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Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Japanese Woman and Her World

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A vivid, deeply researched work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman during the first half of the 19th century in Edo—the city that would become Tokyo—and a portrait of a great city on the brink of a momentous encounter with the West. The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a traditiona A vivid, deeply researched work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman during the first half of the 19th century in Edo—the city that would become Tokyo—and a portrait of a great city on the brink of a momentous encounter with the West. The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a traditional life much like her mother’s. But after three divorces—and a temperament much too strong-willed for her family’s approval—she ran away to make a life for herself in one of the largest cities in the world: Edo, a bustling metropolis at its peak. With Tsuneno as our guide, we experience the drama and excitement of Edo just prior to the arrival of American Commodore Perry’s fleet, which transformed Japan. During this pivotal moment in Japanese history, Tsuneno bounces from tenement to tenement, marries a masterless samurai, and eventually enters the service of a famous city magistrate. Tsuneno’s life provides a window into 19th-century Japanese culture—and a rare view of an extraordinary woman who sacrificed her family and her reputation to make a new life for herself, in defiance of social conventions. Immersive and fascinating, Stranger in the Shogun’s City is a revelatory work of history, layered with rich detail and delivered with beautiful prose, about the life of a woman, a city, and a culture.


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A vivid, deeply researched work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman during the first half of the 19th century in Edo—the city that would become Tokyo—and a portrait of a great city on the brink of a momentous encounter with the West. The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a traditiona A vivid, deeply researched work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman during the first half of the 19th century in Edo—the city that would become Tokyo—and a portrait of a great city on the brink of a momentous encounter with the West. The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a traditional life much like her mother’s. But after three divorces—and a temperament much too strong-willed for her family’s approval—she ran away to make a life for herself in one of the largest cities in the world: Edo, a bustling metropolis at its peak. With Tsuneno as our guide, we experience the drama and excitement of Edo just prior to the arrival of American Commodore Perry’s fleet, which transformed Japan. During this pivotal moment in Japanese history, Tsuneno bounces from tenement to tenement, marries a masterless samurai, and eventually enters the service of a famous city magistrate. Tsuneno’s life provides a window into 19th-century Japanese culture—and a rare view of an extraordinary woman who sacrificed her family and her reputation to make a new life for herself, in defiance of social conventions. Immersive and fascinating, Stranger in the Shogun’s City is a revelatory work of history, layered with rich detail and delivered with beautiful prose, about the life of a woman, a city, and a culture.

30 review for Stranger in the Shogun's City: A Japanese Woman and Her World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Amy Stanley

    So it's very uncool for an author to review her own book, but somehow I pressed the wrong button on the computer, gave myself two stars, and then no matter how many times I tried to erase it, it kept coming back! I promise I am a more competent researcher and writer than I am a Goodreads reviewer. Anyway, I think you should read this book for many reasons . . . maybe because it's hard to travel to right now outside the pages of a book, or maybe because it's about how a person with very little po So it's very uncool for an author to review her own book, but somehow I pressed the wrong button on the computer, gave myself two stars, and then no matter how many times I tried to erase it, it kept coming back! I promise I am a more competent researcher and writer than I am a Goodreads reviewer. Anyway, I think you should read this book for many reasons . . . maybe because it's hard to travel to right now outside the pages of a book, or maybe because it's about how a person with very little power managed to find some meaning in her life, or maybe because it's about how we can remember the ordinary people who came before us. Or maybe you want to know about samurai. Anyway, five stars for myself . . . if I ever find out how to actually delete this, I will!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    Amy Stanley’s history book Stranger in the Shogun’s City is primarily about a Japanese woman called Tsuneno who was born in the northern Japanese province of Echigo (now Niigata) in 1804 and eventually fled the dull rural life for the more exciting city life on offer in Edo (the old name for Tokyo). It’s also about Edo and the radical change that it would experience during and shortly after Tsuneno’s lifetime. I picked this one up with the expectation that Tsuneno’s story must be a remarkable on Amy Stanley’s history book Stranger in the Shogun’s City is primarily about a Japanese woman called Tsuneno who was born in the northern Japanese province of Echigo (now Niigata) in 1804 and eventually fled the dull rural life for the more exciting city life on offer in Edo (the old name for Tokyo). It’s also about Edo and the radical change that it would experience during and shortly after Tsuneno’s lifetime. I picked this one up with the expectation that Tsuneno’s story must be a remarkable one given that she was nobody especially noteworthy but an entire book was written about her. And, disappointingly, it turned out to be a mundane life story: she married multiple times, independently made her own decisions - like going to live in Edo when she was expected to settle down in the countryside - and worked numerous menial jobs before dying fairly young at the age of 49. I’ll give Stanley kudos for the amount of effort that went into researching this book, deciphering the complex and outdated Japanese of the time, and it’s amazing that so much primary source material still exists - Tsuneno and her family, particularly her eldest brother Giyu, were prolific letter writers and record keepers so that every scrap of correspondence was held onto. But I feel like this one falls into the murkily politicised subgenre of feminist history where, in addition to the large amount of primary material available, the book exists to highlight a Strong, Independent Woman more than anything. Stanley makes the point in her conclusion that history tends to focus on men and their achievements, ie. Commodore Matthew Perry, who opened Japan up to trade with the outside world, rather than, say, the ordinary women who work behind the scenes to keep the wheels of society turning. And while I agree that ordinary people’s lives of course play a part in history and teach us just as much about our past as notable historical figures do, the reason why history tends to spotlight certain individuals, like Commodore Matthew Perry, is less about sexism than it is for the obvious fact that their lives were more interesting and unique than most people’s (including ordinary men, not just ordinary women). That’s basically why I wasn’t that engaged by this book: Tsuneno’s life just wasn’t that interesting. Stanley does bring her world to life well, explaining how society was structured - both in Echigo and Edo, contextualising the figures and events that affected Tsuneno’s life - if you’re after a portrait of early 19th century Japan, this book is for you. But that’s not what I was looking for and the extensive passages on Edo minutiae really bored me while I waited for something astonishing to happen to Tsuneno and it never did. If nothing else, this book underlines the importance of writing for everyone, today and always - not just professional writers or wannabes, but ordinary people writing about their everyday lives. One day, assuming your correspondence survives, you too might have a future historian write a book about you!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    As someone who would class myself as a Japanophile or shinnichi (親日), I appreciate Japanese culture, people and history. This book only served to increase my fascinating with the enigmatic country. It follows a normal Japanese woman named Tsuneno as she attempts to navigate her way through life with no real guidance and no real sense of where her place in the world was to be located. It's essentially her biography where she details much of her life and it certainly came across as though the auth As someone who would class myself as a Japanophile or shinnichi (親日), I appreciate Japanese culture, people and history. This book only served to increase my fascinating with the enigmatic country. It follows a normal Japanese woman named Tsuneno as she attempts to navigate her way through life with no real guidance and no real sense of where her place in the world was to be located. It's essentially her biography where she details much of her life and it certainly came across as though the author had extensively researched her topic beforehand; she seems to be rather passionate about giving this woman a voice. Chronicling the life of an 1840s lower-class woman who lived in an epoch where things were beginning to change both socially and politically. Based on real documentation the author is careful with what she includes but it is certainly interesting to follow a person from cradle to grave and watch their triumphs, trials and tribulations. Women were expected to be seen and not heard, to be subservient and not to question things that don't concern them but Tsuneno didn't want to live like that and so she didn't. It almost referred to having children as ”a woman's reason for being on on earth” and this made me feel a teeny bit uncomfortable but of course that was the attitude at the time. Part of Japan’s magic is the mysterious way in which everything bumbles along without anyone paying much attention but in Stranger in the Shogun’s City the development and evolution of the political and social issues of that time period are displayed and Tsuneno likely represents many a woman's experience in 40s Edo (Tokyo). Many thanks to Chatto & Windus for an ARC.

