A portrait of Japan's first significant samurai leader and his world
Was samurai warrior Taira Masakado a quixotic megalomaniac or a hero swept up by events beyond his control? Did he really declare himself to be the "New Emperor"? Did he suffer divine retribution for his ego and ambition? Filled with insurrections, tribal uprisings, pirate disturbances, and natural disasters, this action-packed account of Masakado's insurrection offers a captivating introduction to the samurai, their role in 10th-century society, and the world outside the capital-a must-read for those interested in early Japan, samurai warfare, or the mystique of ancient warriors.
Karl Friday (Athens, GA) is a Professor of History at the University of Georgia. A renowned expert on the samurai and early Japanese history, he has authored four books and appeared on numerous A&E, History, and Discovery Channel programs. He is active on several Web forums.
Friday (history, Univ. of Georgia; Hired Swords: The Rise of Private Warrior Power in Early Japan) begins his book in the year 939, when Samurai hero Taira no Masakado made Japanese history by attacking outlying provinces and threatening to war against the ruling central government. The rebellious wars earned Masakado fame and the title of Shinno, or New Emperor, but also eventually cost him his head, which was promptly put on display in the ancient capital of Kyoto. Friday then goes on to explain that, according to legend, Masakado's severed head would not be conquered: "For three months, they say, it hung outside the East Market, its eyes never closing and its color remaining unchanged." Such reports inspired awe in those who heard them, and the malevolent spirit of Masakado was soon revered; Buddhist temple shrines were built to honor his memory and appease his infamous anger. An expert of Samurai warfare, Friday explains through the legend of Masakado the importance and realities of Samurai culture in tenth-century Japan. Structured as an academic analysis, this book is ultimately an enjoyable read for eager Japanophiles and lovers of cultural folklore. Recommended.