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CompleteMartialArts.com - The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan

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Manufacturer: Harvard University Press
Average Customer Rating: Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5Average rating of 4.0/5

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Binding: Paperback
Dewey Decimal Number: 952
EAN: 9780674868090
ISBN: 0674868099
Label: Harvard University Press
Manufacturer: Harvard University Press
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 448
Publication Date: 1997-03-25
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Studio: Harvard University Press

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Editorial Reviews:

Modern Japan offers us a view of a highly developed society with its own internal logic. Eiko Ikegami makes this logic accessible to us through a sweeping investigation into the roots of Japanese organizational structures. She accomplishes this by focusing on the diverse roles that the samurai have played in Japanese history. From their rise in ancient Japan, through their dominance as warrior lords in the medieval period, and their subsequent transformation to quasi-bureaucrats at the beginning of the Tokugawa era, the samurai held center stage in Japan until their abolishment after the opening up of Japan in the mid-nineteenth century.

This book demonstrates how Japan's so-called harmonious collective culture is paradoxically connected with a history of conflict. Ikegami contends that contemporary Japanese culture is based upon two remarkably complementary ingredients, honorable competition and honorable collaboration. The historical roots of this situation can be found in the process of state formation, along very different lines from that seen in Europe at around the same time. The solution that emerged out of the turbulent beginnings of the Tokugawa state was a transformation of the samurai into a hereditary class of vassal-bureaucrats, a solution that would have many unexpected ramifications for subsequent centuries.

Ikegami's approach, while sociological, draws on anthropological and historical methods to provide an answer to the question of how the Japanese managed to achieve modernity without traveling the route taken by Western countries. The result is a work of enormous depth and sensitivity that will facilitate a better understanding of, and appreciation for, Japanese society.

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Fascinating historical analysis...
Comment: ...of the origin and ongoing evolution of the Samurai class in Japan.

I'd always thought that, despite congruences with warrior classes in other cultures, the Samurai were unique in a lot of ways. Certainly, no other warrior class ruled their society for 800 years.

Ms. Ikegami's book now informs me that they were unique in different ways, at different times, and frequently subject to unique stressors and sociological conditions. The changes in the samurai, from reputation-and-power-seeking free agents to powerful rulers, lords and warlords, finally to confucianist administrators in the Tokugawa shogunate, demonstrate remarkable adaptivity. The author describes these changes against the background of Japanese state formation. People more qualified than myself seem to think her approach is revelatory.

I had thought there would be more material documenting how the twin motors of bushido, honor-seeking and service-owing have been internalized in modern Japanese culture, but that final section was not in great depth. In any event, it was still an eye-opener, viewing the early stages of the class, and of bushido...anyone who has ever thought the Japanese culture inculcates only conformity, shame-aversion and discipline has gotten things badly wrong. (except for the discipline part)

As to the difficulty factor, Ms. Ikegami's ideas can be followed, and her historical attributions, while not dense, certainly seem sound. That said, parts of the book sounded very much like they were aimed at a dissertation-review committee rather than 'people interested in the samurai'. If you've ever read any dissertations-turned-general-release-books, you'll know how to wade through.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Excellent, but not for the novice
Comment: This was one of the first studies on the samurai I ever read, and it proved a very tough read, yet rewarding as well. Now that I know much more than I did on the topic back then I've re-read this book, and it's reaffirmed how great it is.

As the other reviewer states, this is a sociological study of the samurai rather than a history book, so this is not the book for you if you are after a rundown on the history of the samurai - for that I'd recommend you pickup the three Sansom 'History of Japan' books. This book instead deals with the warrior class of Japan's evolution sociologically, focussing primarily on the evolution that the class undertook during the Edo period of Japan, after the great civil war was over.

During these final two centuries of samurai rule there were no large scale battles to be fought, and with a ruling class whose right to rule was based on it's warrior status & lineage this created many tensions in society, requiring a series of changes that took place over the years aimed at refocussing what it meant to be a samurai. It is with this topic that Eiko Ikegami excels and what makes this book such an interesting read.

Though it may not be a history book, it does contain many historical case studies and even has chapters devoted to several of the more well known samurai incidents & works, including the case of the 47 ronin & the infamous Hagakure. The Hagakure section in particular is fantastic, being the first text on this topic I've read that doesn't either take it at face value or outright dismiss it as garbage. Instead Eiko interprets it as it should be interpreted - the work of a man who was struggling to envision the meaning of being a samurai during times of peace.

I really can't recommend this book enough if you have an interest in this area of the samurai, though I'd definitely recommend that you are already familiar with the basic history of the samurai beforehand.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: A modern classic, essential to understanding Japan
Comment: Professor Ikegami examines the evolution of the samurai as a social institution from its beginnings nearly 1,000 years ago up to the formal dissolution of the samurai in the late 19th century, as well as the continuing influence of samurai society on modern Japan. She shows that the concept of honor was central to the samurai throughout their history, but also demonstrates that their concepts of honor changed greatly. The samurai are presented not as distant, inscrutable creatures of a mysterious culture but as human beings constructing and living within a society adapted to their needs and circumstances. Their combination of ferocity and refinement are made comprehensible.

Along the way she presents important and insightful analyses of such familiar aspects of samurai life as ritual suicide, bushido, the _Hagakure_, and the story of the revenge of the 47 ronin.

The book begins with a section in which Ikegami sets out her analytical structure and theses. This may seem dry to some, but it is important in introducing concepts that run through the subsequent narrative. The bulk of the book consists of a chronologically arranged history of the development of samurai society, based in a wide range of Japanese and western sources.

The book is well written and has many touches to aid the reader (such as reminders of the meanings of key Japanese terms and avoidance of unexplained jargon). Nevertheless, the density of the argument and facts demand careful and thoughtful reading.

As the title should suggest, this is not a book for the novice, unfamiliar with the broad outlines of Japanese history. Nor is it a military history of the samurai.

Will O'Neil

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Sociological Emphasis
Comment: It was difficult for me to finish this book. I am relatively new to the samurai culture as well as Japan in general. Though the book brings some interesting facts to light that interest the beginner enthusiast, it's depth of sociological theory and comparison proved dry and monotonous at times. My impressions were largely influenced by the fact that I have yet to read, or be instructed about Japanese history as well as ethics and politics in Japanese culture.

In short, before tackling this book pick up a couple of textbook-style history books concerning "feudal" Japan and foster a solid understanding and following of it before reading this book.

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