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Robbie Tsunami

Samurai history books

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Hello, this isnt related to swords but I noticed "history" in the board description so I hope its ok to ask here. 

 

I'm looking for english books on samurai history and am having a hard time finding anything substantial. I've read Chaplin's three unifiers book and a few other general Japanese history books but I want in depth stuff about samurai. From the earliest recordings up to the edo period is what I'm interested in but my searches mostly pull up edo samurai stuff. 

 

Open to an edo book if it's a really good one but I want to know more about the earlier samurai. 

 

Thanks in advance,

 

Robert P.

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If you want readable earlier history, have you read anything by Yoshikawa Eiji? I tried The Heike Story (English version of his Shin Heike Monogatari) and it was a surprisingly good read. Not a direct translation of the Heiki Monogatari, but an unforgettable and illuminating insight into the history of Kyoto and the feuds of the warrior ruling classes. One of my desert island essentials.

  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiji_Yoshikawa

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I've got a copy of Heiki monogatari on my bookshelf but I'm waiting to read it. 

 

I did something similar with greek history. I read some general books, then read some in depth stuff, & then read Homer. It helped me compare the homeric stories to the historically accurate stuff in my head. I'd like to do the same with heiki but cant find in depth material in english. 

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The one I strongly support as the starting point is "Routledge handbook on premodern Japanese history". Its a historiography based review which goes through almost all substantial English publications till the early 2000s and gives a very decent summary of each.

In Japanese there are substantially more niche publications, like those dealing with specifically market for raw materials or military training manuals which have no English counterparts.

Unfortunately, more often than not non-Japanese Ph.D. thesis on such subjects are amateurish, a product of ninja to be getting into the grad program at Central University of Northern Burgundy and then blessing us with a combo of wikipedia and "well, it makes sense if this was done that way".

 

But for both basics and general studies, English is an excellent choice

 

Kirill R.

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A good general text, but if I remember correctly its a little old. Everything prepared before 1970s, i.e. before the full texts of all known Heian to Kamakura+ documents were released as book series, will differ substantially on pre-Sengaku issues.

 

Kirill R.

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15 hours ago, Bugyotsuji said:

If you want readable earlier history, have you read anything by Yoshikawa Eiji? I tried The Heike Story (English version of his Shin Heike Monogatari) and it was a surprisingly good read. Not a direct translation of the Heiki Monogatari, but an unforgettable and illuminating insight into the history of Kyoto and the feuds of the warrior ruling classes. One of my desert island essentials.

 

I read this book upon Piers' recommendation and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was however a bit disappointed when I got to the end of the book and realized that it covers only about a third of the original saga...

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For a more general background, and a real door-stop, has anyone read James Murdoch's History of Japan? (Volume 1 goes up 'to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1542'.)

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Not exactly a history book as it doesn’t read like one, but I would advise getting Papinot's Historical and Geographical history of Japan.

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Hi Robert,

Try Heavenly Warriors; The evolution of Japans Military, 500 - 1300 by William Wayne Farris. ISBN 0-674-38704-X

It's a bit of an 'academic' read, but I found it very interesting.

Good luck.

Barrie.

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Sorry I'm a bit late to the thread... sharing some books I've read and found useful and some on my list of books to read...

 

Karl Friday is a professor on Japanese history at the university of Georgia and has written a few books on the topic. I like his writing, but I'm also an avid reader of history books so I don't mind the level or detail or tangents they can go down. The downside is his books can be pricey or harder to find in bookstores. His most well known are "Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan" and "The First Samurai: The Life and Legend of the Warrior Rebel, Taira Masakado." The later is more narrative quick read following the life of Masakdao. I recently received his more recent  "Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan" which seems like it has a lot of detail, but may be a bit more dry read.

 

For a very top level, quick history of the Samurai and some of the modern mythology that accompanies them--"Samurai: A Concise History" by Michael Wert, a professor at Marquette University, is also a short easy read. My next book up focuses on the Edo period, it is by Eiko Ikegami called "The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan," will probably get to that around the new year. Like all good history fields there is debate in the community so also recommend searching some of the reviews and seeing where other scholars have differences.

 

There are two autobiographies from late Edo period Samurai that have been translated as well: "Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai"  and "Lust, Commerce, and Corruption" -- I have not read them yet, so cannot comment on how well it was translated or how interesting a read.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

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