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Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai – The Manga Edition by Yamamoto Tsunetomo/Chie Kutsuwada (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

December 29, 2010 by  



An easy to follow, enjoyable and informative manga adaptation of the original, historic samurai book by Yamamoto Tsunemoto.  Definitely recommended!

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Image courtesy of © 2010 Sean Michael Wilson, Chie Kutsuwada, William Scott Wilson and Kodansha International, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

MANGA TITLE: Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai – The Manga Edition

Based on the commentaries by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Adapted by Sean Michael Wilson

Illustrated by Chie Kusawada

Based on the Translation by William Scott Wilson

PUBLISHED IN USA BY: Kodansha International

Available on January 1, 2011

A fledgling samurai humbly requests to be taught the ways of the samurai by Yamamoto-sensei, the famed author of Hagakure, a book of samurai deeds that has been acclaimed throughout the land. Yamamoto takes on the education of the eager young samurai, and so begins a series of tales reminiscent of The Arabian Nights, with deeds both admirable and atrocious, but each one a lesson in the convoluted Way of the Samurai…

Back in the early 1700’s, a samurai named Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a former retainer of Nabeshima Mitsushige, the third ruler of the Saga prefecture in Japan would provide a spiritual guide for a samurai warrior, the way of Bushido.

A young samurai named Tashiro Tsuramoto visited the aging Yamamoto back on March 5, 1710 and was fascinated by the samurai of the Saga region and he began recording meticulously the stories and opinions of the aging Tsunetomo about what the warrior code meant to the samurai class.  Especially during a time when Japan was at peace and the position of the samurai were not the same as it was during the most feudal period of Japan.

By September 10, 1776, Tashiro had collected all of Tsunetomo’s ideas in a completed 11-volume compilation.  The manuscript is known as Hagakure (which has several meanings but translates to “Hidden Leaves”) and it records Tsunetomo’s views on Bushido, the warrior code of the samurai and that a samurai retainer must be willing to die any moment for his lord.

For two centuries, the Nabeshima clan had secretly guarded and kept the manuscript in the Saga domain and decided to make it public during the Meiji period (1886-1912).

While “Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai” had been translated by several people and released several times throughout especially within the last 50 years, recently the book was made into a manga.  Featuring an adaptation by Sean Michael Wilson (who has written manga versions of “A Christmas Carol”, “Wuthering Heights”, “The Canterville Ghost”), illustration by Chie Kutsuwada (“The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga”) and features translations by William Scott Wilson (“The Lone Samurai: Hagakure” which would inspire the film “Ghost Dog” by filmmaker Jim Jarmusch).

For those who had the opportunity to read “Hagakure”, especially for Japanese who read it, many were fascinated because the book was literally a historic timepiece of how the Bushido code was before the 1700’s before samurai entered a peaceful coexistence and others samurai took on administrative duties due to the change of Japan.  By the time that Tashiro Tsuramoto started taking notes of the book in the early 1700’s, by that time, the monumental battles of Japan were over and the Tokugawa Shogunate established peace in the land in 1603.  For Tsunemoto, he saw the changes in samurai and so, what Tashiro was able to record in his notes were wonderful stories of how things were back then.

I know many people may not and probably will not read the original translated book of “Hagakure” but for many people, especially today, sometimes a manga is the best way to approach a new generation.

The book is broken down to the following chapters:

  • Chapter 1: The Way of the Samurai
  • Chapter 2: Loyalty
  • Chapter 3: Revenge
  • Chapter 4: Kaishaku and Seppuku
  • Chapter 5: Sincerity
  • Afterword by William Scott Wilson

In the manga, the aging samurai Yamamoto Tsunemoto is visited by Tashiro Tsuramoto who wants to learn from him about the ways of the Samurai.  Tsunemoto gives several anecdotes of samurai.  How important their loyalism to their lord.

One story was about a lord cutting his fingernails and the samurai who didn’t leave because he counted nine fingernails and there should be ten.

Another story featured the samurai code in which a samurai was being teased because of his looks.  So the samurai Tokuhisa slayed the man who made fun of him.   The samurai was told that “To be made fun of and remain silent is cowardice.  A Man who makes fun of people is himself a fool.  It was his own fault for being cut down”.

In the chapter of “revenge”, one story talked about a samurai who got his revenge by slaying another who had wronged him and people cheered for him because he was able to get revenge.  Tsunemoto explains to Tsuramoto of the importance of taking revenge and slaying those who have done one wrong.  In Tsunemoto’s words, “To cut a man down in revenge is honorable if the crime committed against you warrants it”

Also, interesting were two stories on how samurai and husbands who caught their wives having sex with another man and how they dealt with the affair.

For the chapter of Kaishaku (those who are appointed to behead those who have committed seppuku) and Seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide), some may find this chapter quite interesting.  In one story, Tsunemoto talks about children being brought up to execute.  One story was about a Yamamoto Kichizaemon who cut down a dog, then as a teenager executing a criminal and how people at 14-15 were raised and ordered to do beheadings. Tsunemoto talked about how he found performing a beheading was an “extremely good feeling” and that to think it is unnerving is “a symptom of cowardice”.

These are just a few examples of the story of samurai in “Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai – The Manga Edition”.  While many of us know of samurai through what we watch from Akira Kurosawa or classic samurai films and for some people their knowledge is what they see from anime or manga, it really helps to have a manga edition of a highly revered, respected book like “Hagakure” because we get to see multiple perspectives of samurai as told by Yamamoto Tsunemoto.  To learn the way of the Bushido and how one was loyal to their lord but also upheld the code and lived the way of the samurai warrior according to the code.

While this book does have a storyline of Tashiro Tsuramoto learning from Yamamoto Tsunetomo and how Tashiro is enlightened by Tsunetomo’s words.  The manga which was adapted from the original manuscript gives us a good perspective of how things were back then in Japan amongst samurai.

Each story that Tsunemoto tells is short, thus we get a good number of examples in each chapter.  The illustrations by Chie Kutsuwada were well done and the manga adaptation was very informative and as a period piece, quite enjoyable to read as it is quite different from other manga that one would read about samurai.

It’s important to note that this manga is targeted for older teens or a mature audience, definitely not for young children as it does feature beheadings, seppuku, etc.
Also, I want to note that I haven’t read the original book, so I can’t comment on how much was left out in the adaptation but with translator William Scott Wilson’s passion about “Hagakure” and that he worked with Sean Michael Wilson who wrote the adaptation, I am assuming they are faithful to the original book.

If you have any interest in samurai especially about Japanese perspective and the Bushido code of that time… but you don’t feel that you are up to reading the actual book, then definitely recommend checking out “Hagakure: The Code of the Samurai – The Manga Edition”.

Definitely recommended!

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