Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (Kindle)

Musashi is one of those books that’s comes super highly recommended by loads of people*. It’s also been a while since I’ve read any fiction. This book details the fictional life story of one Miyamoto Musashi, a real life figure in Feudal Japan (about whom not very much is known, so the author, Eiji Yoshikawa, made some stuff up)

*the ubiquitous ‘they’ who know ‘stuff’.

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It’s a super intimidating, hefty, tome of a book that could kill someone if you accidentally dropped it down a stairwell. Which has always put me off in the past…. for some reason I imagined a ‘Lord of the Rings’ type epic in both girth and complexity. Who has the time for that anymore? (which is why I read while on holiday)

Once you start however, you soon realize it’s super easy reading. Whoever translated it from the original Japanese either did a phenomenal job or really dumbed it down for the Gaijin.

Japanese names are also relatively sparse, so it’s not like reading the History of the Peloponnesian war (my go to book on complexity) where five pages in you’re thinking ‘who the fuck are all these people?’ (seriously you need a glossary and map to remember whose who and where’s where).

In Mushasi its easy to remember the main characters. Actually to be completely fair besides Musashi everyone else in this book feels relatively one dimensional. Musashi is the only character that’s really given any depth. Even though, trekking the length and breadth of Japan he keeps bumping into the same people. (Weird)

What I really like about this story is the progression. Miyamoto Musashi isn’t actually (re)born until about 100 pages in. Musashi actually starts out as Shinmen Takezō. Which I wish someone had told me… because initially I was super confused. (Wait… who the fuck is this Takezō fellow and why does the book seem to be about him?)

Anyways, Takezō is a jerk, albeit an injured, dying jerk, after taking part in the battle of Sekigahara. After healing up (and killing some dudes) he is lives as a ‘misunderstood wild man’ in the hills around his hometown (because everyone there hates him). Eventually he is ‘captured’ by a monk who strings him up in a cryptomeria* tree for several days.

*I googled what a cryptomeria tree was. Which is the reason it stuck with me.

While tied to this tree he has this cathartic experience where he decides he actually doesn’t want to die and if given the opportunity he will try to lead a better life.

He gets cut down by his (former) friends fiancé and then goes off to try rescue his sister, whom the local samurai were using as bait to lure him down from the mountains. Anyways. The local daimyo who is friends with the aforementioned monk ‘incarcerates’ Takezō for his crimes. He spends three years locked in a tower reading books. (I can think of worse)

On his release he decides that he going to study the way of the sword, and takes on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters that make up his name (I think that’s right) as a symbol of his rebirth. And so Miyamoto Musashi is born and the book begins.

So… probably nothing like the real story of Mushasi.

I read the book of five rings ages ago. Authored by the actual Miyamoto Musashi. It’s a book about… a personal philosophy, kinda. Although I can’t remember anything definitive about it. For some reason Sun Tzu resonated much more deeply with me. Likely because of its bite sized chunks of wisdom. (Also why Derek Sivers Anything you want and Rework by Jason Fried and David Hannson are some of my favorite books)

The book of five rings offers very little insight into Musashi’s actual life. But strangely I don’t begrudge Eiji Yoshikawa for making this story up to fill in a biographical blank. It’s really good. Boringly I now join the chorus of voices who recommend Musashi as one of those have to read books. It’s a good tale, of someone looking for meaning, while chopping up and disemboweling people along the way. What’s not to like…

In fact I’m feeling inspired to go outside and brush up on my twin-bokken style right now…. If I hadn’t torn the cuticle off my index finger I mean. Its debilitatingly sore. Also… I am currently bokken-less And also eating a pancake. So… not a good time for me.