  4. 5 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    Fantastic. The author has dug the story of a Japanese woman living through the end of the shogunate and determined to leave her provincial life behind for Edo out of the archives, and it is absolutely brilliant. This is ground level history, about life as a woman of no importance, daily struggles, hardships, friendships, debts, little joys. But it also shows the ways the power struggles of the 'important ' impact the little people, including the devastation wrought on Edo by the puritan dictates Fantastic. The author has dug the story of a Japanese woman living through the end of the shogunate and determined to leave her provincial life behind for Edo out of the archives, and it is absolutely brilliant. This is ground level history, about life as a woman of no importance, daily struggles, hardships, friendships, debts, little joys. But it also shows the ways the power struggles of the 'important ' impact the little people, including the devastation wrought on Edo by the puritan dictates of a particularly unpleasant and hypocritical minister. Fascinating, compelling, reads like a novel, and about the most genuinely enlightening work of Japanese history I've read. Plus a powerful assertion about the importance of 'unimportant' people at the end that nearly brought me to tears. Strong recommend.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Caidyn (he/him/his)

    I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! CW: rape and pregnancy from rape 3.5/5 I read this in two days. It's a pretty short book -- nine chapters plus a prologue and epilogue -- but one that has a lot of info. It follows the story of Tsuneno, a Japanese woman, who lived in a time of lots of change, specifically America starting to influence Japan. I found this so interesting because it focuses on women's history and a woman's experience of her world. So many history bo I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review! CW: rape and pregnancy from rape 3.5/5 I read this in two days. It's a pretty short book -- nine chapters plus a prologue and epilogue -- but one that has a lot of info. It follows the story of Tsuneno, a Japanese woman, who lived in a time of lots of change, specifically America starting to influence Japan. I found this so interesting because it focuses on women's history and a woman's experience of her world. So many history books are male centric and it's hard to find books that focus on what women lived through. I really liked Tsuneno and just how modern she was. An unconventional woman for 19th century Japan, the daughter of a priest who divorced three times and decided to strike out into her own life. It was a very quick and intriguing read, one that I'd definitely reach for again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    Read a 2018 essay by the author here. The topic: what she learned about the history of sexual assault while writing this book. This is my first post-COVID-19 review, meaning, the situation is still spinning out of control as I write this. I am putting this fact out there, up front. Even in the best of times, I am not generally known as a little ray of sunshine and … these are not the best of times. The most charitable adjective for my present mood is “cranky”. I hope the talented and educated writ Read a 2018 essay by the author here. The topic: what she learned about the history of sexual assault while writing this book. This is my first post-COVID-19 review, meaning, the situation is still spinning out of control as I write this. I am putting this fact out there, up front. Even in the best of times, I am not generally known as a little ray of sunshine and … these are not the best of times. The most charitable adjective for my present mood is “cranky”. I hope the talented and educated writer of this book, and all those dedicated souls at the publisher who not only helped it see the light of day but also generously gave me a free review copy, will excuse me when I say that, even though his book is worthy and edifying, I did not enjoy it in the way that I wished to. In these times, I really need a history that grabs me by the throat and says “Look at this! This is fascinating! This is dramatic! Go ahead and lose yourself in this previously-unknown-to-you past time and place, which is at the same time wildly different from your present life but also strangely familiar!” This book did not do that for me. Maybe I'm asking too much. But damn that's what I need right now. Perhaps my problem is that, when I read descriptions of books on Netgalley, instead of seeing the books that is, I see the book that I want it to be. In this case, I understood (correctly, I think) that the author had, improbably, learned (on the Internet) about the existence of a bunch of letters from a Japanese woman, written to her family perhaps starting 1830 or so and continuing right up to the moment that Commodore Matthew Perry “opened” Japan. The woman had run away from her stifling rural existence in rural northwest Japan to try her luck as an independent person in the capital Edo (present-day Tokyo). I had hoped that maybe this woman, Tsuneno, would be an observer of everyday life in a land now distant and different from our own. Tsuneno would be, I had hoped, a newly-discovered Samuel Pepys for her age and her place, which in some ways seems to resemble the London of Pepys' time. I knew that Tsuneno was not a highly-placed civil servant and social climber like Pepys, but I thought there would be a load of interesting detail about how average people worked, what they thought, what they said about the things going on about them. There isn't so much of that. As far as I could tell, a lot of the letters from Tsuneno to her family were requests for aid or actions, e.g., get some items she had pawned back from the pawnbrokers. I was actually a little disappointed that I didn't get to hear her voice directly more often. Maybe there's a good reason that I didn't – the time, culture, and language are in many ways so removed from our own that much of the writing, presented without interpretation, might be incomprehensible. I'm just not sure. The author fills in a lot of interesting detail herself. For example, I enjoyed learning how Edo samurai got paid (Kindle location 1731), and the network of middlemen (basically, rice re-sellers) that local cultural peculiarities generated. Nor is it the author's fault that Tsuneno died seemingly a few short weeks before Perry's first visit. It would have been fascinating to know, direct from the writings of an average person, how the visit was seen by the average resident of Edo. What rumors circulated? Were foreigners considered terrifying? grotesque? ridiculous? Did anyone dare hope that the arrival of foreigners would actually be good for Edo and Japan? I apologize again that I can't be more positive about this book. As everybody involved with it is surely aware, it is just emerging at a terrifically difficult and stressful time – I guess it's just not the easy read that I need while self-isolating. Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the free advance egalley copy of this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    This book was one of those that I changed my opinion of more than once as I was reading it. At first, I was really enjoying it, getting excited for the main character Tsuneno to head to Edo and start our adventure. Then the story just got tedious. I found myself saying to myself “ok, I get it, she’s hard to get along with, can we please move this story along already!” Also, I think the fact that I was reading a digital copy that was only tracking my % complete was throwing me off, because it was This book was one of those that I changed my opinion of more than once as I was reading it. At first, I was really enjoying it, getting excited for the main character Tsuneno to head to Edo and start our adventure. Then the story just got tedious. I found myself saying to myself “ok, I get it, she’s hard to get along with, can we please move this story along already!” Also, I think the fact that I was reading a digital copy that was only tracking my % complete was throwing me off, because it was calculating the footnotes (which also weren’t notated in the main text, which I didn’t realize until I had finished. I wish I had known so I could have referenced some), and the author’s notes at the end of the book, so while my kindle was saying I was at 72% or something, I was actually done. Knowing that at 66% would have given me a different perspective as I thought I was getting bogged down in repetitiveness. But finally, I ended up enjoying it more for the the setting Tsuneno was in rather than Tsuneno’s story itself. Having lived in Japan for ten years and studying at University there, I am a student of the language and history and culture. This time period, the time right before Perry's arrival and the waning days of the Tokugawa Shogunate are not a time I’m very familiar with, so I began to focus on Edo as the main character and Tsuneno as a supporting actress. While it is absolutely fascinating to me that the personal letters of the daughter of a village priest who by all accounts lived and died in abject poverty in Edo still survive to this day is amazing. That she was literate, and spent money for paper, ink, and postage to write home, and that these letters were filed away rather than thrown out or burned, and survived for over 200 years and a war is amazing. To put into perspective what was going on in other parts of the world, this was pre-Civil War America-gold had yet to be discovered in California. The author does talk about the Opium Wars happening in China and the Western world forcing its way into Asia, but in Europe and America, Tsuneno’s peers were doing the same thing. Young men and women leaving the countryside and villages for a new life in the big cities-London, NY, Paris, Boston where they could get rich, yet they also faced similar conditions. Tenements, despicable lending and rental practices that kept them in debt, Croocked cops and gangs. So I guess I would warn you, I found this to be more an academic look at Edo. It’s a beautiful look at what is today Tokyo, when she was much younger, and much wilder. Read the author’s notes at the end-always read epilogues, prologues, and notes. They tell you what the author’s thoughts are with their work. Thank you to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for an ARC.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kendra

