Musashi Essay - Critical Essays

Eiji Yoshikawa


Yoshikawa’s work can be read on several levels. On the surface, it is an episodic narrative consisting of exciting adventures that should hold the interest of young adult readers, with brutal fights, narrow escapes, fast and harsh justice, and a subdued, traditional, Japanese-style romance. Yet Musashi is also a difficult work; on a deeper level, it is an exploration of the changes in Japan as seen in the life of a popular folk hero of the early 1600’s.

As with most fictionalized biographies, Musashi consists of invented dialogue and scenes. Yet, as Edwin O. Reischauer, former United States ambassador to Japan, states in his introduction to the translation, although Yoshikawa has “enriched his account with much imaginative detail,” the book adheres to the known historical facts. Yoshikawa presents Miyamoto Musashi as a balanced character, fighting continually against his flaws while realizing that it is his failings that make him human. The treacherous Sasaki Kojir is a foil character whose life as a samurai is tarnished when compared to Musashi’s, and their final battle is well documented in Japanese history.

Yoshikawa depicts the early life of Musashi against the historically accurate background of the unification of Japan in the early 1600’s by the central Tokugawa rulers. In doing so, he documents not only the change in one individual but also the changes in the samurai class as a whole and in Japanese society...

(The entire section is 560 words.)