Saturday, May 13, 2017

Don't Miss Musashi

‘Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era’ encapsulates feudal Japan

The Japan Times  by Kris Kosaka  Special To The Japan Times  May 13, 2017

Those with an interest in feudal Japan are urged not to miss Eiji Yoshikawa’s samurai epic, “Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era” — just don’t expect historical accuracy. In telling the story of Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1685), the famed swordsman and author of “The Book of Five Rings,” Yoshikawa’s sprawling novel relies mostly on imagination and invention, much to the dismay of historians.

Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era
by Eiji Yoshikawa.
984 pages
KODANSHA, Fiction.
Yet the fact remains that “Musashi” has enjoyed great popularity since it was first serialized in the Asahi Shimbun in 1935, inspiring various movie and television versions and even becoming the basis of a popular manga.

The novel is a portrait of feudal Japan, showcasing honor and friendship on multiple levels. As a story of traditional Japan that many modern Japanese still idealize, the novel reveals important cultural truths.

Another reason to tackle this rollicking tale? It’s fun! There’s plenty of action and adventure in the life of a samurai swordsman, but we also glimpse the lives of everyday people, and it’s a thoroughly engrossing read. Accurate or not, this book is a time machine. Broken into sections named after the elemental forces, from Earth, Fire, Wind or the last section, The Perfect Light, each division illuminates some aspect of Musashi’s life. Fiction contains truth beyond facts, and if you want to step back into samurai Japan, look no further than the pages of “Musashi.”


This really is an amazing book.  I’ve read it twice and have been thinking of reading it again.  The novel may not be accurate as to the life of Musashi, but the world he lives in is described with outstanding accuracy and detail.  Yoshikawa really puts you in that world.  And as an Amazon reviewer says:

“…The second thing I thoroughly enjoyed about the book was the translation. The way the story flows, the vocabulary used as well as the dialogues are very well rendered to the point where I was actually believing the text to be written originally in English. There's also quite a lot of light-hearted, downright comical dialogues, which give the story a lighter tone despite the somber aspect and seriousness of the background story. I actually wonder if this is the work of the translator (by the mere fact that eastern languages are not always easy to transpose into western ones) or if Eiji Yoshikawa himself inserted those funny passages. In any case, this novel was a hidden gem that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for brilliant historical fiction or simply who wants to learn more about Japanese culture during the Edo period.   

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