In 1871, three young Japanese girls embarked on a revolutionary and transformational experience. With the support of the Western-friendly Meiji government in Japan, Sutematsu Yamakawa (11), Shige Nagai (10), and Ume Tsuda (6) traveled to the United States to study English. The Japanese Empress entrusted the girls with a mission – learn everything you can and return with the knowledge needed to educate the women of Japan in the ways of the “modern” world.
In her fascinating new book, Daughters of the Samurai, Janice P. Nimura tells of the story of the girls’ sojourn in the United States, and their difficult transition when they returned to Japan after ten years abroad. When they returned to Japan, the young women could not easily rejoin the traditional samurai society into which they were born. Nimura devotes the second half of her book to their struggle to juggle their identities and fulfill their imperial mission. One becomes the wife of a high-ranking government official, another is a loving mother and teaches music to the children of the Japanese elite, and the third dedicates her life to the education of girls in Japan, eventually founding a story that still bears her name.
I found the story of Sutematsu, Shige, and Ume to be a fascinating look into women’s education, Japanese-American relations, and what it meant to be “modern” in the late nineteenth century.
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book published in 2015