The idea of the sword-wielding samurai, beholden to a strict ethical code and trained in deadly martial arts, dominates popular conceptions of the samurai. As early as the late seventeenth century, they were heavily featured in literature, art, theatre, and even comedy, from The Tale of the Heike to the kabuki retellings of the 47 Ronin. This legacy remains with us today in the legendary Akira Kurosawa films, the shoguns of HBO's Westworld, and countless renditions of samurai history in anime, manga, and video games. Acknowledging these common depictions, this book gives readers access to the real samurai as they lived, fought, and served.
Much as they capture the modern imagination, the samurai commanded influence over the politics, arts, philosophy and religion of their own time, and ultimately controlled Japan from the fourteenth century until their demise in the mid-nineteenth century. On and off the battlefield, whether charging an enemy on horseback or currying favour at the imperial court, their story is one of adventures and intrigues, heroics and misdeeds, unlikely victories and devastating defeats. This book traces the samurai throughout this history, exploring their roles in watershed events such as Japan's invasions of Korea at the close of the sixteenth century and the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. Coming alive in these accounts are the samurai, both famed and ordinary, who shaped Japanese history.
- "In this myth-busting race through 1,100 years of samurai history, Wert reveals how the Japanese warrior class not only not only influenced military matters, but also culture, religion, and the arts." - BBC History Magazine
From the Back Cover
- "Mike Wert has presented us with a wonderful overview of samurai in history, from ancient times to their modern reinvention. This book is an excellent introduction for anyone interested in the reality behind Japan's famous warriors." -- Oleg Benesch, author of Inventing the Way of the Samurai
- "Few features of Japan's historical landscape have attracted as much popular attention or been as thoroughly obscured by popular misconceptions, as the story of the samurai. Michael Wert cuts through this fog, summarizing the millennium-long history of Japanese warriors in one concise, eminently readable volume. Aficionados and other lay readers at long last have an up-to-date account to supersede H. Paul Varley, Ivan Morris, and Nobuko Morris's long-popular Samurai, from 1970." -- Karl Friday, Professor of Premodern Japanese History, Saitama University
- "This lively book debunks samurai mythology while offering splendid insights into lived experience. Samurai appear not just as warriors and rulers but as struggling bureaucrats, aspiring poets, proud paupers, and angry drunks. A superb overview of Japanese history." -- Mark Ravina, Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin
- The author is a leading scholar of Japanese and samurai history
- A lively and approachable introduction to the samurai class and its influence on Japan
- Critiques the role of the samurai in the media and pop culture