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4.2 out of 5 stars
Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2001
Hagakure may be familiar to anyone who has seen the film 'Ghost Dog'. It contains anecdotes relating to the way of the samurai, but can be (unfairly) summarised as follows: the way of the samurai lies in death, death must be contemplated on a daily basis, even the slightest example of disrespect should be met by immediate and fatal remedy. In particular, seppuku (hiri kiri) is the noble and glorious end to virtually all anecdotes.
It is a remarkable book, and probably the most interesting of the Samurai guides (eg Book of Five Rings). However, it should be remembered that Hagakure was considered exceptionally fundamentalist when it was written (17th century) and was disapproved of due to its overemphasis on death.
It was also a favourite text of Yukio Mishima, which if you know about Mishima, tells its own story.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2000
this is a stirling example of Mr Wilsons work as translator. Both understanding the history and culture of japan and the original text while firmly keeping an eye on the audience, Mr Wilson's first commercial translation is a masterpiece. Full of practical advice and juicy tidbits of feudal samurai gossip[for want of a better word] and background. The text itself is easily accessible and makes for light reading that can be appreciated in greater depth at a later reading.
In embracing death and gentlemanly values, it is reminiscent of early victorian writings as well as Confuscian texts. With this in mind, it is sometimes a little outdated and contradictory but one must consider the age of the source text and the fact that it was considered out-dated when first commited to paper. This translation is a compendium of extracts from an 1100 page work and the source itself contradicts itself and sometimes feels incomplete.
All this aside though, this is on the most fundemental books i have read and essential for anyone who is interested in this field or would like an interesting read. It is also a good introduction to more complex and specialist translations especially by the same author.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 2004
Despite being written 300 years ago in Japan, this book contains so much wisdom and insight that can be successfully applied to modern life. It is very easy to read because it is made up of short passages usually only a paragraph long, so it is excellent to read a few pages at a time for a little inspiration. The stories are sometimes funny, and frequently confusing and illogical to the western mind which makes it a great read. This book is a great insight into the philosophy and mindset of the samurai. I would recommend it to anyone, and it makes a great gift.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2000
As an Iaido practitioner I was first interested in this book for it's relation to the Samurai. However, the further I got into it the more I realised it can be of interest for anyone. Although the text is obviously rooted in the world of medieval Japan, it is easy to read between the lines and see the relevance it offers people today. That is not to say it is a philosophy as such, but that it offers a fascinating insight into a truly insightful and original mind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 April 2010
The book is one of the samurai treatises but as opposed to some others in the same area, works a bit differently - it is a collection of thoughts, rather than a concise guide. The translator selected 300 out of the original 1300 and while most work well, it is hard to say if the complete set would make more sense.

In terms of content, a lot of the thoughts are very insightful, timeless and still relevant. His thoughts on event randomness looks a bit like a 300 year older Taleb (Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets). On the other hand some of the other thoughts appear somewhat random, short, almost haiku-like.

Unlike the other samurai treatises I have read, Hagakure touches on more topics but brushes them more lightly - so yo will have thoughts on the role of the wife, upbringing of offspring and homosexuality.

While you can pick it up, open on a random page and read, like mentioned by other reviewers and therefore makes it good as a gift, I still much prefer Musashi Miyamoto's The Book of Five Rings. It might be more accessible to a Western audience, or it might be that the completeness and structure just works much better. I suppose if you have not read much samurai writing, The Book of Five Rings might be an easier initiation to the topic, too.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2005
The beauty of this book is the fact that it can be picked up and opened at any page and you will find a paragraph or event that will captivate you and urge you to read on, discovering an insight to the bottled up world of feudal Japan, from the sacred code of the Samuari to the work of an ordinary peasent.
As you make your way through the book you can easily relate some of the events to your own everyday encounters with the world (with exempt to cutting down passers by over seemingly minor reasons), this is a book that dosent try to educate or be something its not but is naturally bursting with politeness and touching to read.
This book has great meaning to me as it helped my way of thinking. Do not hesitate buy this book, you wont regret it.
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2000
'Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai' was heavily featured in the movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai by Jim Jarmusch. The film displays sections of the book throughout and I would advice anyone who has seen the film to read the book as it is very interesting although should not be taken literally. I had not even heard of the book until I saw the film but as soon as I saw the film I went out and got the book and really enjoyed it. The book can basically be described as a collection of advice and although based in ancient Japan a lot of the advice holds true even in modern times. A deep, philosophical book that is well worth a read.
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on 7 December 2011
What we have here is a collection of three hundred of the original thirteen hundred aphorisms and short anecdotes related by a retired samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, to a young colleague in the early years of the 18th century. Hagakure (Hidden by the leaves) has no real structure and at times can be difficult to follow, but several recurring themes slowly emerge and by the end we can just about get an idea of the kind of man Yamamoto Tsunetomo was and the kind of code he lived by.