    In this non-fiction work, author Stanley chronicles the life of a Japanese woman in the 1800s based on the woman's voluminous correspondence with her family members. But the book focuses on standard descriptions of places and events, and there's actually very little material that quotes these letters directly. The result is a book that drags and is full of historical material that I could read in any book about Japan during this time. The author missed a big opportunity in not letting her subjec In this non-fiction work, author Stanley chronicles the life of a Japanese woman in the 1800s based on the woman's voluminous correspondence with her family members. But the book focuses on standard descriptions of places and events, and there's actually very little material that quotes these letters directly. The result is a book that drags and is full of historical material that I could read in any book about Japan during this time. The author missed a big opportunity in not letting her subject's own voice lead the narrative.

  9. 5 out of 5

    K. Lincoln

    With an undergrad degree in Japanese Studies and my own historical fantasy set in an alternate Medieval Japan, I came to this book eager for mundane details about clothing, daily chores, foods, and a sense of Edo right before the momentous waves of change from the twin societal processes of the Meiji Restoration and Commodore Perry forcing trade open to more Western countries. I was also eager to see how Stanley "novelized" her protagonist Tsuneno, allowing the reader to imagine a fully realized With an undergrad degree in Japanese Studies and my own historical fantasy set in an alternate Medieval Japan, I came to this book eager for mundane details about clothing, daily chores, foods, and a sense of Edo right before the momentous waves of change from the twin societal processes of the Meiji Restoration and Commodore Perry forcing trade open to more Western countries. I was also eager to see how Stanley "novelized" her protagonist Tsuneno, allowing the reader to imagine a fully realized character based on the deep research Stanley did from temple archives of family letters, lists, and other bureaucratic paperwork from the time. (and I can only imagine the difficulty, touched on lightly in the author's forward, deciphering that old calligraphy took). I was not disappointed. At times I wished Stanley had gone further into proposing/guessing Tsuneno's motivations and given us longer passages of her "novellized" character, for instance when she first decides to go to Edo or when she decides to return to her fourth husband after coming home to Echigo Province in disgrace, I can't fault Stanley for being unwilling to stray too far from her original source material/letters. And, through no fault of Stanley's, sadly Tsuneno dies just before the most interesting/tumultuous changes in Edo, so instead of the interesting focus of slice-of-life we get a broader, more vague supposition of how she might have reacted to broad societal changes which lost a little luster for me. But for anyone with a glancing interest in Edo/Japan history, or who has traveled in Kyoto or Tokyo and wants a little bit more sense of what it was like to live in samurai/Tokugawa times, or who's been to the Tokyo Edo Museum or Nikko Edo Mura theme park, this is a super accessible way to learn more about temples, everyday foods, the tasks of women in picking apart stitches to launder robes, making tea, process of being divorced by husbands, finding maidservant work, etc. It also strays into some interesting Edo period politics in terms of City magistrates and the treatment of Kabuki actors both in their fame and infamy. Very interesting, readable account of a woman touted as "extraordinary" in the back cover description, but who comes across as more "stubborn" and unwilling to resign herself to the small, undocumented life of a divorced hanger-on to her brother's family in rural Snow Country.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Cihodariu

