Daughters of the Samurai

Daughters of the Samurai

A Journey From East to West and Back

Book - 2015
Average Rating:
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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.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Company, ©2015.
ISBN: 9780393077995
Characteristics: 336 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates :,illustrations, portraits ;,25 cm

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xiaojunbpl12
May 18, 2017

One star, for the historical and geographic settings that fascinates me, which narration is also appealing.
One star, for all the women, men, Japanese, American, who were important for that global age, world transition and modernization.
One full shining star for Ume!

Three daughters were swimming diligently in the history tide. Contrary to what the book title and author intend, they played supporting roles, my impression is less remarkable.

o
olenkag
Mar 29, 2017

O agree with NY Times review of the book. There is lots to learn and ponder from this story. Highly recommended for those who like a glimpse into XIX century Japan and United States.

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Liblo
Jan 24, 2017

Truly a fascinating story and a very good read. I expected the stories of their early lives to be the more gripping but it was the lives they went on to as adults and how those intertwined with the history of Japan that were even more interesting.

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MT60
Jul 19, 2016

Wife grabbed this book off the featured shelves at the main branch. She was captivated by it, and finished reading it in a few days. Figured I'd glance at it before returning it. I was captivated also. Author Nimura has uncovered a rich story.

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EmilyEm
Jun 02, 2016

As Japan's leaders turned their faces to the West in the 1860s five girls from samurai families volunteered them in a bold experiment. They would join a delegation of men traveling to America on a journey of discovery, but while the men traveled on to other countries with whom Japan had diplomatic relations, the girls would stay in the US for ten years. The goal was that they would absorb the culture and language, returning to Japan as role models and teachers.
Nimura embarked on writing this book when she discovered the memoir of an American 'sister’ of one of the girls while in an Asian Studies graduate program. Nimura’s own circumstances of being a Caucasian American married into a Japanese family, having lived both in Japan and the US, made her uniquely qualified to understand these remarkable women. And, remarkable they were. Highly recommended.

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SeaMom2one
Dec 02, 2015

I wish there was a xtian rating system so readers could avoid religious propaganda.

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DorisWaggoner
Aug 29, 2015

This first book is an absolute page turner from the beginning. In her introduction Nimura, a white American who met her Japanese-born husband on the first day of college and then lived in Japan with him for a while after they were married, describes their Japanese life and how it was so different for each of them. Then when they return to the US and she, studying Asian studies, stumbled on a memoir of an American woman living in Japan with Japanese friends, and says, "Their story would not let me go."

It would not let me go either. Being interested in history, I was dumbfounded at what I had not known about the war in Japan that preceded their being sent to the US. Given no choice, knowing no English, they were simply told they were going. Their lives in America were happy and fulfilling, and they had such dreams for what they would do when they returned to Japan. But in those 10 years, Japan had changed, and didn't really want their gifts. How they managed to find ways to use what they had learned, and how their different personalities coped, was fascinating. I hope Ms. Nimura goes on to a full fledged career as a historian, while writing additional popular histories like this one. I finished it in one day, not because it was so easy, but because it was so compelling.

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Rock_Shadow
Aug 18, 2015

Janice Nimura did an outstanding job in recreating lives of these remarkable women through letters and historical materials. One of the most fascinating parts was their being strangers in the strange land twice over. Equally fascinating was their heroic efforts to improve women's lives in Japan at the turn of the 20th century, during the time when women there had no voice. The story held together well through getting to know the 'princesses' since their childhood, and thus never losing the sense of their individual uniqueness and purpose.

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savtadina
Aug 03, 2015

This true story of the three young women is fascinating. After the author found and read Alice Bacon's A Japanese Interior in the New York Society Library, she was fascinated by the story of three Japanese girls who were sent to the US in 1871 by the Japanese government to "learn Western ways" and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan and help train young women to follow their path. The youngest was six and the other two about 11 and 12.

The story is amazing: how they met the young Empress before they left, how they traveled by ship to California and then by train, etc. across the US, eventually settling in CT for their education, living mostly with ministers and their families. The two oldest eventually attended Vassar, one getting a BA.

Much of the information for this biography of the three was gathered by letters written back and forth and by descendants of two of the young woman and of several Americans who had become good friends. At times the writing is a bit dry, and I did skip/scan such parts. I was definitely interested in the adaption of the girls to their new environment, how they did in school, and the strong feelings of especially the two older ones of their debt to Japan and the need to be primarily Japanese. I also was extremely interested on their re-integration into Japanese society. Parts were quite poignant.

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pokano
Jul 31, 2015

In 1871, less than 20 years after Japan was forced to open its doors by Commander Perry's gunboat, 3 young Japanese girls--the oldest was 11, the youngest was 6--traveled to America at the behest of the Japanese government. Their mission? To live in America for 10 years to bring back Western ideas to Japanese women. This engaging book starts out a bit slow, as it sets the historical and political scene that gave rise to this grand experiment. But when the girls finally arrive in the US, I could barely put the book down. The author takes us through the girls' adjustment to a foreign culture and language, their eventual adaptation, and when they return to Japan, the difficulties of reintegrating into a society that they barely remembered. These pioneering women were exceptional individuals. It was a privilege to follow their lives.

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