- Published: September 8, 2022
- Updated: September 8, 2022
- Language: English
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Newsletter for October 6-10 Musui’s Story is a samurai’s autobiography that portrays the Tokugawa society as it was lived during Katsu Kokichi’s life (1802 – 1850). Katsu Kokichi (or Musui) was a man born into a family with hereditary privilege of audience with the shogun, yet he lived a life unworthy of a samurai’s way, running protection racket, cheating, stealing, and lying. Before we discuss how Musui’s lifestyle was against the codes that regulated the behavior of the samurai, it is essential that the role of the samurai in Japanese society be understood.
The Japanese society was divided into four classes: samurai, peasants, artisans, and merchants. The samurai was a class of warriors, emerged from Japan during the constant civil ware period. As quoted from the learning channel (1994): ? The samurai’s life was like the cherry blossom’s, beautiful and brief. For him, as for the flower, death followed naturally, gloriously. ? Ancient Warriors – The Samurai ? They were to remain loyal to their commanders who were themselves loyal to the Shogun.
Failing their master in any way was unacceptable, and to regain commitment and secure an afterlife after such incident usually meant going through seppuku, a cruel suicide ritual that could only occur upon avenging those who had wronged their master. Samurai lived by the code of Bushido (“ Way of the warrior”), which was developed in the mid 1600. It emphasized duty of every samurai to respect and honor those above them on the social class. Their way was supposed to not be intellectual nor materialistic, but spiritual.
The bushido code worked well during the time Japan was constantly at war. Nevertheless, when Tokugawa leyasu became shogun (1603), he brought peace and unified Japan for two hundred and more years thereafter. Thus, the samurai role dramatically changed, since they were warriors and were used to fighting. There were no more war, and they essentially became warriors without a war. The long period of peace (Tokugawa Shogunate: 1603 – 1868) dramatically changed the meaning of the bushido code and the samurai. According to the text, Musui lived during the tokugawa shogunate period.
That explains his lifestyle, which contradicted almost every code of the bushido. Musui’s transgressions began at his early ages. Either it was fighting with other children (p. 10), or stealing from her mother (p.
11). As put in his own word, he grew up has a “ hell-raiser”. Even though those transgressions occurred at his early ages, and might have been considered as just acts of youth, it can be proven that Musui was already introduced to the lifestyle of a samurai. For example, after being beaten by a group of children, he considered committing harakiri (p. 13), which was one way for samurai to regain their honor after failing their master.
Thus, he was aware of the way of the samurai, but broke them often. During his youth, Musui visited pleasure quarters in the Yoshiwara, and affirmed enjoying it so much that it returned every night (p. 44). Although we do not assume that he engaged in sex activities, it is fair enough to say that he participated in group-drinking and wild parties, both which were forbidden and violated the Laws of military households. The same laws also forbid illegal or indecent sex.
Musui even stole money from his own brother to spend it to the Yoshiwara. He freely admits lying about his action (p. 46), which shows his lack of respect for the codes and ethics of a true samurai. Musui continues to break the rules with his unlawful behavior for the rest of his adult years. Musui runs away again at the age of twenty-four and lies about his identity at a toll at Hakone in order to get access to that province, which was out of his jurisdiction.
This was a clear violation of regulations created by the Tokugawa shogunate in order to control travel. Also, he deliberately claims being an honorable daimyo (p. 63). We should note that the regulation basically stated that no one was to allow someone from another domain to reside in his or her property. By trespassing, he actually put his family and his host in danger. ? At his arrival at Mishima, he claims being a retainer in the service of Harima-no-kami of Mito in order to intimidate the guards.
According to the book, Mito was one of the three highest-ranking collateral houses of the tokugawa family. Musui will deliberately continue his transgressions during his adult years. He kept visiting the Yoshiwara repeatedly in many occasion, he traveled without permission, dealt with merchants, and became materialistic. At one occasion, he even shamelessly pulled a big farce (p. 35) of committing seppuku, which was considered as a sacred samurai ceremony, in order to get money from peasants. What is striking in all this is that he shows no indication of regret for his act, but instead describes the whole situation with pride.
