MUSUI'S STORY: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai by Katsu Kokichi

MUSUI'S STORY: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai

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The life of Musui, a.k.a. Katsu Kokichi (1802-1850), falls somewhere between the image of samurai presented by history books and that found in comic books. A brawler, a skilled swordsman, a rebel, a hustler, he sets down the incidents of his life in a framework of repentance--as a cautionary tale--but with a braggadocio and gusto that belies his regret. Apparently this is a rarity, as the few other samurai of the period who wrote autobiographies were either statesmen, poets, or various pillars of society. Katsu was anything but. He spent money faster than he ever made it, never landed any of the official positions open to his elite class, ran away from his obligations, and generally trafficked with the lower sorts. In fact, he resembles nothing so much as a small-time mafioso (albeit one with a heart of gold): he runs loan-sharking rackets, numbers games, organizes protection for brothels, etc. Craig, a lecturer at Tufts and an associate of Harvard's Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, has wisely chosen to render this slangy and colloquial book into like English. Katsu spouts things like ""Nowadays anything goes"" and he ""showed them a thing or two."" Not to lose the exotic flavor too much, some picturesque idioms are translated literally: ""I won't sleep with my toes pointing in your direction""--a respectful compliment. Despite the intelligent introduction and notes, some motivations remain inscrutable, especially those involving the dauntingly complex socioeconomic structure. The full-color illustrations are pretty, but insufficiently annotated. 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.

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona Press