UNEXPECTED DESTINATIONS by Akiko Kuno

UNEXPECTED DESTINATIONS

The Poignant Story of Japan's First Vassar Graduate
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The tale of a young Japanese woman's encounter with the West during the Meiji era--as told with unfortunately little resonance by great-granddaughter Kuno. In researching this story, Kuno not only retraced her ancestor's footsteps in the US but found a rich trove of letters and memorabilia to draw on in the Yale and Vassar archives. Sutematsu, daughter of an impoverished samurai who'd supported the shogun against the emperor, was a young participant in the 1868 siege that ended the shogunate. Four years later, the 11-year-old Sutematsu and five other girls left Japan to be educated in America. Their education was funded by the imperial government, which had embarked on a program of rapid modernization, but this support didn't reflect any official embrace of women's equality but, rather, the ``dubious premise that intelligent women would become intelligent mothers and intelligent mothers must give birth to children as equally endowed with brains.'' Sutematsu was fortunate to be placed in the New Haven home of the Rev. Leonard Bacon, a noted abolitionist and preacher, where she became a beloved member of the family and formed lifelong friendships. Kuno records the young woman's successes in high school; her even more luminous time at Vassar, where she was class valedictorian; and her poignant reentry into Japanese society. Recalled home by the government in 1882, Sutematsu soon realized that Japan wasn't ready for an emancipated woman. She married Japan's army minister, a much older but cosmopolitan and enlightened man, in order to work behind the scenes to realize her ambition of educating women--which she did by helping to establish the nation's first school of English and higher learning for Japanese women. A rather perfunctory introduction that only hints at the implications and pathos of Sutematsu's story. Sutematsu and her brave companions deserve more, but this is at least a long overdue beginning. (Twenty-six b&w photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 4-77001-638-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1993