    A piece of non-fiction (historical research of an individual case) that is so beautifully written that it almost reads like fiction (in a good way). I liked this especially in relation to the author's later article on the #MeToo movement and the doubt we cast on victims coming forward (you can read it here: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2...). The gist of it is this: in the historical account of an Edo-period non-conforming woman (one who insists on retaining her independence and who travel A piece of non-fiction (historical research of an individual case) that is so beautifully written that it almost reads like fiction (in a good way). I liked this especially in relation to the author's later article on the #MeToo movement and the doubt we cast on victims coming forward (you can read it here: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2...). The gist of it is this: in the historical account of an Edo-period non-conforming woman (one who insists on retaining her independence and who travels alone to a big city), there is at one point a tale of sexual impropriety or assault. But because this information appears in her memoirs a long time after the event happened, the historian working on reconstructing her life initially doubted the story and thought that the Japanese lady is making it up in order to deter accusations of impropriety directed towards herself. Later on, as she recounts in the Slate article linked above, she realizes she made the same mistake society and law enforcement sadly still make sometimes: she doubted the testimony of a victim just because she lacked the psychological understanding of how people process grief and trauma. Namely, the fact that people in some cases cannot verbalize what happened to them right away. Beyond this foray into victim-blaming, the story itself is highly interesting for anyone who is fascinated with Japan, as it offers a first-person glimpse into the Japan of old, right before the moment when the Americans forced them to exit seclusion and open up their ports. The diary of Tsuneno is an incredibly vivid account of life in that time and place, and the magic performed by Amy Stanley on the manuscript will allow you to feel the full blast of that immersive power.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    An intriguing and enjoyable book, more so for the historical context rather then the life of Tsuneno herself. Born into a Buddhist priest's family, Tsuneno finds herself in Edo and the period of history just prior to the arrival of Commodore Perry's fleet in 1854 which led the way to Japan opening up its borders, and for Edo to be transformed into the newly-named capital, Tokyo. As an academic, Amy Stanley's book is clearly well-researched and comes with a lot (for a non-academic I mean a lot!) o An intriguing and enjoyable book, more so for the historical context rather then the life of Tsuneno herself. Born into a Buddhist priest's family, Tsuneno finds herself in Edo and the period of history just prior to the arrival of Commodore Perry's fleet in 1854 which led the way to Japan opening up its borders, and for Edo to be transformed into the newly-named capital, Tokyo. As an academic, Amy Stanley's book is clearly well-researched and comes with a lot (for a non-academic I mean a lot!) of footnotes. Perhaps best just to go with the flow, and then dip into the footnotes as and when you finish a chapter - or indeed the whole book. Using the life of Tsuneno as a way of exploring the period is an interesting idea, but as I say I got more of the history than the biography, which is fine. 3.5 stars.

  12. 5 out of 5

    v

    Thank you @scribnerbooks for this gifted book to review! This is a nonfiction account of Tsuneno, the daughter of Buddhist priest, living in a rural village of Japan in the 1800s. As the daughter of a priest, she had the advantage of learning to read and write, and was raised to marry well and live a traditional life as a dutiful, obedient wife. After enduring an arranged marriage and three divorces, she decides to run away to live on her own terms. The big city of Edo, now Tokyo, beckons with pr Thank you @scribnerbooks for this gifted book to review! This is a nonfiction account of Tsuneno, the daughter of Buddhist priest, living in a rural village of Japan in the 1800s. As the daughter of a priest, she had the advantage of learning to read and write, and was raised to marry well and live a traditional life as a dutiful, obedient wife. After enduring an arranged marriage and three divorces, she decides to run away to live on her own terms. The big city of Edo, now Tokyo, beckons with promises of excitement and independence.  The author builds this biography of Tsuneo's life on a treasure trove of letters found between her and her family, particularly her older brother. Tsuneno lived in Edo, just before American Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet arrived to open trade with the US. During her time, Shoguns ruled and samurais walked the streets. Tsuneno desire for independence meant working jobs beneath her station as a priest's daughter. At one point, she only owned the clothes on her back, having pawned her other clothes for money to survive, and yet, going back to the village was still not an option to her. She was stubborn and determined to live life on her own terms, defying her family and society's expectations. The author gives a rich, well researched view into Japan of the 1800s; its politics, commerce, culture and family life. Tsuneno is an ordinary woman who's letters reveal an extraordinary life at a pivotal time in Japan's history.     

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erin Loranger

    Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for allowing me to read and provide and honest review for Stranger in the Shogun's City. This compelling book follows Tsuneno, a young girl from the Japanese countryside, as she progresses through her life. Tsuneno makes unconventional choices and asserts herself in ways that are often contradictory to the wishes of her family and challenges the norms and expectations of women of her day. Not only do we witness Tsuneno's evolution, but Japan's as well, as it r Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for allowing me to read and provide and honest review for Stranger in the Shogun's City. This compelling book follows Tsuneno, a young girl from the Japanese countryside, as she progresses through her life. Tsuneno makes unconventional choices and asserts herself in ways that are often contradictory to the wishes of her family and challenges the norms and expectations of women of her day. Not only do we witness Tsuneno's evolution, but Japan's as well, as it reacts to the impacts of global trade and changing attitudes towards the Samurai ruling class. Author Amy Stanley brings history to life by expertly weaving Tsuneno's correspondence and family archives with her own extensive research and translation to give the text depth and context, resulting in a story that is quite remarkable for a woman of that day, but simultaneously feels very modern and contemporary. Stanley includes fascinating historical details about the development of Edo, country life, Samurai ruling structure and the culture of the day that will appeal to anyone with interest in Japanese history.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    Amy Stanley has written a biography of sort exploring the life of a woman named Tsuneno, who was born in Japan in 1804 and lived until shortly before Perry arrived in Japan in 1853. In terms of her family and social standing, Tsuneno seemed to be fairly common and certainly not unusual for Japan at that time. But she had quite a life - four marriages, good times and bad times, but most importantly she decided on her own to leave home and family behind and move to Edo (today Tokyo), without letti Amy Stanley has written a biography of sort exploring the life of a woman named Tsuneno, who was born in Japan in 1804 and lived until shortly before Perry arrived in Japan in 1853. In terms of her family and social standing, Tsuneno seemed to be fairly common and certainly not unusual for Japan at that time. But she had quite a life - four marriages, good times and bad times, but most importantly she decided on her own to leave home and family behind and move to Edo (today Tokyo), without letting her family know at the start and certainly against their wishes. She decided in the 1830s that she did not want any more arranged marriages and instead wanted to make it on her own in the big city - where she knew next to nobody. I do not know what the American analog to this story would be in the 1830s, but it could easily be the stuff of dime novels. But this is non-fiction. How did it work out? Read the book. Why is this interesting? Besides the story itself is the question of what Japan was like at the time. What was it like to be a young woman in rural Japan in the 1800s? What was Japanese society like at the time, before the opening to the west or the Meiji Restoration? This is not a movie plot “based on a true story” but is the true story (as far as we can tell). Tsuneno was a talkative person who liked to argue with her family members and husbands. ...and she wrote lots of letters. Those letters and related family documents fell into the hands of the author, who is an historian of Japan who teaches at Northwestern. So this is a good personal story as well as an historical case study - that was occurring right at the time when old Japan was about to transition into modern Japan (and Edo into Tokyo). The time frame is slightly after that of David Mitchell’s book on Japan- “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”. Amy Stanley has done a good job at telling the story. She might not be Hilary Mantel yet but the book reads very well and held my attention.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ken Luehrsen

    I have mixed feelings about this book. The author did a pretty good job of setting the stage, about what life was like in 19th century Japan. But the story was ostensibly about a particular woman's life as revealed by the letters she wrote to her family. But there were few actual quotations from those letters so the book became more of a historical travel log than a biographical work.

