Stranger in the Shogun's City
A Woman’s Life in Nineteenth-Century Japan
A groundbreaking new history of Edo, now modern day Tokyo, that will change our Western understanding of Japanese history, placing women's lives back in the historical picture
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, not far from the sprawling Shogun’s city – Edo, now modern-day Tokyo – lived Tsuneno, a passionate, rambunctious Japanese woman. The daughter of a Buddhist priest, she escaped the stifling straitjacket of the countryside and travelled to Edo to reinvent herself and seek her fortune.
Approaching the city, she heard music drifting down from the teahouses along the Shakujii River and caught sight of the dusty plazas crowded with fruit and vegetable sellers tucked between merchant houses and kabuki theatres, as well as the emaciated, dead-eyed people who had fled the famine in the northeast down to well-provisioned Edo. It signalled a new life, and exhilarating beginnings.
But the reality of life proved punishing. Tsuneno married four times, sometimes to abusive and manipulative husbands, struggled to find stable work amidst the maidservants and master-less samurais, and never had children. Chronicling these moments of hardship and heartbreak against the backdrop of a crumbling Shogunate, we see Japanese history afresh through an ordinary woman’s eyes.
Drawing on a cache of Tsuneno’s writings, Amy Stanley reconstructs the lost city of Edo in astonishing detail, resuscitating Tsuneno’s voice and other women like her who moved to the Shogun’s city and contributed to its growth – and the eventual formation of Tokyo. With thrilling storytelling and evocative prose, we see how the seemingly ordinary is in fact extraordinary – and how a single life can contain a multitude of forgotten worlds.