Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back (Paperback)
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.
— Christopher Benfey - New York Times Book Review
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.
— Becky Krystal - Washington Post
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.
— Miriam Kingsberg - Los Angeles Review of Books
This remarkable and beautifully written story—often as riveting as a page-turning novel—is both scholarly and accessible to non-specialists.
— Wingate Packard - Seattle Times
As immersive as any work of fiction, heartwrenching in its depiction of these cultural orphans turned pioneers.
— Julia Pierpont - Oprah.com
Reads like a novel about the meeting of East and West and how it transformed the lives of three extraordinary young women.
— Elizabeth Bennett - Dallas Morning News
You won’t welcome intrusions while reading this unprecedented, true story . . . memorably illuminating.
— Terry Hong - Christian Science Monitor
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.
— Historical Novel Society
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.
— Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Cleopatra
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.
— Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being
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.
— Booklist (starred review)