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The First Samurai: The Life and Legend of the Warrior Rebel, Taira…

by Karl Friday

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242764,117 (3.9)6
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.… (more)
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Taira Masakado was tenth century provincial noble, who, while pursuing private feuds with other members of the local warrior aristocracy, ended up in rebellion against the Imperial authorities - apparently more or less by accident. Later accounts claim that he proclaimed himself the New Emperor and hoped to conquer all Japan, but contemporary accounts know nothing of this. He may simply have hoped that by resisting long enough he'd convince the court it was more cost-effective to pardon him and let him keep his local status than to crush him: something other provincial rebels had got away with.

In any event, after some initial successes he was defeated and killed by his local rivals who had been formally charged by the Imperial court to restore order. After his death, he became a legendary character, credited with supernatural powers and worshipped to this day as a minor Shinto deity, despite an attempt by the Imperial government to quash his cult in the 19th century - nearly a millennium after his death!

Friday's book is a happy medium between academic rigour and popular accessibility, with most discussion of alternative interpretations hidden away in the endnotes. While basically following the chronological evolution of Masakado's rebellion, Friday makes many detours covering many respects of tenth century Japanese warfare and politics.

I liked it a lot.
  AndreasJ | Jul 10, 2017 |
Friday uses the career of Taira Masakado to illustrate the contraints and opportunities of a professional fighting man in Classical Japan; and a lively story it is. However, Friday's main point is to show (as he has argued in his scholarly work) that the rise of men such as Masakado should not be seen as representing the breakdown of the Heian polity, but were an evolutionary response to the question of how the state would secure itself. ( )
1 vote Shrike58 | Mar 1, 2008 |
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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.

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