I found it quite interesting to pick this book up again after a number of years when on my first read I had managed to plow through just the first few chapters. However, one thing had remained in my mind — and that was the fact that there were a fair few interesting stories in that small portion I read of the book. And that was a factor which made me pick it up again, and by a wonder I really did enjoy it this time round.
Indeed, far more than before, I had the enjoyment of the knowledge contained on these pages (quite revolutionary, I would guess, for its time, and for the views presented that go against so much of what is generally thought) as well as the stories described. For, indeed, I do like the tales that come to us from centuries past for they represent the character of people in those times, and they more often than not are rather interesting. Now, I do have to remark, to my utter regret, Karl Friday more often than not warned the reader not to take every story mentioned literally, but rather in a contextual way, but I would say that they are still rather entertaining.
Indeed, I read this rather consecutively with a book by Stephen Turnbull (general one on the samurai that I’ll post my thoughts on later) and I far more appreciate the sense of depth in this one. Not a general overview, but rather an in depth look into what the title says, though truly the “state” is a part of the background rather than the foreground. Yet, both the bushi and warfare are looked into a fair bit, and we get a very developed argument into how their lives occurred.
So, if the Heian, Kamakura, and Nanbokucho eras are of interest, I would suggest picking this up. Even if the slightly academic style is a bother, the wonderfully interesting stories about the various members of the Taira, the Minamoto and the Fujiwara (mostly indeed the stories seem to concern members of these families) are well worth a skim-read here.
Say, how else would we know of the retainer of Fujiwara Yasumasa who should have avoided the hunt with his lord, but went and killed the reincarnation of his mother as a deer. Or of Minamoto Yorinobu, whose words read: “Recently, … that rat of wolf-like greed, Taira Tadatsune of Kazusa, strode about the East. He defied the governors of the eastern provinces, spread his own influence, and oppressed the collection of taxes. He embraced a treacherous, wild heart. He turned the structure of the court upside down, collecting taxes and tax goods for himself, and ignoring imperial orders. … I was then chosen by the court and appointed to pacify the East. … Without rousing the people, without extending my jurisdiction, without beating my drums, without flying any banners, without pulling a bow, without releasing an arrow, without deliberation, without attacking, I captured the rebel where I sat.”
A “rat of wolf-like greed” has to be the finest comparison I’ve seen in a long while. =)