Historical Literature

Book Reviews Musuis Story the Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai by Katsu



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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 discussing 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. 135) 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.111) 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.

 

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