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MUSINGS ON THINGS JAPANESE AND WESTERN

I’M READING a book that enhances my Nipponophile tendencies. This word comes from the Japanese name for their country, Nihon, and the Greek φιλέω, phileo, to love.

Janice Nimura’s book, Daughters of the Samurai is subtitled A Journey from East to West and Back. It’s a factual tale of three Japanese girls selected by the Japanese government’s Iwakura Mission in 1871 to live in America, learn Western ways and return to edify women of Japan.

Sutematsu Yamakawa was 11 when the trio arrived in San Francisco. In time, she learned perfect English, gained the nickname Stemats, and graduated from Vassar in 1882 after having been elected president of her class.

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Sutematsu Yamakawa. This and other images from Daughters of the Samurai.

Shigeko Nagai, 10 when they arrived, became known as Shige and was the arty one of the trio. Shige earned a special certificate of music from Vasser and romanced Sotokichi Uriu, a Japanese cadet studying at the U.S. Naval Academy. One of the first women to teach Western classical music in Japan, in time she became Baroness Uriu.

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From left to right, Sutematsu Yamakawa, Shige Negai and their friend Martha Sharpe at Vassar.

Umeko Tsuda, Ume for short, turned seven en route to the U.S. aboard the America. In time, she studied at the Archer Institute, a Washington, D.C., school popular for daughters of prominent D.C. families. When Ume returned to Japan in 1882, she spoke only a little Japanese.

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Ume Tsuda at Bryn Mawr.

Before long, Ume returned to the U.S., attended Bryn Mawr College, 1889–1892, and later studied in England at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. Back again in Japan, Ume took an active role in women’s education. Today, Tokyo’s Tsuda College is a prestigious women’s institution of higher learning, named in her honor.

I’m about halfway through Daughters of the Samurai, and collecting tidbits a’plenty. For instance, in a succession of welcoming parties in San Francisco, an enterprising San Francisco Chronicle reporter said in his carefully prepared Japanese: “Annata, annata ohio doko morrow morrow!”

Notes author Janice Nimura, “Iwakura bowed gravely and, through his interpreter, thanked the man for his good wishes and his perfect command of Japanese.”

In a footnote, she observes, “The Chronicle reporter possessed more enthusiasm than expertise. In standard transliteration, anata is a casual form of ‘you,‘ ohayo means ‘good morning,‘ doko means ‘where,‘ and morrow remains undecipherable.”

Author Nimura includes in her tale the 1853 arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry’s Black Ships opening Japan after 220 years of near-total isolation during the Tokugawa Era. It was the ensuing Meiji Era during which the girls of the Iwakura Mission had their adventures.

Reading Daughters of the Samurai encouraged me to dig out my CD of Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, a wonderful Broadway show that celebrates Japan of this era.

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Pacific Overtures, Stephen Sondheim musical, 1976.

There’s a complete production of Pacific Overtures at Youtube.com. For brief samples, see Commodore Perry’s traditional Kabuki Lion Dance that evolves into a strutting all-American cakewalk (beginning at 1:22:35). Another song, “A Bowler Hat,” describes the mixed feelings of Japanese acceptance of Western ways (1:52:00).

Pacific Overtures concludes with “Next,” that flash-segues to modern Japan (beginning at 2:14:20).

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Its concluding line: “There was a time when foreigners were not welcome here. But that was long ago. Welcome to Japan.”

The three Daughters of the Samurai each played a role in this transition. I look forward to reading the book’s second half. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

One comment on “MUSINGS ON THINGS JAPANESE AND WESTERN

  1. Bill Rabel
    September 9, 2016

    Dennis –
    There are several books about Manjiro, one of a group of shipwrecked Japanese that were picked up by an ancestor of mine, a Captain Whitfield, a whaler. He took some of the men back to New Bedford, whee they learned about the ‘barbarians’. This was before Commander Perry sailed to Japan.
    – Bill

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