Customer Reviews: Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
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on August 27, 2000
This book features sayings and anecdotes from an aging Samurai who died around 1700.
It is a quick and entertaining read, and offers great perspective both on the individual who wrote it, and on the general theory of being a samurai.
There is an obvious sense of loss in many of the passages which comment on how things in contemporary society (of the 1700s) are so different from years past. This book, intentionally or not, captures the spirit of those older days, and serves both as a manual for younger samurai, and as a historical document for people who are interested in "The Way of the Samurai" today.
In his excellent introduction, the translator makes the very relevant point that this book is not a rigorous philosophical treatise, at least not in the way that Western scholars would define it. Instead, it is a collection of stories and phrases about a certain way of living. It doesn't hold up to scientific cross-examination (the author contradicts himself frequently), but it shouldn't have to. Yamamoto gives the impression that if faced with a philosophical attack on his "way", he would shrug his shoulders and say, "Yes, but that doesn't change a thing." In other words, his examples and aphorisms speak for themselves, and are not meant to either exclude other points of view or force others into conformity. Yamamoto even states that the Way he advocates is specific to his region of Japan -- samurai of neighboring regions are free to develop their own Ways.
The passages in the book usually focus on one of two topics: bravery, or etiquette. Yamamoto offers a lot of advice on charging into battle, seeking revenge, executing others, etc. The main thrust of most of it is: the Samurai does not spend a lot of time thinking about killing his enemy. He just rushes in and gets it over with. On matters of etiquette, Yamamoto discusses the proper way to hold a Tea Ceremony, how to cover up a yawn, how to pay attention to people you are talking to, and so on. One of the charming aspects of this book is that right after discussing the swiftest way to cut off someone's head, he'll discuss how to make yourself look nice even if you have a hangover. This could be a result of the editing, but it still makes for entertaining reading.
The other theme that permeates almost every paragraph of the book is loyalty to one's master. Yamamoto never tires of discussing the extremes that a samurai should go to so that he may honor his master and show his loyalty. He gives the example of a samurai who was being beaten by his master: during the course of the beating, the master dropped his staff down a hill, so the samurai immediately ran down to retrieve it, and return the staff to his master so he could continue to be beaten. Of course, the ultimate act of loyalty to one's master is to kill oneself after his death. Yamamoto spends a great deal of time discussing various aspects of this tradition, and regrets that his own master forbade him to commit suicide in such a way.
The book reads very quickly (it took me about 4 hours), in part because it is organized into brief paragraphs and anecdotes (much like a book of sayings), and in part because the underlying material is almost inherently fascinating. It gives a very complete picture of the state of mind of an aging samurai, and depicts the world of the samurai as it existed in the 17th century.
The translation flows very well, though I cannot attest to its accuracy, and the translator includes a somewhat useful glossary in the back of the book, as well as the introduction which I mentioned. I should also mention, for the curious, that this is the translation that Jim Jarmusch used as the source of his aphorisms in the recent film "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai."
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on February 11, 1997
Whether you find HAGAKURE of interest depends on your approach to the book. Although this is not a book of sword technique, it is much like a traditional sword
master, teaching only what the student is open enough to
know, and teaching on many levels. On one level, it is a book of eyewitness accounts and stories from the decline
of the Samurai era. Tsunetomo has a gift for storytelling,
and for slipping in little details that might be of use to
the aspiring Bushi. For example, do you know the quickest,
easiest way to remove a dead enemies' face from his skull?
He also gossips in an entertaining way about the lives of
various local notables. It is as if you are having dinner with a slighly cynical, retired Samurai, the saki is passed around, and he begins talking freely.

On another level the book adresses the questions of loyalty,
honor, and the meaning of life. It celebrates virtue and
valor, while avoiding the sugarcoating that such subjects
get in the west. Anyone who faces dangers and obstacles in their day to day walk will find this little book strangely
supportive. In this age where loyalty has a price, and
commitment is a meaningless word, the savage beauty and
strange purity of the Bushi mind, as revealed by Tsunetomo, can strengthen the heart, and recharge the mind.

