Translation Works
The 2nd Selected Works
Okei: A Girl from the Provinces
ENGLISH / Kenneth J. Bryson published
Originally Published by:
Asahi Shimbun Publications (1974)
Bungeishunju (1981) (pb)
  • The tale of a girl who joined a group of Japanese who emigrated to America in 1869
The tale of Okei, an Aizu girl in the first group of Japanese agricultural colonists in America, whose body still lies in rest at the site of the historic colony
Okei is a 15-year-old girl living in a snowy town in the Aizu region in the first year of Japan's Meiji Era when she receives news that her friend Matsuno, who had married into an Edo samurai family, has become ill and bedridden after giving birth to her first child and then learning that her husband has died in battle. Driven by her strong affection for Matsuno, Okei immediately heads for Edo. She asks Henry, a Dutchman she meets along the way, to allow Matsuno and the infant at her breast to travel to Aizu in his horse carriage, as she herself returns to Aizu on foot.
Arriving in Aizu five days after Matsuno and the others, Okei hears that Henry has proposed marriage to Matsuno. While not at all pleased to hear that her beloved Matsuno would marry a foreigner, Okei convinces herself that she has no right to deprive Matsuno of her happiness. At the same time, she feels betrayed by Matsuno, and this revives memories of her first love, Kingo. However, she is aware that Kingo does not return her affection. Subsequently, Kingo, many beautiful girls from samurai families, and other people become embroiled in the Battle of Aizu, dying one by one amid the fighting.
Okei survives that period and flees to Tokyo, but is captured by the army forces comprised primarily of soldiers from the western provinces of Satsuma and Choshu. She is helped out at this time by Henry and his younger brother Ed, and Okei and Matsuno are reunited at Ed's residence. Matsuno tells Okei of plans for herself and other Aizu survivors to emigrate to America seeking refuge and invites Okei to come with them. Thus, the group of people from Aizu, including Okei, travel to Coloma in California together. Arriving in a strange land where they do not understand a word of the local language, they begin establishing a plantation they call Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony, which experiments with the cultivation of tea and bamboo. Amid the dry and severe climate, however, the farming projects do not succeed. The colony collapses, and the immigrant group becomes dispersed.
This historical novel vividly portrays the individual fates of young women during the turbulent times of the Meiji Restoration.
GENRE: Historical fiction
AWARDS: 60th Yoshikawa Eiji Prize Literature
(Given for outstanding contributions to Japan's national literature)
2018 International Translation Forum on Contemporary Japanese LiteratureJLPP Translation Workshop 2018