Who were the first female judo players? When did they train?
Keiko Fukuda was promoted to fifth dan in 1953.
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The paper Reinterpreting the history of women's judo in Japan (2011) discusses in detail the history of women's involvement in judo from its earliest years, and how its style, purpose, and training differed from that taught to men at the time. It notes:
The ﬁrst female judo student seems to have been Sueko Ashiya, arranged by appointment in 1893, therefore 11 years after the establishment of Kodokan. She and all the following female students, including Kano’s wife, Sumako, would learn judo in private, at Kano’s house. The then current concerns with female health are explicit in the story of another student, Kinko Yasuda, who had ill health while young, but allegedly became sturdy and healthy with judo practice.
The author cites Cunningham's Joshi Judo for the claim of Sueka's first pupilage, but notes that there is a paucity of information regarding the early years of women's judo, and that Cunningham's work in particular is non-academic.1
Cunningham's claim is uncited,4 however the earliest reference I was able to locate to this is from Keiko Fukuda in 1973:2
In 1893, Miss Sueko Ashiya, a woman of excellent insight, contacted Professor Kano to request Judo lessons. She was his first female student. At this time, Professor Kano first began to investigate Judo for women.
- Born for the Mat: A Kodokan Kata Textbook for Women, Keiko Fukuda (p.15) (1973)
Note that though Fukuda was born 20 years after the date Ashiya purportedly began studying judo, she was a direct student of Kano and thus likely learned this information from him.
There are very few known documents on the history of women’s judo in pre-war Japan, a situation that calls for further research in the archives at the Kodokan and local judo clubs.
For judo studies about women, the standard references, Svinth, ‘The Evolution of Women’s Judo, 1900–1945’, and Cunningham, ‘Joshi Judo: Origins and Early Years’, are not academic.
This claim was repeated a year later in an interview with Fukuda: Black Belt "A Single Reed that Bends Gracefully in the Wind" (p.29) (Jun. 1974)
Kano accepted his first female student, Sueko Ashiya, after she arranged an introduction in 1893. Kano's openness was not shared in the male-dominated society of Japan, so he taught Miss Ashiya at his home along with his wife, Sumako, and some of her friends. (Sumako gave birth that same year to their daughter Noriko.)
• Joshi Judo: Origins and Early Years (1996)
According to "just another judo page", the first woman judoka was Sueko Ashiya, who started training in 1893, which (if true) would be 11 years after the official founding date of the art:
First female Judo students started to train in Kodokan in late years of 19th century. First Kodokan female student was Sueko Ashiya in 1893 and joshi-bu (woman's section) of Kodokan was open in 1926.
No further reference is given. A direct inquiry to the generally fastidious records-keepers at the Kodokan seems called for to achieve a definitive answer.
Note that women's judo was highly modified, with more emphasis on kata and less on shiai. Women were not allowed to compete in the world championships until 1980, after protracted agitating.