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.
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 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.
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