Letters by an American Woman in Japan



A collection of seven long letters written by a 30-year-old woman named “Bessie” over the course of her year of missionary work and travels in Japan. All seven letters are addressed to her close friend Nellie Bearce in Suffield, Connecticut and span the period from her passage across the Pacific in October 1911 through about December 1912.

The collection consists of six letters totaling 73 neatly written octavo pages, and a remarkable accordion folded final letter that measures about nine feet long when vertically unfolded. All seven mailing envelopes are included, several of which are illustrated, with the stamps neatly removed. One or two letters have some modest ink flaking not affecting legibility, overall near fine.

A Baptist missionary associated with the Suffield School and Women’s American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, Bessie took the trans-Pacific liner S.S. *Shinyo Maru* en route to Yokohama, with a week-long layover in Honolulu. Her first letter includes a terrific account of “surf riding” at Waikiki Beach: "… for real downright exciting fun this is the greatest I ever had in my life … The canoes are long, narrow, and very deep, and are hollowed out of a tree trunk. Each one has an outrigger as it is called … Two native Hawaiian men manage each canoe … Going out they take in a lot of water, for you ride on the top of those waves, then drop down into the trough of the sea with such a thud that the entire front part of the canoe sometimes goes under the water. When they get out as far as they can … they bail out the canoe, and turning around wait for a wave, usually the last of a series of big ones. At the word 'Everybody paddle,' from the man in charge of the canoe everyone works for dear life so that you get under great headway and by the time the wave catches up with you, you are under such momentum that it carries you shoreward a booming. You cut through the water with it flying all over you and looking behind you see this great mountain of water pushing you ahead of it. Oh it is great! … The natives are expert swimmers and they say they never have a serious accident.”

Likewise, all seven letters include many closely observed and detailed accounts of her travels throughout Japan, both for leisure and to visit Baptist Girls’ Home schools and boarding schools in Tokyo, Sendai, Himeji, and Kyoto. Most of her missionary activities appear to have been centered at the Duncan Baptist Academy in Tokyo (Its president, Rev. J.F. Gressitt, was also principal of the Suffield School in Connecticut), Kyoto, and the Girls’ Boarding Schools at Himeji and Sendai.

In Himeji in December 1912 they attended the annual Chrysanthemum garden party where both the Empress and Royal Family made an appearance: “we walked on through the gardens to the first enclosure where there were three sheds under which the chrysanthemums were displayed … [they enter into the second enclosure] … Presently the Empress appeared and the Crown Princess, with several royal ladies. The Emperor did not come as he was on one of the other islands at the time … we followed the royal party into a third enclosure and found hundreds of small tables set there. A few people were presented to the Empress … we found seats at a table with some girls we had met and were greatly surprised to have a Japanese soldier at the table next to ours take the trouble to get us something to eat … .”

Other highlights include her detailed descriptions of several humorous encounters with Japanese women and men while traveling by rail and rickshaw; attending a reception given by the president of the Toyo Kisen Kaisha steamship company at his “elegant house in Tokyo”; and a trip to Lake Ch zenji at Nikko, where she and a traveling companion named Bertha lodged at a traditional Japanese Inn: “In the morning while we were dressing, without the slightest warning the screen slid back and the man came in to remove our beds. He did not seem to think it inappropriate for him to be in there when we were half dressed … .”

A delightful, meticulously detailed collection of letters by an American woman in Imperial Japan. A detailed list of the letters, with excerpts, is available.

Item #445135

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Item #445135 Letters by an American Woman in Japan
Letters by an American Woman in Japan
Letters by an American Woman in Japan