Thursday, January 27, 2011

'Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai' (The Manga Edition)

From the book by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Adapted by Sean Michael Wilson
Illustrated by Chie Kutsuwada
Based on the translation by William Scott Wilson
First published in the 18th century. Published in English translation in 1979; this manga edition in 2010.
Kodansha International, softcover, 144 p.
From the front flap:
The Way of the Samurai is not an easy road to travel, and aspiring samurai are often confounded by the ins and outs of the profession. Confronting just such a problem, young Tsuramoto Tashiro seeks the advice of the famous Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the retired-samurai-turned-Zen-monk who wrote the renowned Hagakure. The old samurai master grants the young man’s request, and so begins a unique education.
At each sitting, Tashiro listens in rapt attention as his teacher relates tales of samurai past. With brutal, unrelenting samurai justice, wrongs are righted and judgment is passed. With each incident, the young novice learns what it means to be a samurai. Learns what courage and right thought are. Learns the harsh realities and subtle wisdom of his age.

Hagakure is a compilation of anecdotes and stories that illustrate the strict code of behaviour that makes up Bushido, the Way of the Warrior. The original work in Japanese apparently contains some 1300 recounted episodes on a wide variety of topics, as told by the then ex-samurai turned monk, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, to a young scribe, who recorded them over the course of several years.

I’ve of course never read any of the original text in Japanese. Nor have I read the English translation in book form, which itself is a much abridged version of the Japanese text, containing 300 of the core texts from the original, and I doubt I will. To be honest, even condensed, it seems like it would be a bit dry unless you were particularly interested in samurai mentality or the ruling Tokugawa era. However, for everyone else, this new manga edition is the perfect introduction to the Way of the Samurai.
When one has made a decision to kill a person, it will not do to think about going at it in a long roundabout way. The way of the samurai is one of immediacy, and it is best to dash in headlong.
The stories are grouped together in chapters with a similar theme. Chapter 1 is The Way of the Samurai, Chapter 2 is Loyalty, Chapter 3 is Revenge, and so on. Each story tells how an honorable samurai either should or should not behave in different circumstances. Such as what to do if you find your wife having an affair. How to properly cut off someone’s head. What to do if someone attacks you. And even occasionally, when to show mercy. Plus other "typical" situations.

Essentially, Hagakure is a samurai manual and I thought it fitting that in the review at Kitty's Pryde, it is described as a kind of “Miss Manners for the 18th century Japanese Feudal Warrior”, albeit a rather harsh, brutal one.

The art by Chie Kutsuwada seemed to suit the text well, and there were some beautiful scenes and details. I should warn you though that since the life of a samurai was a life lived by the sword, the illustrations reflect this in a fairly graphic way. Let’s just say that there are quite a few beheadings, and visuals of ritual suicide.
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance.
As an outsider looking in, in the 21st century, the ideals espoused in this book, are, to put it mildly, very different from our modern concept of honour. So looking at it through my Western eyes, it’s sometimes hard to understand the rationale behind the humility and violence of that way of life. Also, the willingness, and seeming eagerness, to die. Yet you can still see remnants of this way of thinking in modern Japanese society even now. So while the philosophy behind it might still remain a ‘foreign concept’ for non-Japanese, this is a truly fascinating peek into the Code of the Samurai, in a modern, accessible format.

For more information, visit the Kodansha International website.

Buy Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai (The Manga Edition) at: | | |

Also reviewed by:
Kitty's Pryde

The small print: This book was received free of charge from the publisher for review purposes. Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively. Purchases made via these links earn me a very small commission. For more information please visit my About Page.

1 comment:

  1. Obviously that sense of fatalism inhabits the work of Yukio Mishima, who was a great beiever & follower of the code, but what surprised me when reading murakami's underground was the same sense of fatalism & an almost unswerving loyalty to their lord (unit manager, boss etc) that was strong enough to over power their own sense of preservation, to the extent that instead of waiting for medical treatment, they practically crawled to work. This seems to be representative of the code, in a modern day scenario.


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