Stranger in the Shogun's City: From the Archive to the Page

In the early nineteenth century, an irrepressible woman named Tsuneno ran away from her home in the Japanese snow country. After three marriages and three divorces, she was determined to find a new life in the great city of Edo (now Tokyo). But the choice sent her tumbling down the social scale: in the countryside, she had been a well-to-do married woman, but in the city, she eked out a precarious existence as a domestic servant. When I encountered fragments of Tsuneno’s life in the archive, I realized that her story had enormous potential. Her unusual mobility, combined with her literacy, could show us many facets of women’s lives in early modern Japan. But it was also a difficult story to tell, particularly since Tsuneno was a completely obscure person whose archive — though comparatively voluminous — was still limited.

This talk draws from Amy Stanley’s experience writing about Tsuneno’s life to consider problems of narration, methodology, and silence: Where do you turn when you don’t know exactly what happened? How do you write a compelling narrative when you’re faced with frustrating gaps? What can you draw from your own experience of the world, and where should you leave room for difference? And worst of all, how do you know what your sources aren’t telling you, and make peace with what you don’t know?

This Department of History – Class of 1960 Scholars and Asian Studies Program lecture by Amy Stanley will take place on

Wed, Oct 4 – 4:15 PM
Griffin Hall – Room 3

Amy Stanley is the Wayne V. Jones Research Professor of History at Northwestern University. Primarily a social historian of early modern and modern Japan, she has special interests in global history, women’s and gender history, and narrative. She is the author of Selling Women: Prostitution, Markets, and the Household in Early Modern Japan (UC Press 2012), as well as articles in the American Historical Review, The Journal of Japanese Studies, and The Journal of Asian Studies.

Her most recent book, Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World (Scribner, 2020), won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in Biography and PEN/America Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award in Biography and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


She received her PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard in 2007, and she has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.