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.
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.
on 30 April 2003
I read this book, along with Miyamoto's 5 Rings, as a little side to martial art training, and I fully believe Yamamoto's pearls of wisdom have altered my attitude.People have disagreed with me over this,saying that Hagakure is not relevant, but its ideas of focus and absolute resolve have made me think differently. If you're at all able to read with an open mind, BUY THIS.
`Hagakure' aka `The Book of the Samurai' is an old Japanese text with many anecdotes and passages formed into short paragraphs that impart the wisdom of the Samurai's way of life. Whilst this book is very much `of its time' and may seem unusual at times to western readers, it has a lot to offer if you take the time to digest it's wisdom properly and think about the ideas enclosed. Far from being about fighting and killing (although these aspects are touched upon) this is about living with a certain peace and honour. Films, like `Ghost Dog', have made this more popular than it might have been, but there is a lot more to this book that you may originally perceive and you won't regret giving it a read and contemplating the wisdom inside. Worth adding to your martial arts and philosophy bookshelf.
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on 1 March 2013
It would seem that most are negligent in the ways of the Samurai. If someone were to ask a stranger "What is the true meaning of the way of the Samurai?" the person who would be able to answer this is very rare indeed. This book offers you the substance of the Samurai and will make you proud and honoured to read about such a system. They were not marauding warriors as seen in the movies, they were, however, teachers, doctors, healers, spiritualists, monks, scientists and very much more. They did learn the way of the warrior to defend themselves and their families because they were thought radical of their time. You will learn much and understand them with this very well defined read. Enjoy.
on 1 January 2014
Hagakure relates the essence of the Samurai code through anecdotes and collected wisdom rather than as set scriptures to follow. From the chapter headings it is clear that this edition is not a complete and comprehensive version. Not that it matters. There is enough here to feed the interest and imagination, with enough detail to highlight a fascinating period of Japanese history and the warrior code in general. Some of the short accounts are like whole novels in themselves with the emotive contents hinted it. I can see budding story writers and young film makers having a field day with some of the material. A very satisfying purchase.
on 23 February 2005
Anyone interested in Japanese feudalism and the arts
risen from it, not to mention WWII should read this
book, or at least read it on-line as it's available
in it's entirety on several sites.
Those who have seen the film Ghost Dog will have already
'read' the best quotes from the book, as there are some
delightfully quirky quotes in there.
Personally what I find most distasteful about hagakure
is that it is negatively Confucian. The Samurai's be all
and end-all is to serve and die. Not so glamorous !
Also an over-obsession with ritual suicide throughout.
Remember the author was a retired member of the Samurai
class, not a warrior. His only killings were performing
executions. This book is a lament about the decline of
true Bushido (from the author's perspective), and hence
it is a book that was used to foster self sacrifice during
WWII. Also interesting is the mentions of Shodo: initiation
into male homosexuality which most samurai practiced, and
is conveniently glossed over by the macho 'martial' folks.
All in all recommended as the most 'different' Samurai book.
on 9 December 2013
Although I'm not an expert (or anywhere near) with samurai and Japanese history, I am quite interested in feudal Japan and the Samurai. The book is written in a series of small stories or paragraphs, each sharing an insight into the way the author lived, or believes the samurai should live by. Much of the book is very insightful and can be compared to modern life and the way we act and live. A highly recommended book, perfect for when you want a quick read or are interested in the subject.
on 20 January 2002
I bought this, like most people, because of Ghost Dog. It's a fascinating book from the historical point of view, but I don't know if it provides a view into the heart of the Samurai or just into the heart of it's author, Tsunetomo. This book is useful in that it was written by a hard working old man and as such is filled with a hard working old man's wisdom - that is, lots of useful insight, some barmy stuff and even some wit. His energy is a useful touchstone.