Definitely, during his entire life, Musui did not live a life worthy of a samurai ethical standards expected from all tokugawa samurai. He lied and stole. And throughout his autobiography, he describes his encounters with thieves, beggars, priests, merchants, gamblers, confidence men, as if he were taking proud of his actions, presenting himself as a hero, instead of a disloyal samurai. He displays in the text no sorrow, regret, nor repentance, but pride instead. The peaceful Tokugawa period presented problem to many samurai, and Musui’s life is just one of the many examples of lives that those samurai lived.
Samurai had no battles to fight. Many had low income or jobless and had to find other ways to get money for their family. Some gave up status of samurai to lower themselves to farm, or to become merchants and traders. Musui himself bought and sold swords. They had no more power. An example is clearly shown in the book (p.
11) when Musui took Toranosuke (a guest from Kyushu) to the Yoshiwara to show off his power and authority. A good question that one may ask himself is how did Musui came up to have such power in the Yoshiwara house without engaging himself into licentious sex, which was forbidden in the samurai way of life. It is also shown in the autobiography that people were able now to buy the samurai status, instead of inheriting it (p. 11).
This shows with no doubt the decline in the lives of samurai during the peace period. The samurai class was in a state of degeneration and the author clearly proves it. MUSUI’S STORY and SHANK’S MARE Musui’s Story: The Autobiography of Tokugawa Samurai, by Katsu Kokichi, translated by Teruko Craig This autobiography was written by Katsu Kokichi, who lived from 1802 to 1850. He wrote the book in 1843. It is notable because it portrays a very different image of the samurai, his values, problems, and lifestyle, from the “ noble warrior” that is a more typical stereotype.
The name “ Musui” is a pen-name, meaning “ dream-besotted. ” Katsu was a personal retainer of the Tokugawa shogun, but he was of low rank, receiving an annual stipend of about 12 koku of rice, barely enough to live on. He had no official position in the bureaucracy, and was therefore more or less unemployed and on the samurai equivalent of welfare. There are quite a few names in the assigned passage. Don’t worry about them too much. Hikoshiro is Katsu’s oldest brother, the head of the Otani family (Katsu was born Otani, but adopted into the Katsu family as a child).
Saburoemon is another older brother. Katsu has bad relations with both. Masanosuke is Saburoemon’s son. Katsu’s landlord, Okano Magoichiro, appears to be from a higher-ranking samurai family with extensive personal land holdings, that has fallen into debt.
One notable fact about Katsu is that his son, Katsu Rintaro (aka Katsu Kaishu), became one of the most famous leaders of the Meiji period, and the founder of the Japanese navy. Highly Recommended Musui’s Story is an autobiography of a samurai in the Tokugawa Period of Japan. In his book, Katsu gives a detailed description as his life from a young boy to his retirement years. The reader is given extensive insight into what life was like in that time period as a boy growing up to become a samurai.
The story begins with a description of how his family, how he was adopted, and how he was treated while growing up. From the beginning of his life, he was spoiled and came to believe he could do whatever he wanted. In fact, whenever given the slightest discipline Katsu ran away. On his long excursions as a homeless youth, he used the samurai training he learned at home to manipulate people and survive on his own. However, he always returned home. Katsu was especially accomplished at the art of kendo.
He would take every opportunity to show off his skills by challenging his peers. He was undefeated. He also was given many official positions in society. However, reflecting on his life, he discovered that those accomplishments were meaningless as he had always neglected the mental discipline of the art of the sword.
This book is highly recommended because it gives the reader an idea of the moral aspects of kendo. Musui’s Story is a warning to all those who have only shallow victories to look back upon to find more meaning in their own lives. Katsu’s life shows that no matter how many matches one wins, true mastery of kendo comes from the mind, not the sword. Annotated by: Jane Conrad (February 2002)
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