  16. 5 out of 5

    L A

    Thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. Anyone who reads and researches a lot about Japan knows that there isn’t much tangible social history about those outwith the nobility. This book seeks to shine some light onto a life of an “ordinary” Japanese woman coming of age in the early 19th century. This was a time of huge political and social change in Japan and it was still largely closed off from the wider world and the social and cult Thanks to Random House UK and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review. Anyone who reads and researches a lot about Japan knows that there isn’t much tangible social history about those outwith the nobility. This book seeks to shine some light onto a life of an “ordinary” Japanese woman coming of age in the early 19th century. This was a time of huge political and social change in Japan and it was still largely closed off from the wider world and the social and cultural influences of the time. I say “ordinary” because Tsuneno was still rather privileged by the standards of the time, at the beginning of her life at least. The book is clearly exhaustively researched and is based on the real letters and documents found in Tsuneno’s family archive. It follows her life from birth until death, focusing particularly when she moves from her rural village in the Snow Country, to Edo, (now Tokyo) after a series of disastrous marriages. I really enjoyed the perspective of a working woman’s life during this time in Tokyo. Although Tsuneno came from privilege, she leaves that behind when she moves to Edo and works in a series of low paid jobs to try and survive, at some points only possessing one piece of clothing. It’s impossible not to feel admiration for her strength of character, and her force of will that remains unbroken through the numerous trials and tribulations she faces in her life. When I lived in Japan, I came across a phrase 出る杭は打たれる which translates roughly to “the nail that stands up must be hammered down, Tsuneno never allows this to happen to herself which is even more remarkable considering the times in which she lived and how easy it would have been for her to go back home to a life of relative wealth and comfort. The book was written in a strange way at times. I can’t quite place my finger on what the issue was, something to do with the way the third person perspective conflicted with the imagined thoughts and motivations of Tsuneno. It took a bit of getting used to and if you like your history to consist of impartial facts based on evidence you may take issue with the approach the author has taken here to relate Tsuneno’s story. I also found it a little strange how much focus there was on the fact that Tsuneno never had children despite her numerous marriages. I didn’t see any evidence that this was something that actually bothered her personally. Undoubtedly there would have been pressure on women at the time to have children but do we have any evidence that this was something Tsuneno herself despaired of? Considering her circumstances and yearning for freedom to make her own way, I can’t see that it was something she would have been upset about. Perhaps another example of when the author puts her own spin on Tsuneno’s story but it came up enough to be a little irksome. A slightly flawed portrait of a truly remarkable woman. This book is not perfect, but it gives a rare insight into the world of Japan during this tumultuous period of history and gives a voice to someone sadly so often unheard.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katie P.

    Amy Stanley weaves a masterful narrative, from the prologue to the epilogue. Beautiful prose like, "Eventually, the shapes of the characters would become as familiar as the mountains on the horizon." This is a work of history that reads like a novel and is easily accessible for those who are not familiar with the inner workings of the Edo period society in Japan. The narrative lends itself to explaining the particulars of the Edo period without getting too bogged down in the technical aspects of Amy Stanley weaves a masterful narrative, from the prologue to the epilogue. Beautiful prose like, "Eventually, the shapes of the characters would become as familiar as the mountains on the horizon." This is a work of history that reads like a novel and is easily accessible for those who are not familiar with the inner workings of the Edo period society in Japan. The narrative lends itself to explaining the particulars of the Edo period without getting too bogged down in the technical aspects of society, culture, and daily life. Stanley's extensive historical research can absolutely be seen in the descriptions of Buddhism, the intricacies of women's lives, and the contemporary accounts of those who lived in the time period. The first chapter details the birth of Tsuneno, her family history, and provides comparisons between her privileged life and the lives of others around the world. The reader meets her father, a True Pure Land Buddhist who makes a very good living, but struggles with his identity and the mark he intends to make on the world. Others include Tsuneno's siblings with comparisons between a boy's education in early modern Japan and a girl's education in the same period. The following chapter tracks Tsuneno's story from her village in Echigo province to her marriage and move to ōishida, and beyond. Tsuneno's story is tempered through the lens of her siblings and their transitions from childhood to adulthood. Readers track her younger sister Kiyomi and the struggles she faced in her early marriage and her brother Giyū's challenges in marriage. Stanley is careful to highlight the individual struggles that men and women both faced at this time, though they were different, each did share similarities. Stanley's narrative leads the reader through Tsuneno's life from marriage to divorce, feast to famine, and rural to urban. She weaves a complex and compelling tapestry depicting the struggle and strife of women with a backdrop of the City of Edo. Tsuneno may be the leading lady in this historical narrative, but Edo is a beautiful supporting actor. "Tsuneno's legacy was the great city of Edo: her ambition, her life's work. Her aspiration for a different kind of existence propelled her from home, and she might have said that the experience of Edo changed her. But she also shaped the city. Every well she waited at; every copper coin she spent." This book is accessible to readers from casual to academic and would be a useful tool in the classroom. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject matter. Funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, Stanley's research and subsequent book effectively show the importance of not only grants supporting the arts but the importance of research in the early modern era. This book releases July 14th, 2020 from Scribner and is available for Pre-Order on Amazon and at other fine book retailers! I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss+.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Eugenia

    Let it be said up front, I really enjoyed this read. It wasn’t exactly what I envisioned but no matter. The notion of a nonfiction written with such delicacy and character development, is a lovely one, Telling the story of a woman’s life in Japan just ripe for Western take over was genius especially because of the status of women in that society, as in most societies of the day. Tsuneno lived as an obedient daughter, sister and wife, until she didn’t and forged her way to a semblance of freedom Let it be said up front, I really enjoyed this read. It wasn’t exactly what I envisioned but no matter. The notion of a nonfiction written with such delicacy and character development, is a lovely one, Telling the story of a woman’s life in Japan just ripe for Western take over was genius especially because of the status of women in that society, as in most societies of the day. Tsuneno lived as an obedient daughter, sister and wife, until she didn’t and forged her way to a semblance of freedom through her own choices in a time and place where choices weren’t given to women, I felt like I really got to know her and the Japan, and her ardent desire for a life in a city, Edo, a metropolis like many all over the world, with this desire so universal to many,