Hagakure is best read as a travelogue of the world, physical and mental, of a very focused and fanatical type of man rather than as an instruction manual for budding samurai. It is basically an explanation of what a samurai is (or was) and how he might become as good a samurai as possible. The first three chapters are by far the longest and it's in them that we find the bulk of the samurai philosophy. The remaining chapters are shorter and consist mainly of anecdotes about the exploits of members of the Nabeshima clan (the clan of Yamamoto's late master) and others.

Death seems to be Yamamoto's abiding obsession. This obsession is not with death generally but rather with dying honourably. To die without honour was, for the samurai, the ultimate horror. Throughout we have repeated mention of 'the way of the samurai' and it's quite difficult to get a clear understanding of what it means. However, Yamamoto is tellingly dismissive of intellectuals and their inevitable egotism ("If discrimination is long it will spoil") and is all for immediate action, so a reasonable familiarity with the fiendishly confusing school of Zen might come in handy ("There is nothing outside the thought of the immediate moment"), if only to better get into the mind-set of our sage.

The appeal of Hagakure will undoubtedly be limited. The book was popularised somewhat by Jim Jarmusch's 1999 film Ghost Dog - the Way of the Samurai, but that film, enjoyable as it is, doesn't really give a true idea of Hagakure and many an aspiring teen samurai who bought the book after watching the film probably gave up after a couple of pages.

Yet it's worth sticking with Hagakure because it's an interesting read for those curious about old Japan and the book does give some interesting insights into the fanatical and fatalistic lifestyle of the samurai and the austere philosophy that guided them. And if one reads between the lines there are also a few interesting ideas that we moderns could use to streamline our own psychological lives, though don't expect a complete and coherent philosophy here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2009
Hagakure is a truly exceptional book. It cuts straight and deep and finds the epitomy of the way of the Samurai.

In a truly masterful style Tsunetomo delivers food for thought and life values that properly digested, and with a bit of salt, can be of great use for your personal life or business.

I loved this book and suggest it both for the fans of Japanese culture, but also for those looking for insight in life deriving from the way of the Samurai.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2008
It is very diffcult to define Hagakure, it's strange and fascinating, yet also rather repugnant in some of its views. Written in the early 18th century, it is a series of anecdotes written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai of the Nabeshima clan who became a Buddhist monk followning his master's death. The Tokugawa Shogunate of the time had outlawed the suicide of a reatiner on a Daimyo's death, leaving Yamamoto with no option but live in a hermitage in Kyushu province.

Hagakure has often been seen as a manual for the samurai classes, yet this is slightly misleading. Yamamoto lived during the Edo period, an era of peace and stability that followed the long period of civil wars that had broken Japan in the 16th century. Yamamoto was therefore not a true warrior, as the samurai were now becoming administrators living on fixed stipends.

This book is also only the opinions of one man, and shouldn't been seen as guide to the samurai ethos for the entire Feudal Period. It is also worth noting that even during his own life Yamamoto was seen as a fanatic with extremist opinions, a fact that he himself would not deny.

The book's contents deal with allsorts of topics, but its main emphasis is on the proper conduct of the samurai class. Yamamoto believes that a samurai must always be ready for death, and that when not engaged in fighting, he should meditate on getting torn apart with swords, arrows, pikes and bullets. His obsession with death and discipline seems to permeate throughout the book. He also provides plenty of anecdotes of stories he has heard about samurai who kill anyone on the slightest provocation. Yamamoto believes that this should be the proper conduct of the samurai, as long as it does not contradict the master's wishes.
His opinion on these matters seem terribly odd for modern western readers. His xenophobic and misogynistic views, as well as his frequent calls for violence to resolve situations, and his obsession with death and the supression of one's own desires and personality for the master, make this an often uncomfortable read. It is not surprising that Hagakure became popular among fascists in Imperial Japan during the 1930s.

The book also has some sections of wisdom, but these are sometimes countered by Yamamoto's bizarre outlook on life. Here is a selection of some of his sayings, some good, some bad, while others are simply quixotic:

" Covetousness, anger and foolishness are things to sort out well. When bad things happen in the world, if you look at them comparatively, they are not unrelated to these three things. Looking comparatively at the good things, you will see that they are not excluded from wisdom, humanity and bravery."

"The late Jin'emon said that it is better not to bring up daughters. They are a blemish to the family name and a shame to the parents. The eldest daughter is special, but it is better to disregard the others."

"If you cut a face lengthwise, urinate on it, and trample on it with straw sandles, it is said the skin will come off. This was heard by the priest Gyojaku when he was in Kyoto. It is information to be treasured."

"The Master took a book from its box. When he opened it there was a smell of drying clovebuds."

These are are just a few examples from among hundreds. Sometimes Yamamoto contradicts himself. He argues against rashness in one section, while in another he complains that the Forty Seven Ronin did not act quickly enough to avenge their dead master, a rash act that would have seen them fail. That said, it is those very same contradictions that often reminds us that he was only human. This is a fascianting look into the long dead samurai culture, with plenty of anecdotes to make you think. That said, it shouldn't be seen as guide book for life in the 21st century, but rather as an incredible historical document. A must read for anyone with an interest in the samurai or Feudal Japanese Culture.
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