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Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend Hardcover – October 31, 2006

2.9 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ross (Tunnel Visions) pursues the life and especially the violent suicide by seppuku, or hara-kiri, of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, at age 45 in 1970. An English journalist who studied martial arts and later worked in Japan and learned Japanese, Ross was intrigued by overlaps in Mishima's life and his own, in terms of wondering how to make one's life more worthwhile and productive, and one's death "magnificent." Mishima's novels harked back to the heroism of samurai warriors of early eras, and during his life he assiduously mastered the code of the knightly class and conditioned his body in ritual sword fighting. In fact, Ross learns that the famous sword Mishima used on himself in Tokyo's Eastern Army Group Headquarters was made by Seki no Magoroku in the 16th century, and has subsequently vanished. In between a visceral blow-by-blow account of Mishima's last hours, Ross alternates his detailed, gently meandering narrative with fascinating research into the art of Japanese sword making. Ross's journey is wonderfully elucidating, not only of the writer who wanted to ensure he lived forever but of a holistic history and culture of Japan. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In his time, Yukio Mishima was Japan's best-known and best-selling novelist, but he will always be remembered for his spectacular death, when he committed seppuku after a spectacularly unsuccessful coup attempt. Ross (Tunnel Visions, 2001) wanted to know what happened to Mishima's sword, the one that was used by a cohort to lop off his head as the coup de grace. What follows is an -utterly unique journey, part travelogue, part biography, part history lesson, and part philosophical treatise. Mishima was a complicated, contradictory man, and Ross explores his mind and his work through the lens of Japan's challenging culture. Though the search for the sword impels the journey, this is no archaeological thriller. The sword as object is less important to the book than the sword as symbol, of Japan's militaristic past, of Mishima's desire to reinvent himself from effete aesthete to virile man of action. Does Ross find the sword? Who cares? As with all great journeys, the most memorable moments lie en route to the final destination. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (October 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306815133
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306815133
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,130,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I haven't finished the book (still in the middle) but just want to argue with those reviewers who complain that the author distracts them with his own story and with "unnecessary" sword stories. But this is not a detective story about finding a sword - it is more about finding your own soul or core. This is not a travelogue but a philosophical journey.
Even if you look at the book from the travel prospective, I find his style of writing about this complicated topic well suited to conveying a complex mingling of old and new, of philosophy, religion and modernity that helps to understand today's Japan. Of course, the reader must be interested in understanding the whole instead of just a tabloid-like weird seppuku story.
In addition, since I can understand Japanese, I appreciate terminology and poetry cited in the book.
Maybe those who don't like such style, need find a different book on this topic - less culturally charged.
The author writes for a reader having more solid background or more curiosity and open mind.
It is not for an average beach reader.
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Format: Paperback
This is a pretty fascinating account of Yukio Mishima's life and eventual suicide seppuku style. As far as the amazing real life story of Mishima and the amazing history of Japan goes, this book should have been 5 stars. The reason I only gave it three is the author's self-indulgent, "I'm sooo cool because I know about japanese culture and kendo", attitude and writing style. You have to read %50 percent of the book hearing about this guy's stay in japan and martial arts routines.
I appreciate the attempt to write more than just a biography, but when it comes down to it, who do you want to read about? Mishima or some cocky british japanophile?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On page 158 Mr. Ross states: "Writers are storytellers and frequently cannot resist applying their creative capacities to embroidering their own stories". This is an odd statement since one can levy the same charge against the author. This is one of those books that made me wonder whether it was really worthwhile finishing the second half or moving on to something more satisfying, such as an actual book by Yukio Mishima. I did both and found "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea" the far better read.

The Mishima story, particularly his suicide (seppuku), is well known and has been retold numerous times in all its gory detail. Enter Mr. Ross wondering whatever happened to the sword used to separate his head from the rest of his body. Somehow this genesis feels a bit like a bunch of mildly stoned over-the-hill hippies sitting around wondering whatever happened to OJ Simpson's Bronco or to whatever implement Manson used to carve a swastika into his otherwise unblemished forehead. These days perhaps either topic is sufficient as the basis for a book. Given the mythology surrounding Mishima maybe this was irresistible to the publishers, perhaps more so since Mr. Ross can speak with some credibility on topics like Japanese martial arts, the Tokyo subway system, and, at the end of his research, sado-masochistic practices in contemporary Japan.

As a book this is kind of a mishmash of stories about Mishima, about Japan, and about Mr. Ross. Much of it feels fragmented. One hopes that in the end it will come together as something memorable, but it just doesn't. Even the final name-dropped quotation is by Wittgenstein, not Mishima, which is less than one would hope for at that point.

Perhaps it's a zen thing that I am just too dumb to understand... At least I think Mr. Ross owes us an explanation for his tummy ache given that he devoted so much time discussing it.
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Format: Hardcover
Christopher Ross goes on a quest for the sword used to assist in the suicide of Yushio Mishima, one of Japan's most famous authors. Along the way, the reader is treated to a history of Japan, lessons on Kendo, and insight into Mishima himself, and icon (or iconoclast?) of Japanese literature. In essence, the quest for the physical sword takes secondary importance, behind Ross's quest to understand the man, the times, and the context of his suicide.

For those that read Twigger's Angry White Pajamas, this book is a more serious, and more culturally detailed view of the same genre. Perhaps the connection comes as Christopher Ross was the uber-guru that Twigger wrote about...

If there's one issue I have with the book, it's that the writer at times talks down to the reader. For example, most anyone reading this has experienced international travel - the audience is a cosmopolitan set. Explaining the details of an inflight entertainment system detracts from the overall story.

That said, the book is still concise and well written, and worthy of a read from any afficianado of Japan. It certainly earns a prominent place on my bookshelf!
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