  19. 5 out of 5

    Christopher B

    Amy Stanley’s Stranger in the Shogun’s City is work of history that resurrects its subject, Tsuneno, a migrant from Echigo to Edo, from the archives and presents her everyday life in a way that both highlights the value of her existence and the value of the work of a historian. Stranger in the Shogun’s City pulls from a variety of different primary sources, but is centered around letters sent from and about Tsuneno; however, these letters can only provide enough information to create an outlin Amy Stanley’s Stranger in the Shogun’s City is work of history that resurrects its subject, Tsuneno, a migrant from Echigo to Edo, from the archives and presents her everyday life in a way that both highlights the value of her existence and the value of the work of a historian. Stranger in the Shogun’s City pulls from a variety of different primary sources, but is centered around letters sent from and about Tsuneno; however, these letters can only provide enough information to create an outline of her life. Stanley’s work is immense in stitching together these disparate pieces with a wealth of detail about the world of Edo and Echigo. Rather than taking the world around Tsuneno, explaining it, and placing her within it, Stanley allows the reader to see that world through Tsuneno’s eyes. By situating this work around Tsuneno, we are able to interact with Edo in a way that feels more authentic than fiction and more vibrant than a monograph (while still being excellently sourced). An an example of this style is the frequently used structure: “Tsuneno may have seen X when she did Y”. From a writing perspective, this method allowed the reader to bridge the gaps in space and time left by the primary source, but in a way that leaves Tsuneno’s perspective at the center of our wandering around Edo. A personal favorite section of mine was when Tsuneno reached the outskirts of Edo and is potentially near the Akamon gate in Hongo. The section began, “What would Tsuneno see if she passed through that gate? A lord’s compound wasn’t a place that ordinary people could enter without permission, though some had tried and succeeded.” The narrative proceeded to detail the story of a thief contemporary to Tsuneno, providing a reason to dig deeper into the layout and logic of the compound itself all while helping the reader understand more of what made Edo what it was. As Stanley points out in the closing pages of this book, women like Tsuneno do not get included in history and that is a shame. We spend much of our time and effort focusing on the “great man” view of history, which masks so much of how normal people lived. The collective actions and everyday of normal people shaped the world that we inherited and histories like Stranger in the Shogun’s City help illustrate their lives and bring them into relief with our own. For me, I’m glad to have gotten a chance to meet Tsuneno and share in her experiences, even if only for a few hours. —— When I was in an MA program for Japanese history five years ago, Amy Stanley’s first book, Selling Women, was assigned in our “how to write history” seminar. I remember coming away from reading it with a different conception of gender in relation to labor that has stuck with me since. The finer points of her arguments escape me now (if anyone knows of a place to buy that book for less than $50-60+ I would be very happy), but I’ve always held that book as my favorite example of academic historical writing. Ultimately this book was different than what I expected, but the most exciting part for me is that it’s a very accessible book. It’s something that I feel comfortable sending to people like my mom so that she can understand a little bit of why I found Japanese history (and history in general) so interesting.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bobby D

    A few years ago historian Jill Lepore wrote “Book of Ages, The life of Jane Franklin.” This about Benjamin Franklin’s little known brilliant sister. The point of Lepore’s book was the importance of telling history through many voices, not just great men. This is the viewpoint I thought of when reading historian Amy Stanley’s book about Tokyo in the early 1800’s; this before the American’s showed up on Japan’s doorstep, and when the city’s name was Edo. A city seemingly built of wooden sticks sus A few years ago historian Jill Lepore wrote “Book of Ages, The life of Jane Franklin.” This about Benjamin Franklin’s little known brilliant sister. The point of Lepore’s book was the importance of telling history through many voices, not just great men. This is the viewpoint I thought of when reading historian Amy Stanley’s book about Tokyo in the early 1800’s; this before the American’s showed up on Japan’s doorstep, and when the city’s name was Edo. A city seemingly built of wooden sticks susceptible to fire and the most exciting place to live in the country. Stanley discovered an archive of letters written by a rural Japanese woman named Tsuneno who was born in 1804. The letters were between her and her Buddhist family, written in a difficult to translate text. The book follows Tsuneno’s life’s journey where at age 35 she walks to some 200 miles to Edo. From that point in the narrative, Stanley provides a duel biography of Tsuneno and Edo. Tsuneno died in 1853 at age 49 just as Admiral Perry’s arrived to “open” Japan from isolation and gave a push to the end of Shogun rule. Tsuneno was born into a Buddhist temple priests family. At age 12 her family married her off to the leader of another Buddhist temple some 180 miles away. The marriage ended some 15 years later and she was married twice more, the third time the marriage lasted only 4 months. These were all childless marriages. Her letters were mainly written to her unapproving older brother who became the chief Buddhist priest at her parent's temple. She dreamed of the large city across the mountains: Edo. At 35 she walked to Edo where she found herself a newcomer and broke. At this point in the book, Stanley describes the appeal of the big city, Edo and through numerous disconnected anecdotes paints a history of where Tsuneno found her destiny. All the while her family back home found her to be a headstrong embarrassment out of step with the traditional roll a Buddhist woman was destined to fill. Her older brother kept trying to forget her… thinking her as the sister who ran away to the big city. The story and history are fascinating and I discovered how little I knew of this period of Japanese History. For example, there were no wars or violent clashes during the two centuries before’s Tsuneno’s birth. The book's Prologue is wonderfully written, but once you're into the main text you left with many disconnected events and descriptions that bounce from place to place and year to year. Tsuneno’s life is so full of dysfunction and questionable decisions that she is a rocky tour guide. This leads to several weaknesses in the structure of the book. None of the actual original letters make an appearance so we do not have Tsuneno or her brother’s first-person interpretation or narrative of events. The writing is fine but I feel shorter more concise chapters, or more organized timelines, would have helped make the book more readable. I couldn’t help but compare the book and Tsuneno’s story to the wonderful novel “Pochenco” and how, in novel form, this story could have been more fleshed out and the characters' better described. Stanley did not have the option of writing a novel of Tsuneno’s life, choosing instead to keep the book a history book. Strange sympathetically points out that the future city named Tokyo was built by many women living lives similar to Tsuneno. Not the story of great men but the lives of those like hers who helped create the city. I recommend it to anyone interested in the Japanese history of this period.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    As soon as I picked up this book, I was pulled into the story. Tsuneno was born near the turn of the 19th century in a small village in Japan, far from any of the large cities of the time. Edo (now Tokyo) was ruled by the shogun, and Kyoto was the home of the emperor. Women during this time were supposed to make advantageous marriages at a young age (Tsuneno was first married at the age of 12), and to bring skills and hard work to their husbands’ families. But if the marriage didn’t work out, it As soon as I picked up this book, I was pulled into the story. Tsuneno was born near the turn of the 19th century in a small village in Japan, far from any of the large cities of the time. Edo (now Tokyo) was ruled by the shogun, and Kyoto was the home of the emperor. Women during this time were supposed to make advantageous marriages at a young age (Tsuneno was first married at the age of 12), and to bring skills and hard work to their husbands’ families. But if the marriage didn’t work out, it wasn’t uncommon for the couple to divorce and try again with someone new. What was unusual was how long Tsuneno stayed with her first husband (more than 15 years), and the fact that she was married and divorced three times (four if you count her last husband, who took her back). It was after her third divorce that she ran away from her family and traveled nearly on her own to Edo to seek a better life for herself, a choice that women just didn’t make during this time period. They were expected to be far more subservient and docile, doing what their fathers and brothers and husbands demanded they do. We know all of this about Tsuneno because her eldest brother kept meticulous records, which is only to be expected, as he was the priest of a True Life Buddhist temple. Tsuneno was literate and wrote many letters home, sometimes complaining about her life in Edo and sometimes asking for monetary assistance. Throughout the book, Stanley brings Edo to life, the city of the shogun before Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan to trade with the West. Tsuneno was desperately poor when she arrived in Edo, and Stanley describes the back alley tenements so well that one can almost feel like one is looking over Tsuneno’s shoulder as she crouched in her three-tatami room next to her brazier. We also learn about various kabuki actors, and how important the theatre was to people who lived in Edo. But what did disappoint me a bit was how little we actually hear Tsuneno’s voice. For a woman who wrote a lot of letters to and from her family back in Echigo, Stanley rarely includes her words. I would have liked to read a lot more of Tsuneno’s words and how she saw her place in the world, if she even thought about it while she was in Edo. If you have any interest in peeking into Japan before Edo became Tokyo and the seat of the emperor, when the shogun still ruled over the city, this would be an excellent book. I just wish we heard more of Tsuneno in her own words. I’m always fascinated by how women have lived their normal, everyday lives throughout history, since we’re mostly taught the amazing achievements of men.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    Stranger In the Shogun’s City offers a very thorough, informative narrative about many aspects of life in Japan in general and Edo (Tokyo) in particular circa 1830-1845.  In a highly readable prose the following are described: life in a temple in a small mountain town, travel to Edo, samurai culture and lifestyle, various neighborhoods of Edo, the life of poverty in Edo’s tenements, Edo’s Kabuki theater district and its influence on clothing styles, pawn shops and lending agents, famines and the Stranger In the Shogun’s City offers a very thorough, informative narrative about many aspects of life in Japan in general and Edo (Tokyo) in particular circa 1830-1845.  In a highly readable prose the following are described: life in a temple in a small mountain town, travel to Edo, samurai culture and lifestyle, various neighborhoods of Edo, the life of poverty in Edo’s tenements, Edo’s Kabuki theater district and its influence on clothing styles, pawn shops and lending agents, famines and their impact on society/politics, the justice system, and death and funeral rites. Also, the effect which the threat of foreign interference interference in the 1850’s had on the country was discussed.  All of this is done in the context of the experiences of Tsuneo, a woman in her mid 30's who left her small home town against the wishes of her family to try forge a life for herself in the Shogun’s city.  The author deserves kudos for many years of effort in translating the correspondence of Tsuneo and others.   As she notes in this interview the cursive script used in those days is very complex and difficult to read:  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-4CHb9... Stanley also discloses in this interview that she believes that she lacks the imagination to create a fictionalized account of this woman’s life.  Although Tsuneo must have written something about her feelings about her enormous struggles to make a life for herself in such an intensely hierarchical and patriarchal society, the author did not include much of this in the book.   Neither did she engage in much speculation about such things.    The result is a character who lacks as much depth as she merits.  A few sentences here or there describing Tsuneo’s inner life would have made this a more engaging read.  I recommend Stranger for those who wish to learn a great deal about Japan in its final years before Perry arrived on its shores in 1853.  With 30+ pages of footnotes and a 14 page bibliography it is a thoroughly researched, skillfully crafted piece of social history which deserves 5 stars. But do not expect much human life drama. In that respect the book regrettably could have been more than it is.  For that aspect I would give it 3 stars. Overall, it rates as 4 stars.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Richard Janzen

