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History The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593–1688

The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593–1688

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The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593–1688

The first ever account of Japanese overseas mercenaries, including material never before translated into English, was written by a renowned and highly respected expert.

The Lost Samurai reveals the most remarkable untold story of Japan's legendary warrior class, which is that for almost a hundred years, Japanese samurai were employed as mercenaries in the service of the kings of Siam, Cambodia, Burma, Spain and Portugal, as well as by the directors of the Dutch East India Company.

The Japanese samurai were used in dramatic assault parties as royal bodyguards, staunch garrisons, and willing executioners. As a result, a stereotypical image of the fierce Japanese warrior developed that profoundly influenced how their employers regarded them.

While the Southeast Asian kings tended to employ samurai long-term as palace guards, European employers usually hired them temporarily for specific campaigns. Also, whereas the Southeast Asian monarchs tended to trust their well-established units of Japanese mercenaries, the Europeans, admiring them, feared them. In every European example, a progressive shift in attitude may be discerned from initial enthusiasm to great suspicion that the Japanese might one day turn against them, as illustrated by the long-standing Spanish fear of an invasion of the Philippines by Japan accompanied by a local uprising.

It also suggested that if, during the 1630s, Japan had chosen engagement with Southeast Asia rather than isolation from it, the established presence of Japanese communities overseas may have had a profound influence on the subsequent development of international relations within the area, perhaps even seeing the early creation of an overseas Japanese empire that would have provided a rival to Great Britain. Instead, Japan closed its doors, leaving these fierce mercenaries stranded in distant countries, never to return: lost samurai indeed.

Editorial Reviews

"The portrayal of the historical actors is fascinating, sometimes even moving, and Turnbull successfully contextualizes the story with interesting political, diplomatic, and military insights on the stormy period of Ming-Qing transition."
Journal of Military History

"An inherently fascinating, impressively well written, exceptionally informative, and meticulously detailed history..."
Midwest Book Review

"Definitely a book that explores a little-known area of Japanese history."
Portland Book Review

About the Author

Stephen Turnbull took his first degree at Cambridge and has two MAs (in Theology and Military History) from Leeds University. In 1996 he received a PhD from Leeds for his thesis on Japan's 'Hidden Christians'. In its published form, the work won the Japan Festival Literary Award in 1998. He has lectured widely in East Asian Studies and Theology and is now retired. He holds the honorary positions of Lecturer Emeritus at Leeds University, Research Associate at SOAS and Visiting Professor of Japanese Studies at Akita International University. His expertise, including an extensive picture library, has helped with numerous media projects, including the award-winning computer strategy game Shogun Total War. In 2010 he acted as a Historical Adviser to Universal Pictures for the movie 47 Ronin.

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Stephen Turnbull
Frontline Books
Year of publication
23 March 2021
Number of pages
USD 34.95

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