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Monday, July 18, 2016

Top Selling Japanese Book Series Of All-Time

With sales of approximately 120 million, the top selling Japanese written book series of all time is 宮本武蔵 ... aka Musashi, written by Yoshikawa Eiji. Published in seven installments, the first saw print in 1935, with the last coming out in 1939.

Now… this was actually serialized in the Asahi Shimbun Japanese-language newspaper at that time… multiple chapters comprising seven books in total for the singular epic that is Musashi.

Despite the heady time of the 1930s and Japan’s war machine already spreading across Asia, Musashi is an epic samurai drama.

Man… the Japanese sure do love their samurai dramas. I would liken it to the North American fascination for the western genre… except that in the case of the Japanese, their love affair has never waned. 

The story is about the fictionalized life of real life Miyamoto Musashi, who back in the 1600s wrote The Book of Five Rings (五輪書 Go Rin no Sho - a text on kenjutsu (swordsmanship) and on all Japanese martial arts), and was considered to be the best Japanese swordsman who ever lived. Though I don’t know how one would quantify such an honor.

Born as Bennosuke (弁之助) Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵) entered the world around 1584 AD in Harima Province or Mimasaka Province in Japan, dying on June 13, 1645 in Higo Province.

The novelization of Musashi takes place just after the Battle of Sekigahara (which is also when James Clavell’s epic Shogun novel takes place).

The story follows Musashi’s journeys and we learn of all the people who are important in his life - right up until his duel with Kojiro Sasaki (I won’t give it away, but he dies. LOL!). Throughout the story, Musashi searches for the samurai magic of perfection in swordsmanship and in consciousness… zen, stuff…

For myself, when learning kyudo (Japanese archery) I recall being told that after I have drawn the bowstring back and have the arrow shaft upon the skin of my cheek, I’m not to merely aim and release (because I know I could do that and hit the damn target)… no… I was told to breathe deeply… deeply… find that inner zen where all is nothing… where I’m breathing but I’m not breathing, where I’m about to fire an arrow, but I’m not about to fire an arrow, where I exist, but I do not exist… and then… release.... or maybe I don't release. The point is, I don't make a point.

Probably because I don’t understand zen or the astigmatism in my eyes bothered me every Wednesday evening when I practiced, but I only ever once hit my target. It’s probably why I could appreciate the perfection that Musashi sought for his swordsmanship… and not being so typically Japanese by being atypical enough to innovate and develop different sword-fighting techniques.

For example, in the book, and perhaps in real life, Musashi becomes the Japanese innovator to actually use his two samurai swords—the longer katana and the wakizashi—at the same time.

Apparently using two swords or even two weapons at the same time was simply unheard of at that time… er, in Japan.
Ukiyo-e print of Miyamoto Musashi with two Bokken (wooden quarterstaves) by famed artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
Should YOU wish to read the 900-page epic Musashi in English… you can. There has been a translated version available since 1981 from Kodansha International.

Chapters per Book:

Book 1 - Earth
    •    The Little Bell
    •    The Comb
    •    The Flower Festival
    •    The Dowager's Wrath
    •    The Art of War
    •    The Old Cryptomeria Tree
    •    The Rock and the Tree
    •    The Birth of Musashi

Book 2 — Water
    •    The Yoshioka School
    •    The Wheel of Fortune
    •    Encounter and Retreat
    •    The Water Sprite
    •    A Spring Breeze
    •    The Hōzōin
    •    Hannya Plain
    •    The Koyagyū Fief
    •    The Peony
    •    Jōtarō's Revenge
    •    The Nightingales

Book 3 — Fire
    •    Sasaki Kojirō
    •    Reunion in Osaka
    •    The Handsome Young Man
    •    The Seashell of Forgetfulness
    •    A Hero's Passing
    •    The Drying Pole
    •    Eagle Mountain
    •    The Mayfly in Winter
    •    The Pinwheel
    •    The Flying Horse
    •    The Butterfly in Winter
    •    The Announcement
    •    The Great Bridge at Gojō Avenue

Book 4 — Wind
    •    The Withered Field
    •    A Man of Parts
    •    Too Many Kojirōs
    •    The Younger Brother
    •    A Mother's Love
    •    The Urbane Craftsman
    •    Reverberations in the Snow
    •    The Elegant People
    •    The Broken Lute
    •    A Sickness of the Heart
    •    The Scent of Aloeswood
    •    The Gate
    •    A Toast to the Morrow
    •    The Death Trap
    •    A Meeting in the Moonlight
    •    Stray Geese
    •    The Spreading Pine
    •    An Offering for the Dead
    •    A Drink of Milk
    •    Entwining Branches
    •    The Male and Female Waterfalls

Book 5 — Sky
    •    The Abduction
    •    The Warrior of Kiso
    •    Poisonous Fangs
    •    A Maternal Warning
    •    A One-Night Love Affair
    •    A Gift of Money
    •    A Cleansing Fire
    •    Playing with Fire
    •    A Cricket in the Grass
    •    The Pioneers
    •    Slaughter by the Riverside
    •    Shavings
    •    The Owl
    •    A Plate of Loaches
    •    Like Teacher, Like Pupil
    •    Mountain Devils
    •    First Planting
    •    The Flies
    •    The Soul Polisher
    •    The Fox
    •    An Urgent Letter
    •    Filial Piety
    •    Spring Shower in Red
    •    A Block of Wood
    •    The Deserted Prophet
    •    The Talk of the Town

Book 6 — Sun and Moon
    •    A Chat with the Men
    •    Buzzing Insects
    •    The Eagle
    •    Green Persimmons
    •    Eyes
    •    Four Sages with a Single Light
    •    The Locust Tree
    •    Tadaaki's Madness
    •    The Poignancy of Things
    •    Two Drumsticks
    •    The Demon's Attendant
    •    Brother Disciples
    •    The Pomegranate
    •    Land of Dreams
    •    The Challenge
    •    The Gateway to Glory
    •    The Sound of Heaven

Book 7 — The Perfect Light
    •    The Runaway Ox
    •    Hemp Seed
    •    Sweepers and Salesmen
    •    A Pear Blossom
    •    The Port
    •    The Writing Teacher
    •    The Circle
    •    Shikama Blue
    •    The Mercy of Kannon
    •    The Tides of Life
    •    The Evening Boat
    •    A Falcon and a Woman
    •    Before the Thirteenth Day
    •    At Daybreak
    •    The Marriage
    •    The Soul of the Deep

Happy reading,
Andrew Joseph

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