Church Statue of Hosokawa Gracia

The beloved devotion in Japan to both medieval noblewoman Hosokawa Tama Gracia and 20th century novelist Miura Ayako intersected with Miura’s choice to write a historical novel on Gracia, which was published in Japanese as Hosokawa Garasha Fujin in 1975. The English version is Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife’s Love, Strife and Faith translated by Susan Tsumura in 2004. Unfortunately, neither Hosokawa nor Miura are well known outside of Japan.

There are similarities in the lives of these two highly respected women even though they lived 400 years a part. Both of their lives were shaped by the devastation of war, yet their suffering led to a spiritual awakening, which came about when they dedicated their lives to Christ and became part of a dedicated Christian minority in their own culture.

Hosokawa Tama lived through crisis after crisis. As the daughter of Daimyo Akechi Mitsuhide and the wife of Daimyo Hosokawa Tadaoki, she had to be trained how to bear the life of a samurai woman and know that her life was constantly in danger. Oda Nobunaga, her husband’s Lord, was a conniving and cruel leader. He had set up a shrine for his underlings to worship him. He detested the militant Buddhist priests, though he welcomed the Catholic priests who had come from Portugal and Spain in the 1500s. Nobunaga played everyone and was not to be trusted. However, it was unimaginable that Mitsuhide would assassinate Nobunaga. After the assassination, Toyotomi Hideyoshi had Mitsuhide killed and immediately took over leadership. Usually, the family of the assassin would all be killed, but Tadaoki and his father, Fujitaka, wanted to save Tama’s life by sending her into exile instead.

Another crisis was when Tama made the decision to dedicate her life to Christ through baptism and took the Christian name, Gracia (Garasha). Tadaoki was so angry that he blamed and battered her Christian maids. The next crisis in their lives was when she was taken hostage. Beforehand, Tadaoki and Gracia had discussed what to do if this happened:

“You mean that you are prepared to die?”

“Yes, my lord. Do you remember what I said to you once? You wanted me to give up my belief in Deusu [God]. I answered that I would not obey you in that even if you killed me, but I would obey you in anything else.” (pg. 419)

At the end of WWII, Miura Ayako was devastated by the war and was faced with thoughts of despair and suicide. While in a hospital, she was encouraged by a Christian friend to find hope in Christ, and her life was turned around. Though she had one health crisis after another in the years ahead, her faith never faltered. In spite of all, she became a fine writer. Lady Gracia was Miura’s first historical novel. Though Gracia was Catholic and Miura was Protestant, she must have felt that Gracia was her “sister in faith” and the person she wanted to write about most of all.

It took many years for Lady Gracia to be translated in English. Miura died in 1999. Tsumura’s husband made the suggestion that Susan translate Hosokawa Garasha Fujin. Recently, I was able to arrange an interview with Susan Tsumura:

Susan Tsumura: He suggested Lady Gracia as the one most likely to appeal to Western readers, and since I had read it (long before) and knew the period, I decided on it. I met Mr. Miura fairly early on in the process and gave him a letter about my aims. He said something like, “The important thing is for the readers to understand, isn’t it?” After the publication I greeted him briefly after a talk he gave in Tokyo.

Carmen Sterba: What parts of the historical novel were the most difficult to translate into English (beyond what you noted in your preface)?

ST: Some were straight translation problems–I am not used to describing complicated actions, so I had to work on those. At least there were no battle or fight scenes. Also, I had to work hard on interpreting the non-modern Japanese material. There were lots of poems to both understand and translate, I am sure you can tell I am no poet! I put an emphasis on clarity rather than nuances.

CS: In addition to your sources, did you also rely on your own discernment and instinct?

ST: I relied on sources and my own judgment. One of the most useful books for me was Michael Cooper’s They Came to Japan, which I assume you know. It has translations of some of the material Miura used and lots of information on contemporary customs, as the reason Tadaoki did not fan himself when talking to Hideyoshi (LG p.315) and that when Hideyoshi put the [fish] on the missionaries’ plates (p. 375), it was an honor. Also, when Miura was clearly following a source I tried to find the original. The major ones were Frois’s History of Japan and the Jesuit Reports (for references see the Samurai Archives wiki site) though Miura could not have used those directly since they were not published yet) and Takayanagi’s biography of Mitsuhide . . .

ST: Perhaps the biggest change I made, though it involved only two sentences, was this: Miura assumed that the reader knows Mitsuhide would kill Nobunaga, and states so clearly twice. I could not assume it, and I made the references vague, so it would be as much of a shock to the reader as it was to the characters, though when looking back there were pointers. I think the story works beautifully that way since Miura really develops it. However, at the beginning of the last chapter I left in Miura’s statement that Gracia would die, since I wanted the reader to concentrate on what was happening rather than wasting emotion wondering if she would live or not.

I would recommend this book for all Japanese History buffs. Though I was not able to find it for sale on in North America or Europe, it can be found on the Japanese in English or Japanese.