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1 rating: 5.0
A book by Eiji Yoshikawa

"... has sold over 120 million copies in Japan, and one can see why." --Publishers Weekly    "A captivating work." --Atlanta Journal / Constitution    "A stirring saga." --Washington Post Book World    "Dramati … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Eiji Yoshikawa
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Kodansha International
1 review about Musashi

The Tale of Old Japan's Most Famous Swordsman

  • May 14, 2000
Written in the early twentieth century, this indigenous Japanese novel recounts the life and times of old Japan's greatest swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi -- a man who began life as an over-eager and rather brutish young lout but who, through the discipline of Japan's "way of the sword," turned himself into a master of his chosen weapon. But this tale is not only about a life spent in training to perfect the art of killing with a sharpened piece of steel. In the venerable Japanese tradition, it is also about a man's search to conquer himself, to become a better person. The Buddhist view cultivated by the Japanese warrior class allowed for a spiritual dimension to their very bloody enterprise of warfare and killing. And it is this aspect of his training that consumes Musashi, to the detriment of the people he encounters and who seek to attach themselves to him. Unable to settle down in the ordinary way, or to simply join a particular clan as a retainer to some noble lord, Musashi embarks on the life of a ronin (masterless samurai) as he wends his way through the feudal world of medieval Japan in his seemingly endless search for perfection. In the process he finds a young woman who loves him and many enemies who seek his destruction, at least in part in repayment for the damage he does them while on his quest. He also crosses swords with many other experts in Japan's martial arts, but it is his early encounter with a Buddhist priest that puts him on the path which will forever after guide his life. Musashi ultimately finds his grail in a duel to the death with a man called Kojiro, who will become his greatest opponent, a sword master famous for his "swallow cut" -- a stroke so fast and deadly that it can slice a swooping, looping bird out of the air in mid-flight. This alone is a challenge worthy of the master which Musashi has become -- and a match which even he may not be up to, for this opponent is surely the finest technician in his art in all Japan. But there is more to swordsmanship than technical skill, as Musashi has learned, and there is more to living one's life than merely preserving it. Musashi attains a sort of peace in preparation for his climactic bout, for he is willing to risk all and even die in order to win against the master of the swallow cut, while applying all the strategy he has learned throughout his tumultuous career to unsettle the man who will oppose him. In the end Musashi became a legend to his countrymen, composing the famous Book of Five Rings -- his contribution to the art of strategy. But what he and Kojiro must do when they finally face each other is a tale in itself -- and a denoument towards which everything else in this book ultimately leads.

By the way, there are a whole slew of good books out there for those into good historical fiction, including a brand new one by Jeff Janoda called SAGA: A NOVEL OF MEDIEVAL ICELAND which details the events surrounding an intriguing episode in Eyrbyggja Saga (one of the most renowned of the original Norse sagas). It tells the tale of a great feud between two chieftains over a little piece of forested land in a place and time in which wood had become nearly as precious as gold. There are some remarkable resonances between the old samurai culture of medieval Japan and that of the medieval Icelanders, and it's worth exploring them through Janoda's new book.

SWMThe King of Vinland's Saga

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