5 Pioneering Asian Women You Need to Know

Celebrating Women's Entrepreneurship Day with businesswomen and innovators who have made waves around the Pacific and Asia

By Google Arts & Culture

Installation view, "Anthology" by JIN Te OkSeoul Design Foundation

Women's Entrepreneurship Day celebrates innovation in business and beyond by women the world over, and the continent of Asia is, of course, no exception. Scroll on to discover five of Asia's pioneering women, from fashion to food, all fighting to promote freedom and growth.

Mi-In-Do' ensemble (1997) by JIN Te OkSeoul Design Foundation

1. Jin Teok

A pioneering fashion designer, Jin Teok is known for poetic silhouettes and an art which marries innovation to a sense of calm. She is regarded as Korea's most important designer.

Installation view, "Anthology" by JIN Te OkSeoul Design Foundation

Her innovative style combines traditional Korean fabrics and weaving with contemporary styles and materials like denim.

Check out the collection and the exhibition, 'Anthology: Jin Teok, Creation of 50 Years', held at Seoul Fashion Week 2016 in honor of a half-century of Jin Teok's work.

UDON HOUSE, Making Udon Noodles (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

2. Kanako Harada

Harada works tirelessly to preserve and spread the tradition of Sanuki udon noodles, not just a delicious dish but a craft which Harada believes needs to be honed and passed on. 

To this end, she opened UDON HOUSE, a hotel in which visitors learn how to make udon and interact with the local communities in Toyonaka, a town in Mitoyo City.

Making Udon Noodles (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Guests learn all of the complex stages of udon production, including stomping! This technique improves the gluten through pressure, giving the noodles their signature chewy texture, and ensuring that udon are always a step ahead of the competition...

UDON HOUSE, Making Udon Noodles (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

As well as keeping the udon tradition alive, Harada's business restored an 80-year-old vacant house, ensuring its links to a rich past. In spreading the udon techniques to more new people than ever before, Harada is also defining the flavor of the future. 

Opening of the First School for Girls by Savitribai Phule and Jyotirao Phule (2016) by Malvika AsherZubaan

4. Savitribai Phule

Though illiterate even at the time of her marriage, Savitribai Phule made it her mission to educate herself. She became a poet, an educationalist, and one of India's most influential and beloved reformers. She is regarded as the mother of Indian feminism.

She was a pioneer of women's education, teaching young girls despite violent opposition. She opposed the oppressive 'caste' system and worked tirelessly for the rights of young people to learn, opening a total of 18 schools for children from all backgrounds.

The Legacy of Savitribai Phule (2016) by Malvika AsherZubaan

Her birthday, the 3rd of January, is marked each year by celebrations and tributes in her schools and across the state of Maharashtra.

Kazuko Ishigaki-San, a representative of Cheerful Mother’s Shop (2019)Original Source: Akita Tourism Guide

4. Kazuko Ishigaki

President of Cheerful Mother's Shop, a farm and wholesalers of rice and vegetable produce with an annual gross of over 200 million yen, Ms. Kazuko Ishigaki is a pioneer of woman farmers. 

She's always ready to sell with a smile!

Kazuko Ishigaki-San, a representative of Cheerful Mother’s Shop, Grilling Kiritanpo (Mashed Rice Stick) (2019)Original Source: Akita Tourism Guide

A particular delicacy at Cheerful Mother's is a Kiritanpo, a mashed rice stick. Ishigaki brought organisation and innovation to a network of farmers' wives across Japan, mobilizing them to work and create, bringing increased gender equality to the future of farming. 

Na Hye-seokGyeonggi Cultural Foundation

5. Na Hye-Seok

The first woman in Korea to live as a professional artist, Na Hye-Seok was as business-savvy as she was brilliant. She was also the country's first feminist writer, gaining notoriety as a critic of the traditional marriage institution. 

Carriage (1896/1948) by Na Hye-seokKorea Data Agency

Na was a fierce critic of the traditional 'good wife' role into which many Korean women were pigeon-holed. She lived her own philosophy of breaking boundaries - in 1921 she held her first exhibition of paintings in Seoul, the first ever by a woman painter.

Her energy and zeal can be seen flashing through the broad, expressive brushstrokes of some of her figurative paintings.

Farm Village (1896/1948) by Na Hye-seokKorea Data Agency

Studying painting in France allowed her to incorporate a European influence, learning techniques of form and light from the Impressionists, and a sense of portent and modernity from Cézanne.

A scene of Seoho Lake in Suwon captured by Na Hye-seok (date of production unknown)Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation

She brought these innovations back to the paintings of her home town, Suwon, advancing modern Korean painting.

She continued to strike out on her own, writing fiercely against the patriarchal establishment up until her death in 1948, and is remembered as one of Korea's true pioneers. 

IWD Header

Want to know more about women in arts and culture? Discover Women in Culture

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps