Summary: An invaluable addition to the library of any English-speaking student of Japanese culture and history
Comment: The Legends of the Samurai is a collection of excellent translations from a number of samurai-related original sources, mostly chronicles and treatises. Along with such better-known books as Kojiki, Yamamoto Tsunetomo's Hagakure, Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Elements and Mori Ogai's The Abe Family, this volume includes selections from the sources that are difficult to find in English translation, such as Konjaku Monogatari Shu and the records of various clans from the Sengoku Period. The information on the Forty-Seven Samurai is very valuable and different from that given by Mitford in Tales of Old Japan. All translations are accompanied by commentaries that help put the original sources into historical context. The book also contains a historical map of Japan and a chronology. The edition is hardcover, beautifully illustrated with modern Japanese woodblock prints. This book is a pleasure to read and would be an invaluable addition to the library of any English-speaking student of Japanese culture and history.
Summary: A Wonderful Insight
Comment: Going by the last reviewer's tirade, one would be forgiven for avoiding this book as another example of Japanese right wing nationalism. Sadly, their review had little, if anything, to with the book "Legends of the Samurai" itself. There is not one whiff of nationalistic parading in the entire book, and Hiroaki Sato avoids anything even hinting at it. Rather than call the Eastern Sea "The Sea of Japan", Sato uses "Eastern Sea", (see the chapter on Oda Nobunaga).
The book itself is divided into 4 broad sections, each containing excerpts and sections dealing with the broad theme at hand. These themes include martial prowess, samurai in battle and war, samurai as they viewed themselves and so on. Although the arrangements come from a large array of sources, they are not as disjointed as they could have been. In fact, Sato has done exceptionally well to blend them as much as he has.
All of the translations come from primary sources, providing a rare insight into a lot of events from people living much closer in time. The translation into English was handled well, and Sato has to be one of the more pleasurable translators to read. I enjoyed the translation for its ease and structure very much.
Sections of particular interest to me were extracts dating to around the end of the Kamakura Bakufu, especially Kusunoki Masashige. Also, the trouble between Minamoto brothers, Yoritomo and Yoshitsune, made for absorbing reading. Having read about Takeda Shingen in novels, it was with relish that I read some primary sources that mentioned him.
Sato provides commentary and explanatory footnotes throughout, and these prove both insightful and helpful in understanding the situation in which the events occurred. Sato's love of Japanese poetry shines through, as he does emphasise it in places and mention it passing when relevant.
Rather than right wing, nationalistic yearning for the past, I found "Legends of the Samurai" to be an excellent foray into the history of one of the most iconic symbols of Japan's history. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I utterly loved reading it, and learned a huge amount about the samurai, their history, and their views on themselves, the world and more. An interest in the samurai almost makes this book a must-have addition to your library.
Summary: A potentially life-altering read!
Comment: First things first. Do not purchase this book if you are looking for a storybook collection of Japanese Samurai legends, for this is not what it is. If I were to try to classify this in a genre, I would say it is a history book written for the lay person. Hiroaki Sato is an extraordinarily gifted translator who has chosen to trace the history, or metamorphosis, of the Samurai consciousness from its primitive roots to the point at which it reached its very peak before giving way to the socio-economic tidal wave created by Edo-era Japn.
Sato's 'history' is not a linear depiction of events that he has marshalled into a unified narrative from a myriad of sources. Rather, he has chosen to wear his editor's hat to select various primary sources and then translate them into the English as faithfully as he can without rendering them meaningless. Many of the 'stories' he relates are translations of official Japanese histories (however fancifully told and embellished), among them some of the earliest extant written Japanese documents, also of autobiographies and memoirs of important Samurai men of letters. Along the way he does a magnificent job of explaining to the reader the significance of certain lines of poetry, or literary references that crop up continually during the momentous and not so momentous exchanges between antagonists, friends, teachers and students, leaders and servants, etc. Thus the tradition of speaking volumes in three short lines of poetry comes alive for the Western reader. Much of the text is allowed to speak for itself, of course with Sato's guiding editorial hand to take us where he wants us to go.
One way that this form of non-narrative narrative plays out, for example, is in an explication of that super-famous story 'The Forty-Seven Ronin.' Sato does not choose to translate one of the many dramatic stories that were written around the tale, but to first explain in dry and informative prose what occured and then to translate various contemporary critiques of the actual events. Thus, we get a translation of the official report filed with the Shogunate by one of the officials who helped to adjudicate and administer the sentence, and criticisms of the hero and heroes of the story as well as a defence of and criticisms of the villain. Utterly fascinating stuff, all.
Also, Sato allows the Samurai to unpack his mind and explain his aesthetic to us by translating select passages from books by Samurai explaining what it is to be a Samurai. Sato's selection of trenchant philosophical gems will have the reader examining himself and resolving to live and think differently henceforth from the way he was before reading this book.
Criticisms: This is not Sato's fault, but because he is translating from official histories, one's eyes can begin to glaze over from the long lists of difficult to remember, multi-syllabic, multi-word titles, names and place-names. Thus a single person can have two or three titles, two or three names and be associated with two or three places and go into battle with a handful of like-titled companions against an array of similarly named foes. This process is made even more difficult by the fact that Samurai might change their names and titles three or four times in the course of their lifetime: One is never just 'Bob.'
I'm sure it was intentional, but the last entry in this volume really sums up all of the flaws and weaknesses of the Samurai system and aesthetic and places a fitting closure on the book when he describes the mayhem that occurs as a result of the death of a Daimyo. The reader is left with perhaps a sense of awe, certainly a new perspective on a way of living life, and finally an appreciation of how cruel and senseless the code of the Samurai can be when taken to absurd extremes. One closes the book with a completely different perspective of the Samurai than the one he had when opening it.
Summary: One word, Eleven letters, 4 syllables. Astonishing.
Comment: This book is all I needed to write a report for an AP World History class. Hiroaki Sato takes whatever fictional depictions of the Samurai a reader might think, and throws them out the window, bringing in detail after detail of what they actually are. Instead of tough, merciless soldiers, a more elegant, and "chivalristic" person is unsheathed. Legends of the Samurai is a great title. I recommend it.
Summary: A book that speaks from the past!
Comment: I really enjoyed reading the accounts told in this book. The poetry and duty of the Samurai are truthfully displyed. Eye witness accounts of events give unique feeling to the stories told.