“[Nimura] skillfully bridges Japanese and American cultures, using the seemingly small story of the three young people to tell a much larger tale of another time.” Washington Post
Great stories are all around us. And sometimes the story of how a story was discovered is as fascinating as the tale itself. And hearing firsthand how Janice P. Nimura came to
write Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back made for a wonderful evening at my favorite indie, Watchung Booksellers.
A book critic and independent scholar with an MA in Eastern Studies from Columbia, Janice happened upon a slim volume in the stacks of the New York Society Library titled A Japanese Interior, by Alice Mabel Bacon, a lively, quick-witted account by a single woman who’d lived in Tokyo in the late 1880s. Tracing some curious references in the book
led Janice to a forgotten, but fascinating, footnote in Japanese-American relations: In 1871, five young girls were recruited by the Japanese government and sent to America. Their mission: “learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of
enlightened men to lead Japan. ”
Through persistence and expert sleuthing, Janice rescued these amazing young girls from oblivion and crafted a highly praised nonfiction account of a world long lost. Janice’s spirited description of her journey from researcher to author underscored four valuable attributes we can all benefit from cultivating:
Intuition: When Janice came across A Japanese Interior, she instantly felt it was very different from most more formulaic diaries about 19th century Japanese sojourns. And when an odd reference intrigued her, she intuitively felt it was worth exploring.
Curiosity: Tracing the threads of her story from the United States to Japan, Janice began to weave a story rich in history, culture shock, and emotional depth. Guided by her growing curiosity, she uncovered more and more information.
Patience: Over a decade, Janice pondered the story, researched it intermittently, and brought her book to print. When circumstances made it difficult for her to immerse herself in her project, she found ways to gather new material and keep her story alive. When she finally had time to give it her full attention, it took her three years to write.
Passion: The more research she did, the more committed she became to telling a big story — one that embraced the young Japanese girls’ challenges, but also put them in the context of both Japanese and American history.
Intuition, curiosity, patience, and passion — a powerful quartet of qualities we can fruitfully bring to our own projects, fiction and nonfiction. Bravo, Janice — write on!