When I picked up last month’s Review selection (K is for Kabuki), I also grabbed another book called Real Samurai. This nonfiction book is written by Stephen Turnbull, a noted military historian. I haven’t reviewed many samurai books so I thought I’d take it home and give it a go.
Confession time – I find Japanese history confusing. Not as much as I once did, but it’s hard to separate out the Tokugawa from the Minamoto, who are also the Genji, from the Taira, who did I mention also went by the name Heike …. ???? There are numerous names, of which I am never sure which one comes first (since it depends on the author), and many many different players on the scene. While I finally feel that I have the main players straight, the supporting cast are always right there to muddle things in my mind.
Real Samurai whittles through much of the impenetrable part of Japanese history and breaks it down into easily digestible chunks. Readers are exposed to several several major battles and a few key players, while also learning about samurai armor, fighting techniques, weapons and the samurai code (bushido). The text is straightforward but informative, and there are good illustrations accompanying every page.
The only thing that bothered me about the book was the ordering. Events were often discussed out of chronological order and major samurai were mentioned, then ignored for a page or two, then sort of reintroduced in a page or two. I also felt that the book ended quite abruptly. It would have been interesting to have the author tie everything together with a “What Happened to the Samurai” page. Hardly anything is mentioned about their waning influence as Japan opened its doors and modernized. I would have like to see a bit of a “wrap-up”.
Overall, this is a solid book for those interested in samurai history. The text is engaging for a “reference” book and the illustrations are well done. For younger readers, I’d say this benefits grades 4 and up, while adults may also want to give it a glance before they dive into any headier material. After all, there are a LOT of Tokugawas to try to keep straight!