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Chushingura (The Treasury of Loyal Retainers): A Puppet Play
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Manufacturer: Columbia University Press
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5Average rating of 4.5/5

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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 895.623
EAN: 9780231035316
ISBN: 0231035314
Label: Columbia University Press
Manufacturer: Columbia University Press
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 183
Publication Date: 1997-04-15
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Studio: Columbia University Press

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Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: The virtue of blind loyalty
Comment: "Chushingura" is Japan's "Romeo and Juliet". Not literally, of course, as the stories are very different, but in the way that it is a story that every Japanese person knows. Based on an actual incident, the story has been glorified and told and re-told for every generation, and still reverberates in hearts today. It is also, traditionally, a very hard story for Westerners to come to grips with, because the morals on display are not what we would consider to be admirable.

Loyalty is something we can admire, of course, but this is unearned loyalty. The 47 Ronin do not avenge their lord because he was a good man, because he is worthy of their loyalty. They avenge him because he is their Master, and because he was born to be their master. The samurai also did not earn their position, they were born samurai, as an inherited class. Their job, rank and income was all decided the moment they drew their first breath, along with whom they would owe their loyalty to. The very word "samurai" translates as "servant", and without someone to serve they have no purpose. They uphold an inherently unfair system, as shown by their unwillingness to include a merchant in their vendetta, not because his courage is less but because his birth-determined class is lower than theirs.

Donald Keene has performed a minor miracle with his translation of "Chushingura: The Treasury of Loyal Retainers". First off, his introduction deals with the inherent difficulties in the work. Even in Japan, since the inception of the work their has been debate on who are the heroes and who are the villains. A hotheaded lord sacrifices his life, family, home and the lives of the hundreds who depend on him simply because he could not swallow an insult. His personal pride was more important to him than all of these people's lives, all of whom paid his price. Keene shows the various points of view, the commentary given by Japanese authors over the years, and the way the story has been interpreted to support the various viewpoints of society.

On top of that, he has created a thrilling translation, one that can be read as a novel and is hard to put down once started. Think what you may of the moral lesson, the story itself is pure adrenalin, and it is hard not to cheer for the sword-hard loyalty that drives the 47 Ronin. In this translation, there is no dispute as to who the heroes are, even as they sell their wives into prostitution in order to raise funds for the vendetta, or willing slit the throats of their own children in order to prove their earnestness. Keene also provides annotations for some of the more obscure references and translations, especially the references to famous Chinese poems and allegories which are abundant.

I picked up this book thinking it was going to be a study guide for Japan's most famous story, hoping to glean some insight into a tale I have seen dozens of times in different interpretations. I got that, but what I also got was a great book, fun and exciting to read. I wasn't expecting that at all.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: The Japanese Vendetta story to rival The Count of Monte Cristo
Comment: Chushingura, The Treasury of Loyal Retainers is an action packed story. The main theme of the novel is vengeance, although loyalty, sacrifice, persistence and honor all contribute to the eventual act of vengeance that is carried out at the end of the story. In the beginning of the story the villain, Lord Moronao is shown to be evil and morally repugnant by his actions. This allows the reader to side with the samurai as they plan to avenge the death of their former master by killing Lord Moronao. This book almost has a "Count of Monte Cristo" feel to it. Because such time and preparation is spent planning the event that will avenge their master's death, the story has a strong emotional connection which makes the reader almost feel like he is one of the samurai involved in the plot for vengeance.
As the thirty seven samurai plot their revenge, several subplots unfold. It is interesting to see how the samurai continue to live their lives even though their plot will undoubtedly end with their deaths. It is amazing that all these men and even their families are so committed to their cause that they would lay down their lives. These men are so firmly dedicated to honoring their dead master that they are willing to loose everything they have in order to carry out their plan.
Although the book definitely holds your interest it is hard to comprehend the extreme loyalty these men have for their dead master. Lord Hangan is not in the story for long and little is exposed of his character. I think for this story to be comprehendible to a modern audience Hangan needs to be shown as a person worth dying for, not just a simple master whose men are loyal to him. There needs to be an explanation why these men all feel so incredibly strongly for him. Or perhaps Moronao should have wronged more of the samurai so that the vendetta becomes personal in different respects to each man. I guess when reading this story one must take into consideration the era in which the actual story took place and the importance Japanese society placed on the virtues of loyalty, honor, and sacrifice.


Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Kill Moronao: Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold, with Te-uchi noodles
Comment: As another reviewer has noted, this book is impossible to put down. Although I am not a big fan of introductions-before-book, this one by Donald Keene helps a lot (the spoilers are few) and is recommended. Professor Keene's translation style is very limpid and flowing -- one is surprised by the end of Act Eleven when the climactic action sequence is brought to an end.

Fans of Bunraku (puppet theatre) and Kabuki should have this book -- and hopefully the National Theatre in Tokyo might offer either version of the play (one can get in and see Bunraku these days for about 40-50 bucks).

A note of warning: as Prof. Keene points out, this work of literature shows the other side of Japanese art (in contrast to austere restraint, this shows the Japanese love for color and violence) -- but it is not a non-stop action work. Instead, it deals more with the "tests" of loyalty (hence the title) each retainer must show in order to be allowed to participate in the final plan to kill their lord's enemy. In that way, Chushingura is much more about the love the retainers have for their lord than, in my opinion, the hatred and violence they harbor against the enemy. Uma Thurman in samurai garb, they are not...uh...

Fans of Chikamatsu's plays will find this popular work refreshing -- it moves at a much faster pace, with more feints here and there. As a result, it lacks the gravitas of Chikamatsu's works, but it is much more fun. A great book to own and then pass around to friends.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Wonderful, interesting book. good translation~~
Comment: I read this book because it was required by a class.
However, after I started reading it, I can't put it down; it was very good translated, many Japanese names to remember for sure, but the interesting story will keep you going.

I would recommend people who are interested in Japanese samurai
period to read this book.



Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Keeneļæ½s translation brings a puppet play to life
Comment: It is surprising that there is only one readily available (or at least affordable) translation of Chushingura, one of Japan's most famous puppet/kabuki plays, at amazon. We are fortunate then that Donald Keene's translation is that particular one, for it is a vivid, elegant work, serving as both an entertaining read and historical document.

After Tokugawa became Shogun in 1601, Japan entered a long period of regimented peace. The Samurai warrior-class were forced to adapt therein, trading their swords for the pen, and many of the classic traditions fell into stagnation. The old ways were taught, but seldom practiced: to excel in Tokugawa's bureaucracy, skill with the tongue was more important than skill with the sword...at least in the long run.

But occasionally the Samurai spirit rebelled. In 1703, forty-six former retainers of the late lord Naganori burst into the grounds of lord Yoshinaka, the man indirectly responsible for the death of their master; they killed Yoshinaka and then marched to a nearby Buddhist temple to offer the severed head to their master's grave. Even though they knew it would mean death by ritual seppuku (disembowelment), the ronin fulfilled their pledge to their master regardless, thus gaining `face' through the performance of duty.

Chushingura, a fictionalized account of this famous vendetta, emphasizes these aspects of honor and loyalty: the forty-six ronin are determined to see their course through to its end, regardless of cost. And the cost is, in places, quite high. Some have their wives sold to prostitution so that they can finance their revenge operation. Others deny their wedding promises, knowing death rests upon their shoulders. One ronin engages in all sorts of debauchery, destroying his reputation and staining his family name, so that suspicion is allied and he can plot in peace. Sacrifice for honor is prevalent throughout the play, and from it one can glean all of the qualities the Japanese revere most in their national character and heritage.

Though Keen's translation a joy to read, there are some essential elements missing from this slender volume, thus my rating of four stars. Specifically, a discourse on the music used during the play performance (so key, apparently, in influencing the audience mood), is missing, with a paltry excuse given; and a chart of names would have been very helpful in establishing the relationships between characters. Still, this is a great buy for anyone interested in Japanese history and culture.



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