Koume’s World: The Life and Work of a Samurai Woman Before and After the Meiji Restoration

Simon Partner


Columbia University Press

 Koume’s World

Kawai Koume (1804–1889) was an accomplished poet and painter and a wife, mother, and grandmother in a lower-ranking samurai family in the provincial castle town of Wakayama. She was an eyewitness to many of the key events leading up to the Meiji Restoration and the radical changes that followed, including the famine of 1837, the great earthquake of 1854, the cholera epidemic of 1859, and the departure of samurai to fight in the civil wars of the 1860s. For more than fifty years, she kept a diary recording her family’s daily life—meals and expenses, visitors and the weather, small-town gossip and news of momentous events.

Through Koume’s eyes and words, Simon Partner opens a window on social, economic, and cultural life amid some of the most dramatic periods of Japan’s transformative nineteenth century. Koume’s World vividly portrays the everyday activities, social interactions, information networks, cultural production, and household economy of a samurai family across the Tokugawa-Meiji divide. Partner’s narrative offers a remarkably detailed portrait of the dynamic working life of a female artist and household manager while also giving a regional perspective on the upheavals surrounding the Meiji Restoration. A compelling microhistorical study of gender, economy, and society in nineteenth-century Japan, Koume’s World is a compelling account of how one woman experienced both mundane routines and drastic social transformations.