Yae Neesima, the wife of Doshisha University founder Joseph Hardy Neesima and one of the first Protestant women in Japan, as well as decorated war nurse, will be portrayed in a forthcoming television series to air in Japan in 2013.
“What the world’s people can learn from Yae would be that she did what they cannot do today,” said Yasuhiro Motoi, professor of the history of Christianity in modern Japan at Doshisha University’s School of Theology in Kyoto.
Motoi, who is an expert on both the early history of the university and the life and thought of Joseph Neesima, has described her life as the “brave story of a pioneer.”
In June, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), announced plans to televise Yae Neesima’s story, inspired by the fact she was born in Fukushima, an area of Japan particularly hard-hit after the March 11 earthquake.
However, the series will not emphasize the religious dimensions of her life. “There is no generally accepted opinion about her faith, which is not documented,” said Motoi. “But in my view, she experienced Christianity first through the influence by her older brother, Kakuma Yamamoto, before Joseph Neesima.”
Born and raised in a family of a samurai gunnery teacher in Aizu in today’s Fukushima, Yae fought in the 1868-69 anti-government civil war, known as the Boshin War, for one year.
Afterwards, she became a teacher at a girls’ school established by her brother in Kyoto. He encouraged her to study Christianity and English with Joseph Neesima, who had become a Christian after studying science and theology during an eight-year stay in the United States.
Six months later, she and Joseph were engaged. Authorities forced her to leave the school and dismissed Yamamoto from his position as the governor’s advisor.
“In those days, Kyoto was the worst and darkest place for Christians,” Motoi said. “It is admirable as a woman that Yae had faith even at the cost of her teaching job.”
One day after her baptism in January 1876, Yae and Joseph were married in Kyoto’s first Protestant wedding.
Yae helped Joseph by teaching women Christian principles at Doshisha, where he was headmaster, and by assisting him in his role as pastor at Kyoto’s first Protestant church.
After Joseph’s death in 1890, she served as a volunteer nurse during the First Sino-Japanese War, from 1894-95, and during the Russo-Japanese War, from 1904-05. She was the first woman outside the Japanese imperial family to be decorated by the government for her contributions as a nurse for Japanese soldiers.