Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Bushu Denraiki - source document for the Musashi story

This was my winter reading - well a bit of it, anyway.

The commonly told of Miyamoto Musashi is a much patched version taken from a variety of sources of varying reliability, stitched together in what has become a familiar pattern, including large doses of speculation and outright fiction. Of course, much of the fiction comes from Yoshikawa Eiji's novel, which many of the subsequent movie and TV versions were based on. His version, which drew heavily from previous versions and documents, some of which contained greater or lesser amounts of reliable historical information, has become a kind of de facto story of Musashi's life.

It was only when reading through William de Lange's new(ish) translation of the Bushu Denraiki, one of these source documents, that I realised how little detail there is on these documents in English, even when you include William Wilson's 'The Lone Swordsman' and Kenji Tokitsu's 'Miyamoto Musashi: his life and writings'. While Wilson used a wide variety of sources, he steers clear of discussing them individually, and while Tokitsu is good on Musashi's own writings (and lots else besides), he gives less information on sources about Musashi's life.

De Lange is particularly good on just this sort of thing, laying the historical context out clearly and providing extensive notes and background on the major figures involved (albeit tangentially, in some cases) in Musashi's life. He gives a valuable explanation of the relationships between these major sources, which goes a long way to helping us understand the roots of the legend.

The source documents which form the basis of what we know about Musashi's life fall into two parallel streams: the Bushu Denraiki (1727) itself, written by a 4th generation successor to the Niten Ichi-ryu, Tachibana Minehira, and the Hyoho (sometimes written as Heiho) Senshi Denki (1782) which was written by a 'grand-student' of Minehira's, who had left Fukuoka and settled in Harima, one Niwa Nobuhide, and based his account on what he could remember of  Minehira's original, embroidering where necessary to fill in the gaps. This stream of knowledge was Kyushu based, and was connected with the Kuroda clan, with whom Musashi had strong connections early in his career.

The other stream was connected with the Hosokawa family, with whom Musashi was close to in his later life. Tokitsu also mention this, (though he gives different readings of the names, as well as different dates). According to de Lange, the Bukoden (1755) was compiled by Toyoda Masanaga, then rewritten in an updated and clearer form by his son, Toyoda Masashige (1776) as the Nitenki (which is perhaps the source most commonly quoted from).

In addition, there is the Kokura Hibun, which is not a document as such, but a stone monument set up by Musashi's adopted son Iori in 1654. This is the earliest account of Musashi's life, and although it is generally considered accurate, it must be considered a partisan account. (There are other, contemporary, references to Musashi, but not accounts of his life).

The book, 'The Real Musashi: Origins of a Legend - the Bushu Denraiki' is valuable as being one of the earliest and purest of the accounts of Musashi's life. There are many details that will probably be unfamiliar to Musashi fans, even ones who are fairly well-read - it gives details of Musashi's involvement in a seige in Kyushu at the time of Sekigahara, rather than fighting in that battle, as well as an alternative, and quite interesting, account of the duel on Ganryujima. As de Lange admits, although some of the stories are almost certainly untrue, there is also much that appears factual, some of which has also been corroborated by other sources - in any case, the whole combines to give a fresh and vivid impression of the master swordsman, written by someone who was concerned to give as accurate a portrait as he could, based on the stories and recollections of his own masters.

This is a nice book - it is well written and presented, with the original text and the accompanying notes clearly differentiated by the use of different fonts. It is limited in  its scope, but purposely so, which gives it a nice compactness. Although I have one or two minor quibbles, they are not really worth detailing here, but as they are particularly germane to this blog I will just mention two.... the place where Musashi fought the Yoshioka's in his final 'duel' with them, is sagarimatsu not kudarimatsu, and the Ichijo Temple (Ichijoji) was not still standing in Musashi's day, as de Lange has it.

Overall, however, de Lange has a firm and confident hand with both the translation and the notes. (It is worth saying, however, that the notes take up as much or more space than the translation, which is not particularly long). It is certainly worth reading if you are interested in Musashi, but it is a rather specialised volume, and is probably best digested after reading some of the broader based works, such as the two mentioned above, to get a more balanced perspective. It is also a touch pricey for its size, at least the imported version was. I noticed that de Lange's accompanying volume, The accompanying volume, The Bukoden, is due out this spring, and it seems de Lange also plans a biography of Musashi. I think I will probably be getting it.

By the way, in case you were wondering, the 'Bushu' in the title Bushu Denraiki, is an early pronunciation of Musashi. The title means "The Recorded Transmissions of Musashi".



    This animated movie destroys some of the romantic ideas of Musashi. Most of the "tales" to be told about him and him writing the book of the five rings will come on doubt. To be downloaded here:

  2. Thanks for the information - I haven't got round to watching this yet, but I plan to soon.

  3. That was a nice article. tell me Sir in how many documents in history does Mushahsi actually show up ? I would think that his students would have a very romantic opinion about his life. what about independent sources .....? Any input would be greatly appreciated. thx

    1. That's a good question, and I can't say for sure, but according to Kenji Tokitsu, who wrote what is the most comprehensive single volume on Musashi that I have read so far, there are 'numerous' references, but many of these are quite minor. Off the top of my head, he was mentioned in the Yoshioka Den (which gives quite a different view of his duels with the Yoshiokas, (but this is not likely to be objective either), the Kaijo Monogatari, which details the encounters with Muso Gonnosuke, and the Watanabe Koan Taikiwa, which is an account of incidents experienced by Watanabe Koan in his long life - including first-hand meetings with Musashi. There is also a version of the Heiho Sanjugokajo (Musashi's 35 Articles on Strategy) which has been annotated by the Yagyu family, which certainly speaks to the fact that they viewed Musashi with some degree of respect.
      William de Lange has another book out that consists of translations of some of these sources – I haven't read it yet, but I am looking forward to doing so.
      The more I dig, the more I find out, but of course little of this is in English. Hope this helps.