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Tsuruko Haraguchi (1886 - 1915)

by Miki Takasuna, Tokyo International University

Tsuruko Haraguchi (née Tsuru Arai) was born a wealthy farmer’s daughter, the second of three daughters, in Tomioka, Japan, on June 18, 1886. She excelled in school and graduated from the newly established Takasaki Women’s High School in 1902, two years ahead of the average student. In 1903, she went to Tokyo to study humanities in the Faculty of English Literature at Japan Women’s College, founded in 1901. The word “college” is actually a bit of a misnomer; although a few private women’s schools incorporated the word into their name around the turn of the century in Japan, none was officially acknowledged as a college or university until a new law was enacted decades later in 1947.

During an undergraduate course, Arai was influenced by Matsumoto Matataro, PhD (1865-1943), who had earned his doctorate in psychology from Yale University in 1899. Matsumoto encouraged his students to pursue additional higher education (Ogino, 1983). Thus, after graduation in 1906, Arai prepared to go abroad to continue psychology studies in the United States. In 1907, she left Japan for New York and, in the fall of the same year, entered graduate school at the Teachers College of Columbia University where she became a student of Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1949).

Arai conducted a series of experiments on, for example, mental fatigue, which involved Arai herself do mental multiplication using two 4-digit numbers (e.g., 2,645 by 5,784) or translation of English sentences from a textbook of John Dewey (1859-1952) into Japanese. Five years of research resulted in her doctoral thesis, “Mental Fatigue” (Arai, 1912). Though unpublished, as validation of the importance of her work, the study was referred to in Educational Psychology (1913-1914) by Thorndike and replicated by other scientists as well (Ogino, 1983). When Arai was awarded a PhD on June 5, 1912, it marked not only a personal milestone for her but an historical moment for Japan. She was the first Japanese woman to earn a PhD in any field. On that auspicious day, she also married a Japanese scholar, Takejiro Haraguchi, and departed for a honeymoon in England.

Upon her return to Japan later in 1912, she occupied herself by writing and occasionally lecturing. She published an extended version of her doctoral thesis in Japanese, entitled Studies on Mental Work and Fatigue (Haraguchi, 1914). Meanwhile, she became the mother of a son and daughter. Just before returning to teach at her alma mater, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which led to her death on September 26, 1915, at the youthful age of 29. Her final work, a book appearing posthumously in 1915, was the Japanese translation of Hereditary Genius authored by Francis Galton (1822-1911).

Although Haraguchi’s premature death prevented her from directly influencing any individual, she was a pioneer for Japanese women. Tomi Wada (1896-1993), the second woman psychologist in Japan, also chose to study psychology in the United States after attending Haraguchi’s funeral at Japan Women’s College in 1915. Haraguchi’s life story influenced a Japanese woman film director, Etsuko Izumi, who completed a documentary film, The Life of Tsuruko Haraguchi, in the spring of 2007. In the film, Sayuri Kuranishi, the daughter of Haraguchi, revealed that she did not remember anything of her mother, but her children reprinted her essay, Happy Memories, originally published in 1915, with a new design in 2001. The long manuscript documenting her observations of the cultural differences between Japanese and American women was based on her experiences of life in the United States.


Arai, T. (1912). Mental fatigue. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1912.

Galton, F., translated by Haraguchi, T. (1916). Tensai to iden. [Hereditary Genius]. Tokyo: Waseda-Daigaku-Shuppankai. (In Japanese.)

Haraguchi, T. (1914). Shinteki sagyo oyobi hirou no kenkyu. [Studies on Mental Work and Fatigue]. Tokyo: Hokubunkan. (In Japanese.)

Haraguchi, T. (1915). Tanoshiki omoide. [Happy Memories]. Tokyo: Shunjusha-Shoten. (In Japanese.)

Ogino, I. (1983). Tsuruko Haraguchi. Tokyo: Ginga-Shobou. (In Japanese.)

Thorndike, E. L. (1913-1914). Educational psychology. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Date created: 2013