‘Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai’, S.M. Wilson

In addition to the ‘The Book of Five Rings’ I described yesterday, Sean Michael Wilson has applied the same treatment to two other philosophical Japanese treatises. One of them, ‘Hagakure’, is the one that I shall comment on today. ‘Hagakure’ (by Yamamoto Tsunetomo) is very much a different book to the one Miyamoto Musashi wrote, but I think the graphic novel/manga approach works here as well.

The story is covered in a way which works very well — the teacher, Tsunemoto-dono, describes events that others have passed on to him as well as ones that he has seen in his own long life. The person listening these stories is a young aspiring samurai. In the course of these stories, the two pass through the relevant bits of a nobleman’s education in how people should behave in everyday lives.

Tsunemoto is an interesting person since many things that he says or reflects upon are somewhat contrary to what people thought at the time (insofar as I understand). To bring one example, his thoughts on the 47 ronin story : the ronin did wrong by waiting a few years since the target of their vengeance could have escaped the vengeance by natural death, or something else could have happened. The ronin should have drawn their swords and charged the house of the enemy without regard to anything else.

In many ways, I think the drawings make the words of the old master live with a new vigour. It is a great pity that not all of the stories from the book are made into graphic stories, but I suppose that it is difficult to think of good ways to turn short thoughtful samurai parables into anything different.

I also appreciated the afterword by the translator, William Scott Wilson. The other version of ‘Hagakure’ I have does not include that or anything alike, so it was a surprise for me to read the alternative meaning of the well-known and quote phrase, ‘The Way of the Samurai lies in death.’

Most of all, I think that Mr Wilson has emphasised the interesting parts of the treatise in the best possible way in this graphic novel — their memorability is far better than before. The phrase that has stayed with me is:

It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance!

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