History Book Review Paper on “Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai”

Japanese history reflected in the book

“Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai”

Each individual has a defining moment that tends to transform one’s character. It does not matter whether that moment is affirmative or unconstructive, but how an individual reacts to that moment is essential. The Samurai were considered as great warriors in Japanese culture. The book Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai expounds on Katsu Kokichi’s life as a samurai, and his transformation in the Tokugawa era. Kokichi underwent numerous challenges in life, which was one of the characteristics of samurai in the Tokugawa age. After retiring from being a samurai, as well as the family leader, Kokichi passed the mantle to his son, thus, getting the time to write his autobiography. Kokichi expected that his story would help people to avoid making mistakes, just as he did in early life. Kokichi’s transformation offers a great lesson that people should mind about others, rather than themselves all the time.

The Prologue of Katsu Kokichi endeavored to give a story of his life in brief. It offered words of advice to the coming generations to be proactive while they are still young. Kokichi began by explaining how reading as many books as possible could help in gaining wisdom. He mentioned the brilliant generals and “warriors who disregarded the law of Heaven” (Katsu 1). The prologue emphasized on respecting the teachings from the sages and Heaven, disregarding the position in society. Helping other people was part of samurai culture , but Kokichi gained blessings from Heaven by helping those were in dire needs. Kokichi asserted that his family has enjoyed the comforts of life due to its association with people who possess good morals. Life experiences are better than the formal education that people go through. The essence of life is to understand how the human heart works and pursue the way of righteousness. Individuals should shun from showing favoritism or greed. Kokichi’s reflection was about how he lived his young life, and how life changed for better even at old age.

Kokichi’s relationship with his family members was problematic. He was raised by his step-mother, as her mother was her father’s concubine. When he was young, he made life hell for his step-mother. However, he could not let his brother know of his mischief, as he feared punishment. Although his father could tolerate him, his step-mother could not. When he stole her mother’s irises, his father claimed, “Children are supposed to be full of spirit…Just buy plenty of irises and keep hanging them up” (Katsu 11). Everyone in the family regarded him as a nuisance, although the Otani family supported him financially until he got married. He even scorned his grandmother for being so strict with him.

Education was a fundamental thing in the life of a samurai, and children were usually molded to fit their lords by memorizing some texts from their instructors. Initially, Kokichi did not like classes because everyone hated him. When other children ganged up to beat him, he would overpower them, and when overpowered, he would contemplate “to commit hara-kiri” (Katsu 13). Samurai warriors were expected to be brave, regardless of the situation that they were in.

 During the Tokugawa epoch, samurai were transformed into bureaucrats, administrators and merchants, rather than remaining as warriors. There were no warfare in this era, thus, samurai progressively lost their martial responsibility. However, Kokichi lack of interest in education made him unwise. He spent his money faster than he was earning them. He became a rebel, a brawler and a skilled sword-seller, while his fellow samurai in this period became statesmen and poets, among other high responsibilities in society. It was a shame for a samurai not to hold a political office in Japan. For Kokichi, his name was always forwarded for candidacy, but not once was he given a position (Katsu 72).

Kokichi’s finances and collective status kept on changing throughout his life. With all the trickery and misdeeds in his life, Kokichi turned to religion for assistance and guidance when life became difficult. He attended different shrines, in addition to climbing on top of a mountain to pray and dedicate himself to a higher being. The Japanese society, starting from the family, to ordinary people, to samurai, valued religion. It seemed that people turn to religion whenever they fall into problems, or when preconditioned to poverty. Religion was also used for retaining power and respect among the followers. When Kokichi retired from being a samurai, he became a “lay Buddhist priest” and also changed his name to Musui, a religious name than meant “dream-besotted” (Katsu 128). Despite poverty, reverence and age, samurai utilized religion and worshipping in the same manner. They used religion to nourish their lives in the most convenient manner. Generals and warriors who failed to adhere to “the laws of Heaven” were punished by losing their dominion (1-2). Religion influenced beliefs and events of Japanese society. Kokichi believed that when one volunteered to help others, he/she received blessings from Heaven. He asserted that it was essential for an individual to gain favor and honor, rather than shame.

As a samurai, Kokichi had a sword as the only weapon. When he left home for the first time, he engaged himself in buying and selling swords (Katsu ix). As a samurai, one was supposed to be educated in order to lead others. However, poverty made samurai warriors to engage in farming and businesses. Samurai warriors had lost no morals in the Tokugawa era. Most of Kokichi’s friends were drunkards and gamblers. They also enjoyed visiting brothels and wasting money on women. This lifestyle made Kokichi run into debts. Thus, immorality seemed to have spoiled most of the samurai warriors as Tokugawa period came to an end. The Tokugawa period disclosed the sad truth of how samurai lost their responsibilities to the commoners. Musui’s story illustrated that it was possible to buy samurai status, rather than inheriting it (Katsu 11).

Kokichi also touched on instances that he was compelled to help people who ran into debts. His landlord was one of them, as Kokichi claimed that “He had later taken to drink …spending his nights in drunken revelry” (Katsu 119). He could not understand why a person could accumulate such a huge debt. However, Kokichi tricked the peasants into contributing more money by attempting to commit suicide, although it had never been his intention to do so. This idea did not please the commoners, as they were unwilling to help their irresponsible leaders.

Samurai warriors in the Tokugawa age failed to live up to their expectations. Kokichi wanted to correct the next generation by writing an autobiography, which was meant to advise young people of how to utilize their youth for societal benefits. His story demonstrated how samurai of the Tokugawa age shamed the commoners and lost respect among the high classes. It does not pay to be rude and immoral, as bad behaviors ruin leaders. After realizing that he had messed with the life of commoners, Kokichi handed his leadership to his son who was quite responsible. He got time to discover that an individual ought to do what is ethical, and to help others whenever possible. His main advice was that people should focus more on the service of others than themselves.

Works Cited

Katsu, Kokichi, and Teruko Craig. Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai. Tucson: The Univ. of Arizona Press, 1995. Print.