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Introduction T HE AMERICAN DIARY OF A JAPANESE GIRL is both an entertaining book and one that deserves a special place in the history of American literature. The first long work of prose fiction by a person of Japanese descent in the United States, it counters the romanticized images of Japan and the infantilization of the Japanese, promulgated in some of the contemporaneous Orientalist fiction, and offsets the even more pernicious depiction of the Japanese as a “yellow peril” in some of the political discourse and media coverage at the turn of the twentieth century . To be sure, the book’s peculiar syntax, the sometimes jarring shifts between episodes, and oddities such as a squirrel’s first-person narrative about his dead wife might confuse the first-time reader at times, but the complex and wide-ranging Diary holds rich rewards for the reader willing to delve deeper into its content and history.1 When selections from The American Diary of a Japanese Girl first appeared in Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly in late 1901, and when the entire narrative was published in book form in 1902, the name “Miss Morning Glory” accompanied the title. This linking of title and name encouraged readers to assume that the first-person diarist, Miss Morning Glory, was the author of the text. Furthermore, most readers inferred that the book’s daily entries concerning a young Japanese woman’s visit to the United States with her uncle, an 1884 graduate of Yale and present “chief secretary of the Nippon Mining Company” (9), represented an authentic record. (In the book version, a prefatory letter to the empress of Japan purportedly written by Miss Morning Glory on her return to her native land is a device intended further to authenticate the Diary.) Some early readers questioned the genuineness of the journal, while others claimed that the narrative must be authentic because, as a Chicago Journal reviewer declared, the “words [were] chosen as only a Japanese girl could choose them.”2 The author behind the “Morning Glory” persona was not a Japanese girl but a young Japanese man, Yone Noguchi, who had been living in the United States since the mid-1890s. Born Yonejirō Noguchi in 1875 near Nagoya, Japan, he had been educated in schools in Nagoya and at Keiō University. Significantly for Noguchi’s future, this Tokyo institution of higher education, established in 1858, was a private Western-oriented school whose founder, Yukichi Fukuzawa, was a keen proponent of Japanese modernization.3 After hearing positive accounts from young Japanese men who had visited the United States, Noguchi decided to emigrate to this country and arrived in San Francisco in December 1893 aboard the Belgic (the name he gave to Morning Glory’s steamship in the American Diary). The young emigrant encountered many difficulties during his first few years in Northern California, working first for struggling Japanese-language newspapers in San Francisco and then as a house servant (or “schoolboy,” as young Japanese men who worked in private domestic service were often called at that time). But after a brief stint in Palo Alto and a more permanent move in 1895 to a cottage on the Oakland Hills homestead of legendary California writer Joaquin Miller, Noguchi began to make a name for himself as a poet.4 His years on Miller’s seventy-one-acre spread greatly increased both his self-confidence as a writer and his familiarity with English and American literature. Though Miller did not keep books (other than his own writings) on the shelves of his cottages, he introduced Noguchi not only to the rich poems of Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám but also to his circle of writer friends. Noguchi did some menial work at the Miller household in exchange for his room and board, but he never seems to have felt exploited, as he did in his “schoolboy” jobs. Miller always called him “Mr. Noguchi,” a small but significant gesture of respect and a welcome change from the demeaning “Charley,” “Frank,” or “John.” These were generic names many white Americans used for the Japanese they employed as servants.They were also names that some of Noguchi’s own employers had used when addressing him. The stay on the Hights (as Miller spelled the name of his homestead) also afforded Noguchi an opportunity to participate in the natural world in ways not available to him in the city. The latter half of the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781592135561
Related ISBN
9781592135554
MARC Record
OCLC
476075070
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-08
Language
English
Open Access
No
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