The best books on a hidden Japan and the real samurai

Why am I passionate about this?

I am not the type of person who likes to say “you are wrong” in fact I am the type of person who likes to say “let us add this to the whole story”. When you picture Japan you do not picture: slavery, snake dancers, or even samurai removing their shoes outdoors in a gesture of politeness to a superior, you do not imagine Italian Jesuits, western traders, pirates, and Chinese samurai, but they are all a part of actual samurai life. It is my task to add those lost items to our understanding of Japan and the samurai, but of course, in addition to this, I have to correct the story of the ninja, simply because it is a false one. The shinobi as they should be known were disfigured in the 20th century and I want to reveal their true face.


I wrote...

The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

By Antony Cummins, Yoshie Minami,

Book cover of The Book of Ninja: The Bansenshukai - Japan's Premier Ninja Manual

What is my book about?

The Book of Ninja was penned in 1676 by a ninja known as Fujibayashi Yasutake. Born in the post-civil war era of Japan, Fujibayashi collected and combined information from the ninja clans of Iga and Koka and compiled it into one book. Known as The Bansenhukai – the many rivers which become one - it is widely considered to be the 'bible' of 'ninjutsu', the arts of the ninja. It is considered as one of the three great ninja manuals and it has long since been the main source of information in Japan.

It was not fully published in any language (even Japanese) until 2013 when my team finally finished the colossal task and produced it in English. There are sections on capturing criminals, ninja tools, night raids, making secret codes and signs, and techniques for predicting the weather and using an esoteric Buddhist system of divination.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of They Came to Japan: An Anthology of European Reports on Japan, 1543-1640

Antony Cummins Why did I love 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.

By Michael Cooper,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked They Came to Japan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Japan accidentally discovered by the Europeans in 1543 was a country torn by internecene wars waged by independent barons who recognised no effective central government and were free to appropriate as many neighbouring fiefs as force of arms and treachery would permit. The Japan which deported the Europeans a century later was a stable, highly centralised bureaucracy under the firm control of a usurping family which was to continue to rule the country until well into the Victorian age. Europeans living in Japan at the time have not only recorded the events of this fascinating period but also provided…


Book cover of Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan

Antony Cummins Why did I love 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.

By Giles Milton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Samurai William as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An eye-opening account of the first encounter between England and Japan, by the acclaimed author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg.

In 1611, the merchants of London's East India Company received a mysterious letter from Japan, written several years previously by a marooned English mariner named William Adams. Foreigners had been denied access to Japan for centuries, yet Adams had been living in this unknown land for years. He had risen to the highest levels in the ruling shogun's court, taken a Japanese name, and was now offering his services as adviser and interpreter.

Seven adventurers were sent to Japan with orders to…


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

Antony Cummins Why did I love 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. 

By Yu Song-Nyong, Choi Byonghyon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Book of Corrections as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Korean


Book cover of Seppuku: A History of Samurai Suicide

Antony Cummins Why did I love 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. 

By Andrew Rankin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seppuku as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of thrilling samurai tales tracing the history of seppuku from ancient times to the twentieth century. The history of seppuku -- Japanese ritual suicide by cutting the stomach, sometimes referred to as hara-kiri -- spans a millennium, and came to be favoured by samurai as an honourable form of death. Here, for the first time in English, is a book that charts the history of seppuku from ancient times to the twentieth century through a collection of swashbuckling tales from history and literature.


Book cover of Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai

Antony Cummins Why did I love 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.

By Katsu Kokichi, Teruko Craig (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Musui's Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A series of picaresque adventures set against the backdrop of a Japan still closed off from the rest of the world, Musui's Story recounts the escapades of samurai Katsu Kokichi. As it depicts Katsu stealing, brawling, indulging in the pleasure quarters, and getting the better of authorities, it also provides a refreshing perspective on Japanese society, customs, economy, and human relationships.

From childhood, Katsu was given to mischief. He ran away from home, once at thirteen, making his way as a beggar on the great trunk road between Edo and Kyoto, and again at twenty, posing as the emissary of…


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By Brett Dakin,

Book cover of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives—and the files of the FBI—to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise…

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What is this book about?

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Interested in Japan, Samurais, and suicide?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japan, Samurais, and suicide.

Japan Explore 493 books about Japan
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Suicide Explore 185 books about suicide