SAMURAI SKETCHES by Romulus Hillsborough


From the Bloody Final Years of the Shogun
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A portrayal of Japanese warrior life that is as deliberate, spare, disciplined, and quietly poetic as a tea ceremony.

As the title suggests, this is not a complete history of Japan’s warrior class, but more an expression (through interviews and historical facts) of the key elements of this legendary military caste. Hillsborough attempts to offer a living, breathing picture of the Hagakure (the ancient text containing the samurai code of behavior) by setting forth dramatic examples of honor-bound samurai avenging their daimyo (lord) against his enemies or committing seppuku (a form of ritual suicide) when disgraced. While early chapters (such as “Mortal Enemy” and “Remnants of Shock”) portray the physical aptitude and controlled violence of these men in straightforward historical terms, later and subtler chapters (such as “Courage” and “Disgrace”) concentrate on the more complex aspects of the samurai and their code. For instance, the author relates the story of an elderly samurai who falls into an argument with a bigoted American roughneck in a sleazy bar in San Francisco. Although he could easily have decapitated his foe with the short sword he carried hidden on himself at all times, the samurai instead outwitted him with an unexpected act of kindness. The great strength of Hillsborough’s portrait is that it does not become mired in the bloodshed and violence that were hallmarks of the samurai world. Instead, each chapter serves to display a different aspect of the samurai life—physical, spiritual, military, and artistic.

A quiet work of mute precision that brings to life the Hagakure and those who lived by its dictates.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-9667401-8-1
Page count: 270pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2001


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