- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (May 17, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393352781
- ISBN-13: 978-0393352788
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 162 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back 1st Edition
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“Beautifully written…In Nimura’s deftly interwoven account, the three girls emerge as contrasting types, like Chekhov’s 'Three Sisters.'”
- Christopher Benfey, New York Times Book Review
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a novelist who is as deft at portraying relationships and inner thoughts…[Nimura] skillfully bridges Japanese and American cultures, using the seemingly small story of three young people to tell a much larger tale of another time.”
- Becky Krystal, Washington Post
“Janice P. Nimura achieves the elusive dream of the historian, producing a work that will engage and satisfy academic and non-specialist audiences alike. The author offers both sets of readers a magnificently and meticulously detailed account of three women whose lives epitomize key features of the changing landscape of late 19th and early 20th century Japan.”
- Miriam Kingsberg, Los Angeles Review of Books
“This remarkable and beautifully written story―often as riveting as a page-turning novel―is both scholarly and accessible to non-specialists.”
- Wingate Packard, Seattle Times
“As immersive as any work of fiction, heartwrenching in its depiction of these cultural orphans turned pioneers.”
- Julia Pierpont, Oprah.com
“Reads like a novel about the meeting of East and West and how it transformed the lives of three extraordinary young women.”
- Elizabeth Bennett, Dallas Morning News
“You won’t welcome intrusions while reading this unprecedented, true story . . . memorably illuminating.”
- Terry Hong, Christian Science Monitor
“This is feminism for Japanese women in its infancy, and Janice P. Nimura enhances the reality of the entire experience with this superb historical nonfiction account.”
- Historical Novel Society
“At a reform-minded moment, Japan dispatched five young girls to be educated in America. Patiently, vividly, Janice P. Nimura reconstructs their Alice in Wonderland adventure. A beautifully crafted narrative, subtle, polished, and poised.”
- Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Cleopatra
“A riveting story of three remarkable girls, caught in the maelstrom of one of the strangest culture clashes in modern history, Daughters of the Samurai is history writing at its finest and required reading for anyone interested in Japan.”
- Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
About the Author
Janice P. Nimura is a book critic, independent scholar, and the American daughter-in-law of a Japanese family. She lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
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I don’t dare begin raving about this book for fear I won’t be able to stop. I loved it. Interesting, engaging, and illuminating; it’s now one of my all time favorite reads. Can I give it six stars?
Let me begin by lifting a quote from the goodreads/publisher’s synopsis that absolutely nails it for me: “…Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully, cinematically written, a fascinating lens through which to view an extraordinary historical moment.”
Born a samurai, raised an American teenager, she died a Japanese princess. Sutematsu Yamakawa was born in 1860, in feudal Japan, into a family of the samurai class who were soon to find themselves on the losing side in Japan’s transformational, civil upheaval. [Emperor replaces Shogun, samurai class diminished/eliminated, liberalization/reform reigns (at least for a little while).] She would grow up to become the first ever Japanese female to attain a four-year college degree: A graduate of Vassar College, class of 1882.
Less than thirty years after Perry’s gunboat diplomacy had proffered our pacific overture for open trade to Japan.
DAUGHTERS OF THE SAMURAI: A Journey from East to West and Back, by Janice P. Nimura, is largely Sutematsu’s story; the story of two other girls of Japan, Shige Nagai and Ume Tsuda, who also spent the years 1872-1882 in America, learning the ways and whyfors of the hairy barbarians; and so much, and some many, more. A story of a society, of a world, in major transition; and of three leading, albeit softer, lights in that transition. And it is an indescribably amazing read.
Recommendation: Read it now.
“Learn as if you will live forever; live as if you will die tomorrow.”—location 1823
Kindle edition, 336 pages/6,142 locations.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part was an excellent primer on the upheaval of the Meiji era and changes forced on Japan by Perry's arrival with his black ships. I enjoyed this part most of all, probably because the stories were historically accurate and fascinating. Also interesting was the glimpse of young America through the eyes of the girls as they travelled on the recently completed transcontinental railroad. America itself was still only just recovering from its own civil war, Grant was president, buffalo herds still roamed and remnants of Indian tribes could still be seen. Both countries had just gone through crucibles. Both were dealing with the aftermath. I knew about the Meiji era and I'm a Civil War buff, so reading a story that linked these periods together was especially enjoyable.
The second part of the book becomes more biographical and details the girls' experiences and education in America. Since this part of the story is less focused on history than on the biography of the three girls, some may find it not as compelling. But for me, being an expat, the story of how they adapted to the new culture and language challenges was both interesting and familiar.
Finally, the last part of the book is focused primarily on Ume Tsuda. It turns a little darker as the relatively carefree days in America were now behind them and duties and responsibilities were ahead. Both Shige and Sutematsu became prominent members of Japanese society through their marriages, but Ume, not knowing the language and being single, found it especially hard to adapt to Japan and find her place in a society that had little respect or need for educated women, especially unmarried ones. This section gave me a lot of new information that made me feel I understood Ume as a person, not just as a distant historical figure. It was especially refreshing that the author avoided painting Ume in saintly hues, as biographers often do with their subjects. Using Ume and Alice's letters to each other as a key source, the author brings Ume to life, warts and all.
I recommend this book highly to people interested in cross cultural understanding or to people who are intrigued by the struggles of three remarkable women caught up in a time of momentous societal changes and cross currents. The opening historical background is also very well told and an excellent primer for further study of that era.
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