Factbook

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    Historically, many of Japan’s most creative authors started life as samurai[UPDATED: 2-25-2018]

    Monzaemon Chikamatsu (1653-1725), author of Love Suicides at Somezaki who is considered to be Japan’s Shakespeare and Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), often said to be the greatest master of haiku, were both born into samurai families and grew up as samurai before switching to the pen or more accurately the ink brush. 

    During Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868) the military class learnt to read and even produce literature and were encouraged to do so; Chikamatsu and Basho are just two high profile examples. Unlike the West where the pen has often been said to mightier than the sword, in Japan people were encouraged to consider them as equal partners. In fact there is a Japanese expression for this 文武両道, bunbu-ryodo; roughly translated this means the way of sentences and warfare are equal, and highlights the importance of achieving some kind of balance in life. 

    Basho’s poetic travelogue, written hundreds of years ago, the Narrow Road to the North is still being read today and is now used to sell 100-day walking tours following the so-called ‘Basho Trail’ mimicking the poet’s pilgrimage route that winds through several of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

    The new era of samurai authorship that Basho was part of followed the arrival from Korea of movable type technology and the printing of the first Japanese book using the technology in 1593. Commercial publishing kicked off about a decade later in 1609, in Kyoto, at the start of the Edo Period, generating new career options for forward thinking samurai. 

    Edo, now known as Tokyo, also became a publishing centre with a growing market of readers to sell books to. The city grew in size becoming the world’s largest city with a population of a million by the 18th century, generating its own narratives and authors. 

    Until the middle of the 18th century most Japanese authors were from samurai backgrounds, but things began to change as literacy rates increased. Authors began selecting different target groups as readers; the warrior classes and intelligentsia, or the higher end of the emerging chonin (townspeople) class, the majority of who were merchants. The situation changed again during Japan’s Meiji Era (1868-1912) when the country rapidly modernised and opened up to the West. 

    However, the most famous true warrior samurai author is probably Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645). He is primarily known in the West as the author of The Book of Five Rings. The book, which he wrote at the end of his life, is a guide to swordsmanship strategies. 

    Following an English translation by William Scott Wilson it became an essential business-strategy manual in the 1980s, when the Japanese economy was growing rapidly and Japanese influence was spreading worldwide. Unlike most Edo Period samurai authors who never drew their swords, Miyamoto very skilfully used his sword in battle and duals to kill opponents. 

    Bushido: The Soul of Japan by Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) is another classic. Nitobe’s father was a retainer of a daimyo (warlord). Nitobe junior converted to Christianity and became a diplomat and international statesman and wrote his famous essay on samurai ethics in English in 1900. 

    The book, which was published in Japanese after its success in English, describes the sources of bushido (the way of the warrior) and the virtues most admired in Japan including self-control, duty and politeness. It had a major impact and influenced many including Former US President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who bought copies for his friends. 

    Despite his image and reputation Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), who killed himself with a sword in a very public manner using a painful traditional samurai methodology, was not technically from a samurai background. He was not in fact “born a samurai” as his father and grandfather were not from a samurai family.

    Mishima’s paternal grandmother (Natsu Nagai), who brought him up, however was. She was raised in an aristocratic household and could trace her linage back to one of the first Shoguns Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), arguably Japan’s most important and influential samurai, through marriage.

    The Press Release announcing the award of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature to Kenzaburo Oe highlights his samurai background stating that he was “the scion of a prominent samurai family” from the Oe clan in Shikoku.
    Historically, many of Japan’s most creative authors started life as samurai Posted by Richard Nathan
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    In the 17th century Japan experienced the world’s first camellia publishing boom[UPDATED: 2-9-2018]

    A confluence of events created Japan’s, and probably the world’s first, camellia publishing boom in the second quarter of the 17th century. 

    The arrival from Korea of movable type technology and the printing of the first Japanese book using the technology in 1593 was the catalyst for the commercial publishing that kicked off about a decade later in 1609, in Kyoto, at the start of the Edo Period (1603-1868). Interestingly, most commercial publishers reverted to traditional methods and did not use the new movable type technologies as the local publishing market developed and expanded. 

    The Shogun, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), who initiated the Edo Period when he took control of the country, loved flowers and his successor Hidetada Tokugawa (1579-1632), the next Tokugawa Shogun, was particularly fond of camellias. Interest spread to feudal lords and then onwards creating the Kan’ei Era (1624-1644) boom in camellias. Dozens of books, and illustrated guides were produced, at a time before these plants had even arrived in Europe. A similar boom happened in Europe after the arrival of Camellia japonica in the 1830s. 

    Some of the illustrated guides that still exist today are impressive and beautiful as they must have been when produced more than 300 years ago and would not look out of place in a European art museum displayed alongside modern pictures. 

    One of the best examples of these amazingly beautiful Japanese publications is: One Hundred Camellias, attributed to Kano Sanraku (1559-1635), which was created in the midst of this unprecedented camellia gardening boom at the start of the Edo Period. 

    It is 24-meters long and consists of two scrolls and commences with an introduction consisting of prose and poems from 40 different individuals including members of the Japanese imperial family. Camellias are painted and drawn in vivid colours in different containers; baskets, vases, trays, and tea-bowls to name just a few. Following its donation it is displayed annually to welcome in the New Year at The Nezu Museum in Tokyo. 

    One of the best places to witness the long-term effects of this publishing boom is the garden of the central Tokyo hotel Chinzan-so. The hotel’s name means “mountain of camellias” and houses about a hundred different varieties from across Japan with exotic names such as Camellia Akashigata, Kingyohatsubaki, Yokogumo and Hikaru Genji. The famous Haiku poet Mastuo Basho (1644-1694) is said to have lived in a hut facing the garden for four years, long before the hotel was built.  
    In the 17th century Japan experienced the world’s first camellia publishing boom Posted by Richard Nathan