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Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from…
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Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back (2015)

by Janice P. Nimura

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A fascinating book on a story I knew nothing about. This book follows three daughters of samurai as they are sent to study in America during the transitional period of 19th century Japan. My favorite parts of this book are the opening sections that outline the Japanese history of the closed world of the samurai, and the last sections that deal with the return of the girls to Japan and how they deal with their post-American lives. Highly recommended to see the cultural differences between 19th century America and Japan and to read about three impressive and accomplished women during an age where women were not always allowed to reach great heights in either society. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
Seemed fascinating but it didn't live up to its potential In 1871, 5 Japanese girls were sent to the US to live and learn among the citizens there and receive a Western education. Only three actually went through with it (The two youngest were sent home). Author Nimura follows these young women as they navigate the fall of shogun, moving to a strange country where they don't know the language, customs or much else and how they manage when they finally return to the US.
 
It sounded like a really fascinating premise, but unfortunately it was a really tedious read. Initially I enjoyed it: the author takes us through the civil war that brought down the shogun and the history of Japan surrounding that time. It was very interesting to see the rather violent opening of Japan to the West (something I know very little about). However, once we follow these young women (girls at the time, really) in the US, it just wasn't as interesting.
 
Although some of the details (learning English, how to keep up their Japanese, learning US customs, their education, etc.) were all fascinating, it also got really "Then they did X and then Y and then Z. It was a very dry retelling overall. I felt it picked up again when the young women return to Japan and must readjust to living among the Japanese, relearning the customers, coping with the changes in themselves and with their families/homes.
 
As a history of a very specific event and lives of these young women, it was certainly interesting. But it was a drag to get through. The author is actually US-born and married into a Japanese family so it's not a matter of translation (I don't think). The writing just wasn't interesting, but anyone with an interest in Japanese/US relations, this particular time period or in this topic would probably find it a good reference. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
In 1871, Japan was just starting to open itself up to trading with other countries, and cultural changes were afoot. That year, along with a group to negotiate trade with the U.S. and President Grant, were five girls, daughters of samurai, sent to receive a Western education and then come back to their homeland. Three of these girls - Sutematsu, Shige, and Ume - stayed for over ten years before returning to Japan. This is their story.

While I was interested in the content of the book, I often found myself bored by its execution. Nimura has clearly done her research, and at times seemed to want to pour every bit of it into the narrative, but I kept wondering if there were really enough meat to fill a whole book, overwhelmed as it seemed to be by tangents. For example: the first 60 or so pages gave background information on Sutematsu's family in Aizu and what kind of life she probably had as a samurai daughter; much time was spent talking about the men in the expedition and what their dinners and travels and negotiations were like; and a brief biography and background information is provided for nearly every figure introduced in the book far beyond what was perhaps needed for me to place them in context. The first half or so of the book focuses on the eldest of the three, Sutematsu, and the second on the youngest, Ume. I wasn't sure what precipitated the change other than, perhaps, what information was available for a given time period. Nimura quotes extensively from the three young women's correspondence and though she was quick to interpret what they must have been feeling for me, by far this was the most interesting part of the book. ( )
  bell7 | Feb 13, 2017 |
Fascinating look at the lives of three Japanese women and how they were influenced by 10 years in America in the 1870s. ( )
  libq | Feb 3, 2016 |
This fascinating book brings to light a turning point in Japanese history and the role of women within Japanese culture. Five Japanese girls were selected to go to America in 1871. Each was the daughter of a disgraced samurai family that had supported the old Shogunate. The few Japanese men who had traveled abroad had reported on the stronger presence of women in society and how that seemed to be one of the advantages of western culture. Therefore, these five girls (the youngest at only six) were sent to America to be educated for ten years so that they might return and educate the next generation of Japanese women to be better wives and mothers. Within a year, two of the girls returned to Japan. The book closely follows the highs and lows experienced by the remaining three as they became Americans and returned to a country unable to speak Japanese or understand how to adapt in a now-foreign society.

Nimura created an amazing book about three powerful girls who were given an onerous task as children and, as true children of samurai, lived up to the Empress's mandate. It's a fast read and one I highly recommend. ( )
  ladycato | Jan 10, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Little Granddaughter, unless the red barbarians

and the children of the gods learn each other's

hearts, the ships may sail and sail, but the two

lands will never be nearer.

- Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto, A Daughter of the Samurai, 1926
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For Yoji
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Of the five girls on their way to America, the middle one in age, Sutematsu Yamakawa, had raveled the farthest, whether the distance was reckoned in miles or memories.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393077993, Hardcover)

“Surprising and richly satisfying" (Megan Marshall); “beautifully crafted . . . subtle, polished, and poised” (Stacy Schiff).

In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan.

Raised in traditional samurai households during the turmoil of civil war, three of these unusual ambassadors—Sutematsu Yamakawa, Shige Nagai, and Ume Tsuda—grew up as typical American schoolgirls. Upon their arrival in San Francisco they became celebrities, their travels and traditional clothing exclaimed over by newspapers across the nation. As they learned English and Western customs, their American friends grew to love them for their high spirits and intellectual brilliance.

The passionate relationships they formed reveal an intimate world of cross-cultural fascination and connection. Ten years later, they returned to Japan—a land grown foreign to them—determined to revolutionize women’s education.

Based on in-depth archival research in Japan and in the United States, including decades of letters from between the three women and their American host families, Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully, cinematically written, a fascinating lens through which to view an extraordinary historical moment.

Map; 8 pages of illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 14 Apr 2015 01:16:41 -0400)

"In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan. Raised in traditional samurai households during the turmoil of civil war, three of these unusual ambassadors-- Sutematsu Yamakawa, Shige Nagai, and Ume Tsuda-- grew up as typical American schoolgirls. Upon their arrival in San Francisco they became celebrities, their travels feted by newspapers across the nation. The passionate friendships they formed reveal an intimate world of cross-cultural fascination and connection. Ten years later, they returned to Japan-- a land grown foreign to them-- determined to revolutionize women's education. Based on in-depth archival research in Japan and in the United States, Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully, cinematically written, a fascinating lens through which to view an extraordinary historical moment"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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