    So hard to rate this book, but will try to express my thoughts after reading it. The author has done a remarkable job of sharing a view of the world of a woman from Echigo (Niigata) who moved to Edo (Tokyo) during the 1800's, with the story ending around the time of Perry's boats coming into the harbor to "negotiate" a trade deal and the opening of Japan... and just before the beginning of the Meiji era. The story of her life has been reconstructed in incredible detail through letters and other d So hard to rate this book, but will try to express my thoughts after reading it. The author has done a remarkable job of sharing a view of the world of a woman from Echigo (Niigata) who moved to Edo (Tokyo) during the 1800's, with the story ending around the time of Perry's boats coming into the harbor to "negotiate" a trade deal and the opening of Japan... and just before the beginning of the Meiji era. The story of her life has been reconstructed in incredible detail through letters and other documents of the time. It is a significant accomplishment and probably a monumental task to present all of these personal details in the historical/geographical/political/social context of the time. I appreciate learning not only about the accomplishments of famous "important" people, but more about the world and lives of middle class people. It would also be interesting to have the same kind of book from a lower class perspective, but that kind of book would clearly not have the documents and letters available to rely on to provide a strong factual base for a specific individual life. I also appreciate that this is the story of a woman, and we seldom have a whole book from this time telling the story of a woman. I have to admit that it was not a simple book to race through. Many sentences had phrases like "she might have thought", or "maybe she....", or things like that. Obviously the author is limited by the fact that she is not writing a historical fiction, but trying to be as factual as possible. This does limit the flow and readability of the book in my opinion.... but perhaps can't be helped. Glad I read it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Kendle

    “𝘚𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘦𝘭𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘦’𝘥 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘥 𝘩𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘥𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘺𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯.” Stranger in the Shogun’s City is a work of history that reads as an autobiography of sorts, as Amy Stanley has lovingly translated the letters of Tsuneno, a 19th century born daughter to a Buddhist priest. She chronicles her difficult relationship and expectations from her family, and the journey from her snow covered village, through the mountains and into Edo (now known as Tokyo). The book works wonderfully well in this, as it bri “𝘚𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘦𝘭𝘵 𝘭𝘪𝘬𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘦’𝘥 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘥 𝘩𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘥𝘴 𝘰𝘧 𝘺𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘨𝘦𝘯𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯.” Stranger in the Shogun’s City is a work of history that reads as an autobiography of sorts, as Amy Stanley has lovingly translated the letters of Tsuneno, a 19th century born daughter to a Buddhist priest. She chronicles her difficult relationship and expectations from her family, and the journey from her snow covered village, through the mountains and into Edo (now known as Tokyo). The book works wonderfully well in this, as it brings both to light and to life, the historic and cultural shift that Edo undertakes into becoming the city we know today. This aspect of the book was truly insightful and fascinating. I particularly enjoyed how, in spite of Tsuneno not being a knowable historic figure, leaving seemingly little achievements in her wake, Amy uses the letters she left behind to demonstrate that just by living, breathing, moving, Tsuneno was part of the lifeblood and culture of Japan. Ultimately we are all the lifeblood that courses through the veins of history, and that is one of the many beautiful messages I will take away from this book. “𝘔𝘢𝘺𝘣𝘦 𝘴𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘭 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺, 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘪𝘵, 𝘢𝘵 𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵. 𝘐𝘵 𝘸𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘯 𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘴’ 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘤𝘦𝘳𝘵𝘢𝘪𝘯𝘭𝘺 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘯 𝘢 𝘩𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘢𝘯’𝘴, 𝘧𝘶𝘭𝘭 𝘰𝘧 “𝘮𝘢𝘺𝘣𝘦𝘴” 𝘢𝘯𝘥 “𝘮𝘪𝘨𝘩𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘴”.”

