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.
Two years after graduating from Yale, Janice P. Nimura moved from her native Manhattan to her new husband’s native Tokyo. Over the course of three years in Japan—where she worked as an editor and wrote for English-language newspapers—she became both proficient in Japanese and comfortable in her un-dreamed-of role as daughter-in-law to a Japanese family.
Upon returning to New York she earned a master’s degree in East Asian studies at Columbia with a focus on 19th-century Japanese history, and continued to work as an editor and writer, contributing book reviews to newspapers including the New York Times, theWashington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, andNewsday.
Nimura lives in New York with her husband and two children.
© Lucy Schaeffer