Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto

(1874-1950) – Author and Teacher

Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto’s most famous book is A Daughter of the Samurai, with a subtitle which says ‘How a daughter of feudal Japan, living hundreds of years in one generation, became a modern American’. First published in 1926, this book captures life for post-1868 generations of Japanese people who emerged from 265 years of Japanese isolationist foreign policy to begin to interact with the outside world – at a time when Japan’s old feudal system was crumbling. It’s a great read from a woman born into the samurai class in Nagaoka, Niigata, who was educated as a Christian and, through an arranged marriage, went to live in the USA at the age of twenty-six. Etsu returned to Japan for a brief time after her husband died before going back to the USA, where she lived in New York, taught Japanese language and culture and wrote other books and articles. But it is this engaging and unusual memoir which is her best known work.

I was given this book by a friend when I lived in Japan in the late 1980s and it was such a revelation, throwing light on the history of Japan and its old traditions in an accessible way. I loved it immediately, and have re-read it several times since, due to Etsu’s wonderfully readable storytelling. 

Sharmilla Beezmohun

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