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. (May)
"Nimura brings the girls and their late nineteenth-century exploits to life in a narrative that feels like an international variation on Louisa May Alcott’s
Little Women, so very appealing and delightful…."
"Surprising and richly satisfying…In Nimura's skillful telling, Sutematsu, Shige, and Ume become ambassadors once again, bringing to life an era from which we can learn important lessons about intercultural understanding, conflict, and compromise, still vital to our survival in the global twenty-first century."
"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."
"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."
Los Angeles Review of Books - Miriam Kingsberg
"Nimura's exhaustively researched historical biography is as immersive as any work of fiction, heartwrenching in its depiction of these cultural orphans turned pioneers."
Oprah.com - Julia Pierpont
"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."
"This remarkable and beautifully written story—often as riveting as a page-turning novel—is both scholarly and accessible to non-specialists."
Seattle Times - Wingate Packard
"Beautifully written…Begins like a fairy tale…In Nimura's deftly interwoven account, the three girls emerge as contrasting types, like Chekhov's
New York Times Book Review - Christopher Benfey
"You won’t welcome intrusions while reading this unprecedented, true story…memorably illuminating."
Christian Science Monitor - Terry Hong
"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."
Daughters of the Samurai reads like a novel that happens to be true: three girls uprooted by fate, bridging the gulf between the elegant rhythms of Old Japan and the exhilarating opportunities of America. Janice P. Nimura paints history in cinematic strokes and brings a forgotten story to vivid, unforgettable life."
"Nimura has done an impressive amount of research to tell her story…. Most of the time
Daughters of the Samurai reads like a novel about the meeting of East and West and how it transformed the lives of three extraordinary young women."
Dallas Morning News - Elizabeth Bennett
"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."
Washington Post - Becky Krystal
Independent scholar Nimura has written an exquisite collective biography of the five Japanese girls who were sent to the United States at the end of the 19th century during Japan's Meiji period (1868–1912), as the country tried to prepare citizens to cope with—and catch up to, they felt—the modern West. While two of the girls returned home shortly after arriving in America, the other three were able to stay in their adopted home for ten years, attending school and living with host families in Connecticut and Washington, DC, before attending colleges along the East Coast. Nimura has a clear eye for depicting the relationship between Japan and the United States during the time discussed here, and she avoids the easy pitfall of turning the Japanese girls into "others" who were simply exotic treats for the Americans. Instead, the author highlights how both cultures were strange, each to the other, and, when the girls returned to Japan after their sojourn in America, how much like a foreign country their home had become to them. VERDICT A captivating read for biography lovers, readers interested in America's Gilded Age or late Meiji Japan, and fans of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha.—Hanna Clutterbuck, Harvard Univ. Lib., Cambridge, MA
Through her fascinating tapestry of history and biography, New York scholar Nimura weaves the strange, vibrant tale of an insular nation coming to terms with currents of modernism it could no longer keep out.With the shogunate abolished and the "restoration" of 15-year-old Emperor Mutsuhito to the Meiji throne in 1868, Japan recognized that it would need to embrace Western ideas and technology in order to compete in the civilized world, and that would include a Western education for both men and women. Japan required educated mothers to raise standards, and thus the first batch of girls to be sent to study in America for an allotted period of 10 years was recruited from high-ranking samurai families who had fallen out of favor and could spare some mouths to feed at home. Of these five young women sent across the seas in 1871, the two eldest, at 14, did not fare well and were sent back within a few months. The remaining three experienced transformative home-sharing and education opportunities in America and became fluent speakers of English. Nimura concentrates on the stories of these three singular young women: Sutematsu Yamakawa, at 11, lived with the prominent Bacon family in New Haven and eventually attended Vassar; Shige Nagai, who had arrived at age 10, also attended Vassar and ended up marrying a fellow Japanese who had studied at Annapolis Naval Academy; Ume Tsuda, at barely 7, grew up in Georgetown and graduated from Bryn Mawr. All returned to Japan to marry, yet they carried on teaching and even founded an English school for girls. From clothing to manners to speech to aspirations, Nimura shows how the meeting of East and West transformed these select young women. An extraordinary, elegantly told story of the beginning of Japan's education and emancipation of its women.