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

Scribner. Jul. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781501188527. $28. HIST
Stanley (history, Northwestern Univ.; Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan) offers a look into the lives of ordinary people living in early 19th-century Japan. The bulk of the story follows the life of Tsuneno, the daughter of a Buddhist priest raised in rural Echigo Province (modern day Niigata Prefecture) on the snowy western coast. Although not from the upper echelons of society, being the daughter of a priest meant that Tsuneno and her family were literate. The writings they left behind allow present-day readers to learn much about their lives. After three failed marriages, thirtysomething Tsuneno ran away from home to pursue a new life in the big city of Edo (modern day Tokyo). Throughout the retelling of her life story, readers will discover the lives of Japanese temple families, farmers, big-city samurai, and more. Stanley’s historical narrative of people and place helpfully puts Tsueno’s life within the context of larger national and international events impacting Japan at the time.
VERDICT Essential for anyone interested in 19th-century Japanese history, and a great companion piece to Anna Sherman’s The Bells of Old Tokyo, which compares modern day Tokyo with historic Edo.

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