Review: Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World by Amy Stanley

Book Review

Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World by Amy Stanley
Nonfiction, Historical, Japan

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A 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, she ran away to make a life for herself in one of the largest cities in the world: Edo.

In the book 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. 

What I thought
This is the story of Tsuneno a woman born in the Japanese countryside in 1801.  Her story is not conventional for that time and she did not accomplish amazing feats, however, stories about any woman during that time are rare.  This book is truly a wonderful look into what a woman’s life in Japan during the early 1800 really was like.  

Tsuneno’s story isn’t a particularly happy one but one that probably wasn’t that uncommon during this time.  Tsuneno was first married off at the age of 12 and was sent home divorced 15 years later.  She was then married off 2 more times by her family and sent home divorced each time.  It appears through the letters that the issue was only that she wasn’t baring children.  And during a time when that was one of a women’s main “duties” through no fault of her own, she was not wanted.  There is only so much a person can take before they have had enough and for Tsuneno that was hearing that they were going to marry her off again this time to an old widow who needed a mother for his children.  Tsuneno decided to take her life into her own hands and go to Edo to try to make a life for herself.  Sadly this did not work out well for her but she was living life on her terms.  

We are lucky that Tsuneno was an avid letter writer and that her family kept every letter or we would never have been able to hear her story.  

I highly enjoyed this look into Tsuneno life.  I feel like I was given a peek into a time in history that I rarely get to see. 

My Rating: /5

Have you read this book? If so what did you think? Tell me in the comments below.

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Sophril Recommends

Sophril Recommends #1

Sophril Recommends

Good Morning!

Welcome to the first installment of Sophril Recommends. I have been toying with this idea for a while. I wasn’t sure if anyone would really care about books that I think are wonderful. But hey I’m putting this out there anyway and if nothing else we can talk about some really great books.

So for this first book, I am going back to a book that I read in 2005 and absolutely loved.

Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
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According to Arthur Golden’s absorbing first novel, the word “geisha” does not mean “prostitute,” as Westerners ignorantly assume–it means “artisan” or “artist.” To capture the geisha experience in the art of fiction, Golden trained as long and hard as any geisha who must master the arts of music, dance, clever conversation, crafty battle with rival beauties, and cunning seduction of wealthy patrons. After earning degrees in Japanese art and history from Harvard and Columbia–and an M.A. in English–he met a man in Tokyo who was the illegitimate offspring of a renowned businessman and a geisha. This meeting inspired Golden to spend 10 years researching every detail of geisha culture, chiefly relying on the geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who spent years charming the very rich and famous.
The result is a novel with the broad social canvas (and love of coincidence) of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen’s intense attention to the nuances of erotic maneuvering. Readers experience the entire life of a geisha, from her origins as an orphaned fishing-village girl in 1929 to her triumphant auction of her mizuage (virginity) for a record price as a teenager to her reminiscent old age as the distinguished mistress of the powerful patron of her dreams. We discover that a geisha is more analogous to a Western “trophy wife” than to a prostitute–and, as in Austen, flat-out prostitution and early death is a woman’s alternative to the repressive, arcane system of courtship. In simple, elegant prose, Golden puts us right in the tearoom with the geisha; we are there as she gracefully fights for her life in a social situation where careers are made or destroyed by a witticism, a too-revealing (or not revealing enough) glimpse of flesh under the kimono, or a vicious rumor spread by a rival “as cruel as a spider.”

Golden’s web is finely woven, but his book has a serious flaw: the geisha’s true romance rings hollow–the love of her life is a symbol, not a character. Her villainous geisha nemesis is sharply drawn, but she would be more so if we got a deeper peek into the cause of her motiveless malignity–the plight all geisha share. Still, Golden has won the triple crown of fiction: he has created a plausible female protagonist in a vivid, now-vanished world, and he gloriously captures Japanese culture by expressing his thoughts in authentic Eastern metaphors.

So tell me have you read it or does this book sound good to you?

Talk to me in the comments I would love to know.

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