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book review, culture, history, japanese

Book Review: Saijōki: The Mogami Chronicles


I was really excited when I picked up this translation because it was a look into some of the historical accounts of my ethnic ancestry. To be honest, this is a very interesting position I find myself in because I am an United States citizen and have zero ties to the country of Japan. However, as I have been reading about history from an east Asian and Japanese perspective, while I may not always identify with the stories and experiences, it helps me learn and grow personally. Saijōki is one of those experiences.

I’ll be honest here that it was not an easy read. The Japanese it was originally written in is a dialect which is mostly lost and very difficult to translate. There definitely is details lost in the double translation (Old Japanese -> Modern Japanese -> English), but the essence of the writing was well preserved in my opinion. The translator included footnotes to help explain certain concepts in context of the time period which is very help for a reader unfamiliar with that piece of history. While not a type of book I would pick up regularly, I thought it was a very good translation with helpful footnotes.


These stories are accounts of Yoshiaki and his conquests. Quite violent stories in my opinion but it shed light on a lot of the ideals and values of the Mogami clan and how those values have influenced my own culture. The two that stand out to me the most is strategy and honor. Each account told of lengthy analysis on situations, open communication with advisers, and deciding on the most sound and effective plan. Further, all conquests were carried out with the code of honor. Many stories talked about loyalties, forging strong partnerships, and the practical benefits of forming such alliances. Consequently, the text is very dry (at least to me). I probably do not have a military tactical focused mindset, but my interest definitely waned with each section of the translation. While an interesting view into the Mogami clan, it took extra focus to get through some sections.

I go back and forth on whether or not I want to reread this translation. While I am sure, I will glean more from a second and third time, I am not sure the benefit from what I will glean. Since I do not aspire to be a scholar of this time period, my motivation is lacking here. Should you attempt to find and read these accounts of the Mogami clan? This book has a narrow audience. If you want to read first hand accounts of strategy and tactic meetings of this time period, then yes. But if you are looking for more of an overview of what was happening in Japan, I would have to recommend something else.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21802348-saij-ki


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