The best books on a hidden Japan and the real samurai

Antony Cummins Author Of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual
By Antony Cummins

The Books I Picked & Why

They Came to Japan, Volume 15: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640

By Michael Cooper

They Came to Japan, Volume 15: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640

Why this book?

This is a hidden gem for Japanese studies. Michael Cooper (now deceased) compiled, translated, or compiled translations of the best accounts of Japan between the years 1543 and 1640. Each one of them represents the words of a traveler who reached Japan at the height of its period of war or just when the Tokugawa family took over. It is neatly organised, a chunky book and to me, it is the best work on understanding Japan, the Japanese, and the samurai from a time period that was one of the most important times for the samurai. I love this book.


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Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan

By Giles Milton

Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan

Why this book?

At the moment Yasuke - the Black Samurai is very prominent in the samurai enthusiast community, and rightly so, he was an African samurai who made his way up the ranks. However, not much is known about his story, so while it is fascinating, there is too little documentation to delve further. This is not the case with William Adams, a Londoner who made his way to Japan, who not only became a samurai but then also became a banner-man (Hatamoto) and leader of a small state. We have so much historical documentation about him and his story is captivating.

While he only arrived at the end of the wars, he was still around at one of the most important times of Japanese history. He never made it back home, but this was one Englishman who made his mark on Japanese culture. Something I hope to do.


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The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598

By Yu Song-Nyong, Choi Byonghyon

The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598

Why this book?

This book is not a page-turner by any means, but what it does have is hidden information through imagination. It is an eyewitness account in Korean, translated into English concerning the 16th-century Japanese Invasion. It is a step-by-step recounting of how one administrator had to flee the Japanese army as they burned their way through his native lands. The hidden joy is knowing that the samurai army is on his heels and you can feel them in the shadow of the book all the way through. It was a joy to read because it allowed me to see how the Japanese behaved in real war if only from a distance and without the problems of an impassioned samurai pen behind the words. 


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Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide

By Andrew Rankin

Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide

Why this book?

Who does not know about Seppuku, or Hara-kiri (also incorrectly said as Hari-Kari)? Andrew in his book gives a great in-depth discussion about its history, its customs, and its position in Japanese society. I have no idea why this book is not a best seller. I know I have used it in my own books more than once. People think they know about ritual suicide in Japanese culture, but more often than not it is “movie knowledge” and Andrew’s book is a solid piece of research on the subject, it should be in every samurai fan’s book collection. 


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Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai

By Katsu Kokichi, Teruko Craig

Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai

Why this book?

There is samurai culture as understood by most people, involving bushido, loyalty, honour, and truth and then there is this book, an autobiography by a real samurai about the honest truth about actually being a samurai. Part criminal, part reluctant warrior, this man’s story is one of passion, hardship, and eventual love for his family. It is one of the greatest windows into actual Japanese life, and again, it is not a best seller and is maybe now out of print. If you want to know what a samurai’s life was like after the wars with nothing to do but to just be a samurai, look no further, this is one of my most cherished books.


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