Samurai Rising Review

samurai_risingSamurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner, illustrations by Gareth Hinds

Charlesbridge, 2016. 978-1580895842

Synopsis: When Yoshitsune was just a baby, his father went to war with a rival samurai family—and lost. His father was killed, his mother captured, and his brothers sent away. Yoshitsune was raised in his enemy’s household until he was sent away to live in a monastery. He grew up skinny and small. Not the warrior type. But he did inherit his family pride and when the time came for the Minamoto to rise up against their enemy once again, Yoshitsune was there. His daring feats, such as storming a fortress by riding on horseback down the side of a cliff and his glorious victory at sea, secured Yoshitsune’s place in history and his story is still being told centuries later. – from

Why I picked it up: I developed an interest in Asian history in college and I have been fascinated with samurai ever since.

Why I finished it: Exploring Japanese culture has become somewhat of a passion for me since my introduction to anime in college – a friend showed me Samurai X, introducing me into the world of the samurai. Before I picked up this book (and even when I was studying Asian history), I hadn’t come across Yoshistune and the Minamoto/Taira civil war. It stunned me to realize that I knew more about the decline of the samurai class than I did about its origins. The Japanese culture is rife with tradition: its mythology, its religions, its economies, all seem so grand in their scale and in their longevity. The stories and historical accounts from this period survive perhaps because of the fantastic, almost larger-than-life element to them. Yoshistune’s story is inspiring: he was a great commander and strategist who may not have fit the typical western stereotype of ‘hero’, but his brazen and bold decisions helped to establish many of the nuances that we today associate with the samurai. Hinds’ illustrations pay tribute to the painting tradition most closely associated with Asian art. The contrast between sweeping and short brush strokes convey a sense of beauty and danger in any given illustration, a theme that is present throughout the book. It’s a story that engages the reader in the history and gives us insight into the notion that we all have the potential to make our mark on history, if we are bold enough to step up.

Other related materials: Japan in the Days of the Samurai by Virginia Schomp; Life in Ancient Japan by Hazel Richardson; The Most Daring Raid of the Samurai by Stephen Turnbull; The Samurai Sourcebook by Stephen Turnbull; Japanese Mythology A to Z by Jeremy Roberts; Hands-On History! Ancient Japan by Fiona MacDonald; How to Be a Samurai Warrior by Fiona MacDonald; The End of the Shoguns and the Birth of Modern Japan by Mark E. Cunningham and Lawrence J. Zwier; Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun by Rhoda Blumberg; Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus; The Samurai’s Tale by Erik C. Haugaard; In The Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World by Virginia Hamilton, illustrations by Barry Moser


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