While women in the United States only achieved the right to vote in 1920, they were heirs to a century-long struggle for emancipation. By contrast women in Japan were historically subjugated to the extent that according to one samurai code “the words of women should be totally disregarded.”
The pro-western Meiji regime brought efforts toward modernization, along with stirrings for a radical change in women’s role in society. One daring initiative was to send five Japanese girls in 1871 to America to be educated for up to ten years with the goal that they would return to Japan and educate the women of Japan in the ways of the modern world. The hope was that educated mothers would spread enlightenment. Janice Nimura describes this journey and its consequences in her book, “Daughters of the Samurai,” a remarkable study of this experiment.
Two years after graduating from Yale, Janice P. Nimura moved from her native Manhattan to her new husband’s native Tokyo. Over 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, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and Newsday. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.