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Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai Hardcover – April 1, 1988

ISBN-13: 978-0816510351 ISBN-10: 0816510350 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 178 pages
  • Publisher: University of Arizona Press; 1st edition (April 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816510350
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816510351
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,700,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"This charming book...portrays Tokugawa society as it was actually lived, instead of as it was portrayed in moralizing tracts and governmental ordinances. Attractively translated by Teruko Craig, it depicts the life of a man born into a family with the hereditary privilege of audience with the shogun, yet he shamelessly consorted with the riffraff of Edo, ran a protection racket, lied, cheated, and stole....Craig is to be commended for the felicity of her translation and for her clear presentation of a complex social order in the Introduction....Anyone interested in Japanese history and society or in how people interact with each other in whatever age or place will enjoy reading this book." —Monumenta NipponicaMusui's Story"Tells the life of Katsu Kokichi, a samurai on the lower fringe of his class who gave up the aspirations expected of him to mix with the scruffier elements of the Edo streets. . . . Teruko Craig has my applause for selecting what may be a unique document, translating it so gracefully, and supplying it with an informative introduction and annotation. . . . Enjoyable reading." —Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japenese"This valuable translation provides many insights into Japanese life. . . . Teruko Craig is to be commended on the vivid picture of this slice of Tokugawa life." —Journal of Royal Asiatic Society"A delightful little book. . . . And is one of those one sit cover-to-cover reads." —American Asian Review"Fruit from an esoteric branch of literature to be sure, but also a colorful, involving glimpse of the gritty side of a distinctly foreign culture." —Kirkus Reviews
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Language Notes

Text: English, Japanese (translation)

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 31 customer reviews
The book reads quickly.
Through Katsu's experiences in this book, there were three notable evidences which may have led the samurai class to decline in the mid-19th century.
Overall I found the book enjoyable and easy to read.
Jarred Abbott

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Michael Valdivielso on October 24, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Katsu Kokichi's autobiography shows the gritty, dark, realistic side of Tokugawa society. This samurai, who was always down on his luck, mostly because of his own rotten ideas and unethical actions, lied, cheated, stole and ran around with the riffraff of Edo. He ran away from home, twice, once at the age of 14 and once at the age of 21. The second time he was running away from his OWN household - his wife and his bills. He once lived as a begger, travelled a lot (well, ran away a lot) and learned a lot about how to get money without doing any real work.
This book is important as a piece of first person history into the real lifes and people of the 19th Century Japan. It showed how many Samurai lived during the time of peace, trying to take odd jobs, make some money and still dress, act and give the impression of being warriors. A must for any history library.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 28, 1997
Format: Paperback
This book is the reprinted translated diary of a Samurai in Japan in the early 1800's. It gives the reader a unique look into Japanese society at that time. The samurai in question, Katsu Kokichi, is not a very good samurai which makes this book all the more interesting to read. The reader is drawn into the dilemmas of Katsu and his times. The book also includes beautiful ink drawings and full color plates of tokyo and its environs. This adds to the fullness of the story. This book is perfect for anyone who likes autobiographies or who is interested in Japanese and Asian culture
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Format: Paperback
This easy to read autobiography by Katsu Kokichi is a revealing glimpse of the day to day life and struggles of a Japanese samauri in the late Tokugawa era. Filled with fast-paced adventures and heart wrenching hardships one gets the sense that people in this time period knew how to survive. If Katsu's life could be drawn out in a horizontal timeline it would be characterized by peaks and valleys marking his prosperous highs of fiscal fortune and widespread popularity and his debt ridden lows of illness and incurred filial dishonor. Juxtaposing stories of the highlights of his successes as a swordsman, teacher and local sage are tales of poverty, shame and rakishness--Katsu is such an incorrigible youth that his family locks him in a cage for three years during his early 20s.

The author seems to recognize his best trait saying in his Prologue that, "surely Heaven must have blessed me because even in the midst of my errant ways I helped people out, giving money unstingily and rescuing them from difficulties." Nevertheless, he cannot help but look back on his life in his reitrement with guilt-ridden scorn, telling his progreny to, "read carefully what I have set down and take it as a warning." This book gives an in depth, personal look at what it was like to be a samuari in the Tokugawa era, a 200 year-long age of peace in Japan that lasted from approximately the late 16th Century until 1868. What is a warrior to do when there are no wars to fight and no domestic uprisings to quell? How is a samauri supposed to survive off of a modest government stipend while there are a limited number of jobs he can do? Musui's Story answers these questions and much, much more.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ZSky on November 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
During the 1840s in Japan, Katsu Kokichi wrote his own life story in this book, which was translated into English by Teruko Craig. During the late period of the Tokugawa era, Katsu Kokichi came from a lower-class samurai family with a stipend of 100 koku of rice. Katsu became a rebel child during his earlier life and he has run into trouble numerous times throughout his lifetime. There are nine chapters in this book with the addition of Craig's introduction in which he gives the historical background of Katsu. Through the book, there is a moral insight on why samurai declined in the mid-1800s. By looking at Katsu's life and his surroundings in Tokugawa Japan, the role of samurai, how Katsu broke the code of samurai, why he behaved in dishonorable ways, and three small evidences for the decline of a samurai is analyzed.

The role model of a samurai was to be on his best behavior, not commit any acts of crimes which would disgrace his lord or his family, and to show his loyalty to his shogun and to his emperor. The samurai would set an example for his offspring or for his students in which they would soon become better samurai and honorable warriors. The son of a samurai would go to school to take lessons to be an educated swordsman and a skilled horse rider. In Katsu's book, the commoners or a fellow samurai had respected, honored, and treated Katsu family fairly as a samurai after he became known for helping out a few people in the critical situations, which was part of a samurai's honorable ways. But, whether samurai does something unwise or disgraceful in his own personal time, he not only dishonored himself but to his entire family house. This is what happened with Katsu when he broke the code.

With Katsu's lifestyle, breaking the code of a samurai is contemplated.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Zack Davisson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
Who writes an autobiography? Most people who write them are people of note, movers and shakers in their realms and time-periods, people with something to say. Rarely do we get to read the autobiography of a general loser, someone who is by no measure a good person, and someone completely beyond admiration. Welcome to Musui's world.

Musui, also know as Katsu Kokichi, was a low-ranking samurai and general good-for-nothing who never thought beyond his immediate needs, and did his best to attain something for nothing when ever possible. He started out bad, as a schoolyard bully who used his status as a samurai to push around lower-ranking kids. The older he got, the worse he got, and all means to control him or teach him respect failed, including his father locking him in a cage and forcing him to read classic military treatise. He was eventually adopted off into another family, which brought along with it a bride and a meager salary. It was never enough to keep up with his habit of visiting prostitutes in the Yoshiwara pleasure districts, so he was soon a leader amongst the black market, working with local extortionists and hoodlums, selling swords and working every possible kind of confidence racket.

Now, everything in this book should be taken with a grain of salt. Katsu was a grand liar with an enormous ego, who bluffed his way into money and out of trouble on a regular basis. His tales of his exemplary swordsmanship, his acts of kindness, his ability to drink bottle after bottle of sake without ever getting drunk, smacks as more wish-fulfillment than the true character of an unrepentant rouge. The translator, Teruko Craig, has added some notes on the accuracy of Katsu's tales, and surprisingly some of the most fantastic adventures are backed up by other sources.
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