Those with an interest in feudal Japan are urged not to miss Eiji Yoshikawa’s samurai epic, “Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era” — just don’t expect historical accuracy. In telling the story of Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1685), the famed swordsman and author of “The Book of Five Rings,” Yoshikawa’s sprawling novel relies mostly on imagination and invention, much to the dismay of historians.
Yet the fact remains that “Musashi” has enjoyed great popularity since it was first serialized in the Asahi Shimbun in 1935, inspiring various movie and television versions and even becoming the basis of a popular manga.
The novel is a portrait of feudal Japan, showcasing honor and friendship on multiple levels. As a story of traditional Japan that many modern Japanese still idealize, the novel reveals important cultural truths.
Another reason to tackle this rollicking tale? It’s fun! There’s plenty of action and adventure in the life of a samurai swordsman, but we also glimpse the lives of everyday people, and it’s a thoroughly engrossing read. Accurate or not, this book is a time machine. Broken into sections named after the elemental forces, from Earth, Fire, Wind or the last section, The Perfect Light, each division illuminates some aspect of Musashi’s life. Fiction contains truth beyond facts, and if you want to step back into samurai Japan, look no further than the pages of “Musashi.”
Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.