This was a very difficult book for me to rate. Firstly I felt it was split into 4 sections, unlike the 3 the description claims. I felt some of these to be very easy reads and others to only have interest to somebody who was conducting serious study, rather than a curious passerby who wanted to learn a little about a system very different to western battle.
Zohyo Monogatari, Tales of the Foot Soldiers, c.1657-1684 These took me a little while to get the hang of, but I feel this was the best part of the book. This, I believe, was a handbook written for various soldiers and servants showing them what to or not to do in battle. Each little section covered a troop type and had one or more fictitious characters telling stories and discussing what they had seen and heard why it was a bad idea and what would be a better one.
For example the musket shot carriers told a story of how different people carried the chest in different ways. One pair carried one between them while trying to cross a mountain, dropped it and had everything crushed and broken underfoot, while the teller of the story wore the chest on his back so he had his hands free.
This section is heavy in footnotes, which are needed, explaining what the different terms mean. Also note where it will say [fig 1], these can be found at the back in the plates section
Musha Monogatari, Tales of the Samurai, 1654 This is a series of articles collected together in the 17th century simplifying what each one says. Each article starts with "According to an old samurai story," but these are at least based in fact, covering many battles, clans and procedures. These were interesting, but without more of a knowledge of Japanese history I felt lost in places. An article would often only cover what one person did in a war, then that war might not be mentioned again for quite some time leaving you uncertain as to what had happened.
As a side note I wish I had known at the time the last section called "Samurai Tales – A Brief Overview of the Samurai Found Within" has a basic description of the life of all the major samurai within this section. I think using it for reference as you read would improve the experience
The Story Of Oan and of Okiko, Seventeenth Century This was a nice story, and by far the longest section of uninterrupted text, telling of one woman's story during a battle. This was then supplemented by a descendant of hers, and again at a later date with facts added to the story.
Samurai Tales – A Brief Overview of the Samurai Found Within As the name suggests these give a full picture of the samurai's lives, as opposed to the glimpses seen in the second section. While these greatly increased understanding of how some samurai's would be on one side in one article then another in the next I found myself skimming this section. Many pieces are little more than
[Samurai name] – [Articles in] [Birth – Death (often both unknown)] served samurai x
Which soon lost my attention as the similar names merged in my mind as I read so I got confused as to who was who. That being said some of the longer pieces were interesting, especially ones for samurai who appeared in many articles. It stitched all those little glimpses together, how they passed from clan to clan, sometimes their families and how they died.
Overall this was an interesting book, but there was a lot of repetition and I feel it was aimed more at somebody with more knowledge of history. In one place I even had to ask a Japanese friend for an explanation but we didn't get anything certain. Even if you don't have any samurai knowledge I would say to give this book a go, just use a dip in, red a couple of articles then read something else for a while method so you remember more of the terms.
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A fantasic read which comes in three sections .the first dealing with authentic training stories for the common japanise foot soldier (ashigaru) and how they lived their lives .I have never read authentic japanise accounts before of this section of the japanise bushi culture the 2nd part deals with the samurai themselfs and contains a huge amount of information never before published in english the 3rd section then deals with accounts written by samurai women and is allso very informative.On the whole a very intereting and well written book for anyone who likes or studies japanise history includes some very good original artwork which ties in directly to the text . highly recomended for either academics martial artists or just people with a passing interest in the subject. an easy read and a must buy!!
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