Department of Medical Chemistry, School of Medicine, Tokyo Imperial University (now UTokyo), for research on vitamins and proteins in ginko seeds. However, her lab was destroyed in 1923 by the Great Kanto Earthquake. She is said to have escaped from her research building mid-experiment, clutching her experimental scales.
Tsujimura then transferred to Riken, where she worked on vitamins in green tea at the request of her new supervisor, Prof. Suzuki Umetaro, the renowned discover of vitamin B1. At Riken, Tsujimura discovered that green tea contains large amounts of vitamin C, helping to raise Japanese tea exports to the US, and she also isolated the four chemical compounds responsible for its astringent taste. Aged 43, she submitted her findings to the Tokyo Imperial University and became the first Japanese women to receive a Ph.D. of agriculture in 1932.
She was appointed as Professor of Food Chemistry at the newly-created Ochanomizu University in 1949, also becoming the first Dean of its Faculty of Home Economics. Both reflect that although research opportunities for women were slowly growing, they remained concentrated in fields related to home-making. By contrast with Kono Yasui, Tsujimura built a successful research career without studying overseas.