Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'The Book of Five Rings': The text that showed many a Japanophile 'the way'

by Kris Kosaka

Special To The Japan Times

For many Japanophiles, Miyamoto Musashi’s celebrated “The Book of Five Rings” is the classic text that inspired a lifelong appreciation of “the way” — and for good reason. Musashi, the legendary 17th-century swordsman, authored the book in the last years of his life, expanding his “two heavens as one” double-sword strategies into a complete life philosophy — a treatise on strategic thinking applicable to any discipline.

The Book of Five Rings, by Miyamoto Musashi.
160 pages
SHAMBHALA, Nonfiction.

Still a best-seller today, the 2012 translation by William Scott Wilson is particularly beautiful, keeping the sparse elegance of Musashi’s voice while providing historical background on the man and the context of his writings in knowledgeable depth. It is also illustrated by noted Japanese ceramic artist and painter Shiro Tsujimura.

Separated into five sections corresponding to the elements and focusing on different aspects of battle strategy, at first it is disconcerting to read about various techniques of how to literally cut down your opponent. However, the words easily transcend the context of war to establish Musashi’s key ideas on mastering the mind, from considering an opponent’s perspective deeply to contemplating the void.

Also accomplished at calligraphy and ink painting, Musashi was a living embodiment of his own belief: “Master the way broadly and you will see it in all things.” Read his masterpiece to set foot upon a more enlightened path yourself.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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