Musashi Critical Context - Essay

Eiji Yoshikawa

Critical Context

Since its initial publication, Musashi has remained popular in Japan, with more than 120 million copies sold there, and has been adapted for the Japanese stage and for films and television. In 1960, Yoshikawa became Japan’s first popular author to receive the Order of Cultural Merit.

Some critics have suggested that Musashi is a romanticized view of Japanese history and culture and that its initial serial publication in the late 1930’s fed the Jap-anese feelings of nationalism. Yoshikawa’s work glorifies the spiritual as well as the physical way of the samurai warrior and stresses honor, duty, sacrifice, loyalty, restraint, inner mastery, and aesthetic sensitivity. In his portrait of the transformation of a provincial outlaw and rough, brutal fighter to the position of Japan’s greatest swordsman, a self-disciplined leader, a skilled sculptor and painter, and a folk hero, Yoshikawa presents an idealized version of the way of the sword. Many young adults will read Musashi as an action-packed adventure, while more mature readers will also see its insights into Japanese culture and society.