Synopses & Reviews
The dawn of the 17th century saw peace descend on Japan. With the value of their martial skills on the decline, the samurai sought new spiritual, moral, psychological, and physical moorings. Tsunetomo Yamamoto, author of the now-classic Hagakure
, combined a Confucian sense of justice with a Zen-influenced abandonment of the ego to espouse loyalty and death as paramount qualities of the samurai's calling.
Kaibara Ekiken (16301714), a samurai physician with philosophical and Buddhist leanings, took the opposite approach. He sought ways for a healthier, more rewarding life. In his Yojokun: Life Lessons from a Samurai, he collected six decades of study and observation to compile one of the most remarkable commentaries of his age.
Ekiken's sweep was vast. In Yojokun, he combined his knowledge of holistic health, the principles of chi (the material force that pervades all things) and jin (human heartedness), Buddhism, Confucianism, and the art of living. He addressed concerns that ran from mental and physical health to spiritual matters. His discourses examined the intake of food and drink, sexual practices, sustaining stamina and health in old age, overindulgence and restraint, bathing and healthy habits, and more. And throughout his discussion he wove a subtle but potent spiritual and philosophical thread.
Yojokun offers startlingly profound and fresh insights into many of the same problems that concern us today. Translator William Scott Wilson notes Ekikens relevance for the 21st century: The Yojokun, then, is not just a vestige of quaint Orientalia, but rather a living guide to a traditional Way of life and balanced health. If we do not immediately understand some of its more exotic prescripts, it may be wiser not to dismiss them outright, but to approach the work as Ekiken himself might have: with humility, curiosity, respect, and imagination.
"No tale of sword-wielding derring-do, this collection of 17th century observations and advice from the Samurai physician Ekiken (1630-1714) is drastically different from well known Samurai literature, focusing not on achieving honor in battle and death, but on life and its preservation. A well-needed reminder that the culture of the samurai extended beyond battle and war, Ekiken's 414 recommendations, largely restricted to areas of eating, drinking and improving circulation, are also practical and though-provoking (though they do tend to repeat). The workmanlike translation may not coax out any poetry from Ekiken's precise maxims, but it's both impressive and curious how well his observations on alcohol ('You should not drink on an empty stomach, either morning or night.') and tobacco ('If you become used to it, it becomes a habit...The best choice is not to smoke tobacco from the very beginning. ') agree with modern medicine. Though a few archaic head-scratchers are included (like an admonition that women shouldn't wash their hair during their period), Ekiken's advice is still heeded by practitioners of traditional medicine, and should prove inspiring for those looking for time-tested advice on treating their bodies well." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
was a samurai physician and became known for his intellect and wide interests, which encompassed a myriad of subjects, including Confucianism, Buddhism, education, history, herbal remedies, spiritual issues, and philosophy.
William Scott Wilson is the well-known translator of many Japanese and Chinese classics, most recently Kodansha's The 36 Secret Strategies of the Martial Arts. Kodansha's edition of Hagakure, published in 1979, was Wilson's first translation; his other translations include The Book of Five Rings, The Life-Giving Sword and The Demons Sermon on the Martial Arts. He is also the author of The Lone Samurai.