IF YOU LIKE HAGAKURE, you should read:

THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS, Miamoto Mushashi
ACTS OF WORSHIP, Yukio Mishima
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on January 23, 1998
HAGAKURE: The Book of the Samurai is a very interesting book which describes the everyday life and mindset of a samurai. For those that are not interested in the Samurai thought, this book may appear rather dry and in some instances, absurd. However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The book is made up of short entries of various topics. Whether it's describing a wise samurai's actions, or cracking jokes at the noblemen around him, it is obvious that Yamamoto Tsunetomo was truly a samurai in every aspect of his life. During Yamamoto's time, the prestige of the samurai was declining, due to a long period of peace in Japan. The samurai lived to die for his lord in battle, but how can one remain a noble samurai during times of peace? Yamamoto answers this and many other questions in Hagakure. He also points out that when one is focused on dying, he will not be afraid in the presence of death. As Yamamoto liked to say, "The way of the Samurai is found in death."
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on April 26, 2011
This ebook is filled with typographical errors and incorrect automated word replacement errors. I seriously doubt that it was ever proofread. Yes, the ebook is inexpensive, but the sloppy errors are a disservice to the author, subject, Amazon, and reader.
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on July 14, 2011
I completely agree with Emo (was I your retainer in ATX?) that this unproofed electronic version is a disservice to the author (foremost), the reader, Amazon, and the Kindle. The hardcopy version is outstanding! There are so many typographical errors as to render this almost useless. I will try a sample from this e-publisher before i consider buying from them's just that embarassingly bad. If you MUST have this on your Kindle, get a free PDF version...with no typographical errors... and send it to your Kindle.
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on April 6, 2001
Hagakure is a guide to the proper roll of a samurai during feudal times. Things such as expected behaviour, dying with honor, obeying one's lord, etc...
For today's reader, this book offers several tips on the proper mindset when in combat from a samurai's point of view. Still, Some of these rules are, to say the least, a little strange.
For a serious martial arts student, this book will probably find a place on your bookshelf (if it hasn't already). However, if you saw the movie "Ghost Dog" and were expecting a book of straight warrior-wisdom, you may wish to consider the fact this book has a lot of Japanese history in it. Some of Hagakure's content is a little dry, and although it offers profound insight in some places, it can be a bit hard to sort out what is useful in today's world.
Hagakure is also not put together in an user-friendly format. You have to search for specific quotes, because there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to it's layout. This can be tough when you want to go back and review how something was phrased to better understand it.
Still, this book is well worth the time and money. I have read it several times, and I'll probably read it several more...
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on August 9, 2004
The hagakure is a short book, but that does not mean that it is a short read. On the contrary, this is longest short read you will ever encounter. This book is dense, it will take you many reads to undestand this book. I have lost count of the amount of times that I have read it.

Many deride this book as being written by an armchair samurai, noting the fact that yamamoto tsunetomo never actually fought in any battles. But this is the wrong way to look at the book. The Hagakure was written by a peace time samurai for peace time samurai, and is thus valuable for american practioners of the way. An invaluable book, recommended to all.
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on October 18, 2011
I seldom write reviews but this digital book is terrible. I read Hagakure 20 years ago and it was a great introduction to the Samurai code. I remember thinking that if more people lived according to these guidelines our society would be very different and much more ethical. Watching the corruption in Washington and the lack of ethics on Wall Street made me want to re-read Hagakure. It's ironic that a book that describes and defines how to live an honorable life could be so dishonored by it's publisher. I have a feeling that Tsunetomo would not be very pleased with this version of his work.

Sign of the times I guess, no one cares about making a good product if there is a quick buck to be made.
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on July 2, 2011
The spelling errors start at the cover and you lose count of them by page 8. This book is just a print on demand piece of junk. No one has bothered to proofread this thing at any point. I tried to email them about returning my copy and no one ever responded. It's a fake. Save your money.
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on September 16, 2001
I have to truly say that I have mixed feelings about this one. It provides an eye opening view into the use of Bushido, beyond dry tellings of it's core beliefs. The Hagakure puts fire behind these beliefs and tells anecdotes reflecting this philosophy. The flip side of this is that Tsunetomo could truly be called a psychopath. One anecdote told of his walking down a crowded city street one day when his purse was stolen. Not seeing who had stolen it, he whipped out his katana and killed everyone within 10 feet to be sure that he got the cutpurse. I have to say that anyone interested in the study of Bushido, Budo or just Japanese history in general should buy this book. If you are looking for wisdom in these pages, take everything with a grain of salt. A big one. Think the size of your head.
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