Title: Hagakure - The book of the Samurai
Publisher's site: Shambala Publications
Amazon link: Hagakure
Price £14.99
ISBN #: 978-1590309858
Date: 2012 revision (originally 1979)
Author/s Yamamoto Tsunemoto

Book cover showing the samurai symbol


 In the early 1700s, an obscure and disillusioned Samurai who had retired from court life at the young age of 42, started dictating his views and remembrances of what it meant to be a samerai. The interesting thing is, although this man never saw battle, nor distinguished himself at court, or in any other way, his thoughts have become one of the most important insights into the history and mindset of the samurai warrior.

His words are a mixture of potted wisdom, personal experience, historical memories and commentaries, and simple opinion, informed more by his yearning for a bygone age of honour and glory, as by any actual experiences that he, a lowly samurai scribe ever had.

The original manuscript comprised 12 chapter and 1300 sections, but in providing the first English language translation in 1979, William Scott Wilson selected those sections that he felt were of most interest. It's interesting to note also, that he was not working from the original manuscript, which apparently no longer exists, but from Japanese translations. Thus it is likely that the cultural bias of the original translators has affected the purity of the original. Nonetheless, Wilson is internationally renowned for the quality of his Japanese historical translations.

The book provides a fascinating insite into the samurai mindset - or at least, what Tsunetomo wished and believed that that mindset was, speaking from a later era. It is interesting that Tsunetomo believed so much in the virtues of the samurai ethos, that he wished to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) when his master died of natural causes simply as his honorable duty. He was prevented by an edict made by his master before he died.

Part of the value of this book, is Wilson's own lengthy introduction, rewritten for this version, which places Tsunetomo's words into historical and cultural context.

Hagakure is not a well order ordered, perfectly consistent or historically impeccable recording of samurai life, any more than a modern treatise on the first world war would be. However, lowly though he may have been, Tsunemoto had an insight into Samurai life and virtue that is probably closer than that of almost any commentator. If you wish to immerse yourself in that era, this book is a terrific place to start.

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