** SHORTLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE 2020 **
A vivid, deeply researched work of history that explores the life of an unconventional woman in Edo - now known as Tokyo - and a portrait of a great city on the brink of momentous change
The daughter of a Buddhist priest, Tsuneno was born in 1804 in a rural Japanese village and was expected to live a life much like her mother's. But after three divorces - and with 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 before the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet, which would open Japan up to trade and diplomacy with the West for the first time. During this pivotal moment in Japanese history, Tsuneno bounces from tenement to tenement, marries a masterless samurai and eventually ends up in the service of a famous city magistrate. An extraordinary woman at an extraordinary time, Tsuneno's life provides a window into nineteenth-century Japanese culture - and a rare view of a woman who sacrificed her family and her reputation to make a new life for herself, despite social conventions.
Immersive and gripping, Stranger in the Shogun's City is a revelatory work of history, layered with rich detail and delivered in beautiful prose, about the life of a woman, a city and a culture.
*A SUNDAY TIMES, NEW STATESMAN AND THE TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020*
How did it feel to live in what was even then one of the largest cities in the world, a place of vivid and brilliant creativity, isolated by decree from the world at large? This is the question that Amy Stanley has set herself in this quietly ambitious book... She has extracted a touching and accessible story about leaving the provinces for the thrilling loneliness of the big city, about making mistakes and making the same mistakes again... a minor miracle of documentary and literary archaeology
At the heart of Stanley's book is the extraordinary and terrible story of Tsuneno... Using detailed documentation, Stanley builds up a picture of Tsuneno's world, immersing us in temple, village and town life in an experience akin to time travel... Tsuneno's story takes us into virtually every corner of this remarkable society on the brink of change
Stanley's book - a stunning work of academic persistence, reconstruction and luck - weaves the hard-won details of Tsuneno's life into the final years of the Edo period, brilliantly highlighting the clues that both Japan, and the city that would become Tokyo, were on the brink of change... Few western writers have managed to capture the DNA strands from this fabulously colourful moment of Tokyo's past and weave them so adroitly
The great achievement of this revelatory book is to demolish any assumption on the part of English language readers that pre-modern Japan was all blossom, tea ceremonies and mysterious half-smiles... Tsuneno is interesting and admirable precisely because she was of her time and had to make the best of the hand she had been dealt. It is her ordinariness, and her multiple failures at not getting what she wanted, that make her story so deeply absorbing
A visit to the past that is a refreshing antidote to the histories of great men-and the occasional great woman-at times of flux... Tsuneno's life was not a heroic one. The heroism lies rather in Ms Stanley's efforts to decipher her story... the paper trail Tsuneno left behind is remarkable