Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Ume Tsuda and Ioana Nitobe Garrison - Identity Recovered in the Land of the Other

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

Ume Tsuda and Ioana Nitobe Garrison - Identity Recovered in the Land of the Other

Article excerpt

Ume Tsuda (1864-1929) was bom in feudal Japan. She grew up in a society that found itself at the dawns of modernity yet, despite the difficulties of the transition process, it managed to make its way through. When she was eight years old, Ume was chosen - together with other four girls - as members of a Japanese Embassy that was to travel abroad. (Kume, I, 2002: 404) Furthermore, the girls were to be left in the United States of America for a long time, as it was the government's original intention to make them models of modem women in Japan, which was seeking "civilization and enlightenment" (Kume, 2002).

Ume's letters discovered in the attic of Tsuda College in Tokyo were a sequel to the journal and were begun just before the homebound steamer Arabic left the shores of San Francisco. Having completely forgotten her own language and grown up as an American, she was a stranger in her native land, and the letters served as an outlet for her feelings. They reveal the agony of a young soul seeking an identity. The Attic Letters written between 1882 and 1911 also describe the ever changing social and political situation in the young, modernizing Japan, changing the "late-nineteenthcentury Bryn Mawr alumna and one of the first few Japanese women to have studied abroad" (Ryang, 2004: 58, 59) into one of the most important witnesses of the fast changing, modernizing Nipponese mind.

Although she was bom more than a century later and in an extremely distant land and a different culture, Ioana Nitobe Garrison (1973- ) shares many features with Ume. The social and historic circumstances of her childhood and youth that she describes in her autobiographic book entitled Ai suru (that means "to love" in Japanese) resemble the feudal, isolated anachronistic Japanese society of the first half of the nineteenth century from certain points of view. The Romanian Communist regime cultivated a similar international isolation, as well as a very visible anti-Christian feeling, which left deep traces in people's minds.

A common characteristic of the feelings nurtured by both the nineteenth century Japanese population as well as the people in Communist Romania regarding their interaction with foreigners placed the latter ones on the verges of the extreme. They were regarded in both cases either as exceptionally good, exemplary people, or as some extremely evil humans. The similar reaction of the two young female writers regarding these Others focused on their willingness to change so that they could harmonize with them, as well as a personal optimistic feeling toward the Others, no matter what might have disappointed them from their part.

The Communist society might have influenced Ioana's mature professional choice to become a specialist in Japanese studies. This choice was perceived in Romania from around the nineties of the twentieth century to be a rather unusual Academic career. Despite the fact that she received her training in Bucharest, at a private university1 founded in the PostCommunist age, although she did not point them as such, she would often be struck by the diehards of the respective cultural inheritance. Her book offers us a very personal and vivid description of Japan by the end of the twentieth century. The Japanese world is described by Ioana as a much loved and highly respected society, a culture that the author keeps longing for, a very important part of her past, as well as present and future. Yet, it also consists of an intriguing experience that she has not managed to come to terms with.

Despite the lapse in time and their different cultural origins, both Ume Tsuda (1864-1929) and Ioana Nitobe Garrison (1973-present) share many features regarding their troubled identity, as they spend some of their most impressionable years of their lives in distant lands. Ume spends almost her entire childhood and adolescence in the United States of America with the Lanrnan family, while Ioana marries Ken, a Japanese aristocrat, and spends more than three years in Japan. …

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