The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman. The classic samurai novel about the real exploits of the most famous swordsman. Miyamoto Musashi was the child of an era when Japan was emerging from decades of civil strife. Lured to the great Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 by the hope of becoming a samurai-without really knowing what it meant-he regains consciousness after the battle to find himself lying defeated, dazed and wounded among thousands of the dead and dying. On his way home, he commits a rash act, becomes a fugitive and brings life in
Much of Yoshikawa’s Musashi is based on historical reality and while they are fictionalized (and it is important to remember that), many of the events and people portrayed actually existed. Musashi is one of Japan’s most notable and recognizable swordsmen. Musashi begins with the aftermath of the Battle of Sekigahara in which a young Musashi, then known as Takezō, fought and managed to survive. It ends with one of Musashi’s most famous duels as he faces the highly skilled Sasaki Kojirō. In between, the novel traces his efforts to develop his own style of swordsmanship, resulting in the foundation of his innovative two sword technique. At the same time, Japanese society is undergoing great change as the Tokugawa shogunate more firmly establishes its control over the country.
Although the novel’s title is simply Musashi, the cast of characters is quite large. In addition to Musashi, the tale also follows those who seek to be close to him, his peers and rivals, friends, adversaries, and mentors. Many of the encounters between these people seem to happen by chance or fate, and sometimes the coincidences are a bit much, but it does make for a good story. For the most part, the characters grow and change as the novel progresses. Some of the changes happen suddenly while others develop more naturally over time. Musashi, too, is a significantly different person by the end of the book than he is when it first begins. He may be a legendary swordsman, but in Musashi he is shown to be completely human as well. He, like all the other characters, makes mistakes and stupid decisions, but he is shown to be willing to learn from them.
The pacing of Musashi is much more leisurely than one might expect for a novel about a man striving to better himself by following the Way of the Sword. Although Musashi is constantly training and is involved in many cinematic duels and battles, most of the book is of a quieter, more philosophical bent. Musashi brings what he learns from everyday life to his swordsmanship and in return applies the Way of the Sword to his way of life, believing the two are one and the same. Some might feel the novel drags on, and its length is certainly felt even in abridged form, but I was actually quite happy with it. I would like to read the novel in its entirety, but Terry’s translation and abridgement is excellent. While it occasionally feels slightly disjointed, overall the narrative flows very nicely. However, the ending comes abruptly. In some ways this lends to the creation of the myth and legend of Musashi, but it still seemed very sudden to me. Regardless, I am very glad I took the time needed to read and experience Yoshikawa’s Musashi.
Experiments in Manga
After I finished reading the book, I was wondering if 970 pages were enough to tell Musashi's tale. In spite of the well-fitting ending, I must say that I wouldn't complain if there was more of the story. Musashi's saga is told with lots of details, but still kept very quick to read. And it tells not only of his own story, but also the story of the people who had their lives affected by him, for good or for worse.
Unlike several other books I read before, the chapters do not end "in the best part" so that the reader gets curious and the story lasts longer. In each chapter (and in each of the books within this book) a story begins and ends, so you won't get caught in anxiety to see what's about to happen with any of the characters.
One thing that I absolutely loved in this book: the description of several aspects of the Japanese culture. I only missed a tea cerimony description, but other than this, all the main characteristics of Japan post-Sekigahara war were vividly described.