In December 1871, the Iwakura Mission was sent by the Meiji government to the US and Europe. One of the aims of the mission was the observation of foreign practices and technologies. If Japan wanted to suppress the Unequal Treaties and be considered a “first rank nation”, it had to adopt the “civilized” manners and rules of North America and Europe (Nish, 1998). Five Japanese girls, aged six to sixteen accompanied the Mission to be educated in the US for a ten-year period. Their presence didn’t go unnoticed by the American Press, and the articles reporting on their stay provided an opportunity to bring up broader themes on Japanese women and Japan.
The five girls were the first women to officially represent Japan in the US. Identified by the American media as “Japanese Princesses”, their reception was confronted with the American image and understanding of Japan. This article analyses the representations of the five girls, and of Japanese women in general, in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune during the two months that the Iwakura Mission travelled eastward from San Francisco to Washington, via Chicago. I identify and analyse the recurring tropes: the girls’ social position, the craze they created among the Americans, their beauty, the exoticism of their kimono, the education they will receive in America. The newspapers’ representation of the girls are full of inaccuracies and mistakes, myths and exoticism. Nonetheless, the representations are overwhelmingly positive and the girls – as well as the whole of the Mission’s members – are warmly welcomed by the American press.
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