Lesley Downer at the TLS:
So what was life like in that untouched Japan? We know a surprising amount about life in those days, in part because this was a highly literate society that kept and preserved copious records. Amy Stanley, an associate professor of history at Northwestern University, Illinois, is fluent in pre-modern as well as modern Japanese. In Stranger in the Shogun’s City, she uses private letters together with temple records, bills, receipts, tax returns, salary chits, legal and other documents and books of and about the times to piece together a marvellous patchwork of life in the decades before Western ships were sighted and interaction with the outside world began again in earnest. At the heart of Stanley’s book is the extraordinary and terrible story of Tsuneno, whose life went against the grain not only of what was expected of women in her day but also of what we assume life was like for women at that time.