History of the YWCA

The story of the YWCA of Japan over 100 years is that of women being repeatedly affected by the turmoil of the changing times, yet it is also the women who have the power and potential to lead towards a society where everyone is safe and respected.

Birth of the YWCA of Japan

The YWCA was created by women in the midst of major historical changes – the Industrial Revolution in Britain and the Meiji Restoration in Japan. In Japan, Christian women founded the YWCA of Japan in 1905 with the help of secretaries and missionaries sent by the World YWCA, and joined the World YWCA the following year.

Supporting young women

The main target of the YWCA of Japan’s early work were students, with the aim of empowering young women and helping them become self-reliant. The first Shuyokai (major gathering for training) was held at Aoyama Jogakuin in 1906. Thereafter, school YWCAs were formed one after another, mainly in Christian schools throughout Japan.

In addition, the Tokyo YWCA, as well as the Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe YWCAs, which were established in the 1910s, started their own activities to support female factory workers and rural women who were forced to work under inhuman conditions as a result of rapid industrialization. Among other things, the survey of the actual situation of women in factories and rural areas was a significant work which was also submitted to the ILO. The “House of Friendship”, built in Nagoya for working women, led to the later establishment of the Nagoya YWCA.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 burnt down the buildings of the YWCA of Japan, Tokyo YWCA and Yokohama YWCA, but the YWCA immediately started relief work for those affected by the disaster.

Torn by the waves of war

The Asia-Pacific War, which began in July 1937, cast a heavy shadow over the YWCA of Japan’s activities. While the whole of Japan was under strict control and the whole country was required to cooperate in the war, the YWCA continued to send out its message of international peace until the last minute it was possible. However, in 1940, the YWCA of Japan ceased communications with the World YWCA, losings its characteristic as an international organization, and distorting its values as a Christian organization, including publishing war-cooperative articles in its official newsletter.

Becoming a movement for peace

After the Japan’s defeat of the war, the YWCA of Japan, in a strong will never to repeat the disastrous war again, drastically changed its nature from its former focus on social service to an organization working for peace. Local YWCAs were established in various regions, many of them small YWCAs without buildings or staff, and they took advantage of their nimble capacity to develop an active movement in the communities.

In the 1960s, when nuclear testing resumed amid the conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, and discourse calling to change the Constitution of Japan that renounces war grew stronger in Japan, the YWCA conducted a ‘Christians and the Constitution’ conference in order to protect and enhance the Constitution, and continued to hold a ‘Conference on Constitution’ as an annual nationwide YWCA conference for the next 40 years.

At the National General Assembly in 1970, under the slogan “Standing on the principle of rejecting ‘nuclear'”, the YWCA set as a pillar of its movement the call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the elimination of nuclear power, questioning the nature of modern civilization and the restoration of human freedom and dignity. The following year, in 1971, the organization launched the ‘Pilgrimage to Hiroshima’ as an implementation of this principle.

Since then, we have continued to work consistently for peace, including tackling the issue of Japanese “comfort women”, connecting with and supporting women in Palestine, building grassroots peace through international youth exchange and dialogue in cooperation with the YWCA of Korea and the YWCA of China, and participating in the Hibakusha International Signature Petition calling for the enactment of a Nuclear Weapons Convention. 

After the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011, with the slogan ‘For the safety and security of women and children’, we have been carrying out support activities for survivors  of the earthquake, tsunami and the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, as well as questioning our dependence on ‘nuclear’ and working towards a nuclear power-free way of life.

Under the situation of COVID-19, which has spread worldwide since the beginning of 2020, the YWCA of Japan as well as local YWCAs in Japan are working hard to create safe spaces for women, especially young women, who tend to be placed in difficult positions such as social and mental isolation.

1855Two women in the United Kingdom started activities under the name ‘YWCA’.
1894World YWCA established
1905YWCA Japan established
1906First Shuyokai (training session for women)
1923Provided relief for victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake
1925First National General Meeting
1940Under the Asia-Pacific War, Ceased exchanges with the World YWCA during the Asia-Pacific War.
1945Japan’s loss of World War II; the YWCA’s focus shifted to striving for peace.
1962‘Christians and the Constitution’ conference held; thereafter ‘Constitution Study Group’ held for 40 years.
1970Adoption of the slogan: “Standing on the principle of rejecting ‘nuclear'”.
The YWCA of Japan YWCA of Japan decided to join open to its membership to any women of all faiths..
1971Start of ‘Pilgrimage to Hiroshima’.
1993Start of Japan-Korea Youth Conference
2011The YWCA of Japan took on Support and recuperation programs for survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident
2012Establishment of YWCA activity space ‘Carlo Fukushima’ in Fukushima City.
2013Transformed into a public interest incorporated foundation(公益財団法人)
2015Proposal and adoption of the resolution ‘Equal denial of nuclear weapons and nuclear power’ at the 28th World YWCA General Assembly
2019Received Special Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC
2020Start of 33rd quadrennial term



YWCA(Young Women’s Christian Association)is an international NGO where, upon a Christian foundation, women from around the world exceed the barriers of language and cultures and work together to encourage women’s participation in society and to realize a peaceful world where human rights, health and environment is protected. The movement began in Great Britain in 1855, and nowadays, it works in more than 100 countries throughout the world. The YWCA of Japan works with 24 local YWCAs and 37 junior and senior high-school YWCAs, and holds ESOSOC consultative status since 2019.