  25. 4 out of 5

    Janta

    (The usual note: in my ebook copy, the narrative text comprises 74% of the total length. Remainder is notes, etc.) I really enjoyed this one! It's the best kind of history: focused not on great battles or famous leaders, but on what life must have really been like for the vast majority of people. Learning about Tsuneno and her family was absolutely engrossing. I was really struck by how modern and relatable Tsuneno seemed; it's clear that she made some bad choices in her life, but it's absolutely (The usual note: in my ebook copy, the narrative text comprises 74% of the total length. Remainder is notes, etc.) I really enjoyed this one! It's the best kind of history: focused not on great battles or famous leaders, but on what life must have really been like for the vast majority of people. Learning about Tsuneno and her family was absolutely engrossing. I was really struck by how modern and relatable Tsuneno seemed; it's clear that she made some bad choices in her life, but it's absolutely amazing to me to think how she fought to be able to *make* those choices herself, rather than simply accepting the fate her family planned for her. Stanley writes with compassion and flair, evoking a world that seems both alien and very familiar. When she must speculate about her subject's motivations or feelings, she does so with elegance and sense; the "perhapses", "maybe"s and "might have"s never seem out of proportion or overblown. If you're at all interested in Japanese history, women's history, or just a glimpse into everyday life in a different time and place, this book is absolutely worth reading. Highly recommended!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Noriko

    I found Amy Stanley's approach provided a very unique (and rare) perspective on Japanese history. My grasp of Japanese history is based on a Japanese Ministry of Education curriculum + American education + my parents' stories. So adding Tsuneno's narrative on top of this background made the history even more fully fleshed and real. She provides a perspective that's rarely recorded or shared with the outside world. I think it's amazing that the author put so much time into carefully reconstructin I found Amy Stanley's approach provided a very unique (and rare) perspective on Japanese history. My grasp of Japanese history is based on a Japanese Ministry of Education curriculum + American education + my parents' stories. So adding Tsuneno's narrative on top of this background made the history even more fully fleshed and real. She provides a perspective that's rarely recorded or shared with the outside world. I think it's amazing that the author put so much time into carefully reconstructing Tsuneno's world and invites others to step into it. If you're looking to scratch that casual Japanophile itch, this book likely isn't for you. But if you'd like to get a glimpse into a carefully researched and rarely seen world, I'd recommend taking this intellectual journey. PS When I saw mention the true cost/value of sushi in Edo, I knew this author was legit as I've never seen nor heard this tidbit from anyone other than my Dad (an Edokko - or Edoite).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    I loved this. Stretching from 1804 to 1853, it's the true (and imagined in part) story of Tsuneno, a Japanese woman who lived a bigger life than one could possibly imagine. Stanley pulled together letters from Tsuneno to her family over the years- mostly, to be honest, asking for money. She married three times, unsuccessfully, and never really seemed to learn from her mistakes. She was childless and doesn't seem to yearn for children. It's once she moves to Edo that the book begins to shine, giv I loved this. Stretching from 1804 to 1853, it's the true (and imagined in part) story of Tsuneno, a Japanese woman who lived a bigger life than one could possibly imagine. Stanley pulled together letters from Tsuneno to her family over the years- mostly, to be honest, asking for money. She married three times, unsuccessfully, and never really seemed to learn from her mistakes. She was childless and doesn't seem to yearn for children. It's once she moves to Edo that the book begins to shine, giving the reader a sense of what Tokyo was like before Admiral Perry arrived. There are all sorts of interesting details. Know that there are footnotes, which in Kindle become endnotes- I'd suggest hard copy, if possible, to enhance the reading experience because I think valuable info is otherwise lost. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Terry94705

    The first part of this book was really quite interesting. an account of a rural temple family and the marriage(s) and adventures of the priest’s unusual daughter, Tsuneno. The family archive provided the bones of the narrative and the author provided detail and context that made it quite engrossing. However, as the daughter’s relatives died off, I imagine correspondence became thinner, so there is less and less detail about her circumstances, and more of the general context— Japan, and especiall The first part of this book was really quite interesting. an account of a rural temple family and the marriage(s) and adventures of the priest’s unusual daughter, Tsuneno. The family archive provided the bones of the narrative and the author provided detail and context that made it quite engrossing. However, as the daughter’s relatives died off, I imagine correspondence became thinner, so there is less and less detail about her circumstances, and more of the general context— Japan, and especially Edo in mid-century. Descriptions of the city and its governance were useful. In the end there is a bit too much conjecture about what Tsuneno would have thought or seen had she lived until Peary’s landing. You can tell that the author found it inconvenient that our protagonist died before this historical event, and had to keep looping the narrative back to her. It was awkward.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    For some reason, I started reading this thinking it was fiction (and that was after reading an online review of it!) I don't quite know how I got so mixed up, but I spent the first chapter thinking that it was really badly written fiction. Thankfully, I soon realised it was non fiction, and started appreciating it a lot more. I've become a lot more interested in Japanese fiction and history since visiting last year, so this was a great read. It was a great blend of information about Tsuneno hers For some reason, I started reading this thinking it was fiction (and that was after reading an online review of it!) I don't quite know how I got so mixed up, but I spent the first chapter thinking that it was really badly written fiction. Thankfully, I soon realised it was non fiction, and started appreciating it a lot more. I've become a lot more interested in Japanese fiction and history since visiting last year, so this was a great read. It was a great blend of information about Tsuneno herself and Japan/culture as a whole. I was fascinated by the idea of the "divorce" and that no scandal was attached to it - such a difference to Western attitudes at the same time. The section on Edo (now Tokyo) was really interesting. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nelda Brangwin

    Based on a few letters as primary sources, Tsuneno, a very unremarkable woman, makes her way to Edo( now Tokyo) during the end of the shogun’s rule in the mid 1800’s. She may have left little of herself for history to discover, but the historian Amy Stanley, creates a fully dimensional woman who had been married and divorced three times by the time she was 35. Unwilling to settle for another arranged marriage she leaves the rural area. Her life in Edo still meant she needed to get married. Singl Based on a few letters as primary sources, Tsuneno, a very unremarkable woman, makes her way to Edo( now Tokyo) during the end of the shogun’s rule in the mid 1800’s. She may have left little of herself for history to discover, but the historian Amy Stanley, creates a fully dimensional woman who had been married and divorced three times by the time she was 35. Unwilling to settle for another arranged marriage she leaves the rural area. Her life in Edo still meant she needed to get married. Single life would give her no security. Tsunero could have been one of those women, who deserve the words “You Go, Girl.”

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