A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year
A Buzzfeed Best Nonfiction Book of the Year
"Nimura paints history in cinematic strokes and brings a forgotten story to vivid, unforgettable life." —Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha
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.
Through the sensitive weaving of correspondence and archival papers, Nimura produces a story of real-life heroines in this masterful biography of three samurai daughters sent to the U.S. after the Civil War. They were the "first girls ever selected to receive a foreign education" and the first nonwhite students at Vassar College, and in 1882 they returned to their homeland determined to start a school for girls. Nimura contextualizes the vast changes in Japanese society that followed U.S. Admiral Perry's 1853 arrival in Yokohama and notes how, upon observing the contribution American women made to society, Kiyotaka Kuroda, a forward-thinking bureaucrat, proposed that a delegation of students to the U.S. (the Iwakura Mission) include girls. The girls aged 7 to 11 faced culture shock after disembarking in San Francisco with the American ambassador, but formed strong bonds with their new American caregivers. The trio, as young women, repatriated with some discomfort to a nation where fascination with America was waning. While their personal struggles faded over time, their legacy carries on with Tsuda College in Tokyo, named for the youngest member of the trio. As Japan continues to grapple with the status and role of its educated women, Nimura offers a testimonial to their collective strength and determination.
Anyone interested in Japan should read this book. It brings to life the energy and the contradictions of the Meiji period as seen through the eyes of the people who were living it, rather than how it is usually portrayed in terms of military reorganization and industrial projects.
Daughters of the Samuri
My earliest memories are about my families travel by rail and ship from Ohio to Japan. Our home was filled with Japanese dolls, flower arrangements, furniture and more. This book immediately grabbed my attention and held it from cover to cover. Every woman, regardless of Eastern or Western orientation should read this book. It is inspiring.