A Woman Samurai in the Era of Genji

A Woman Samurai in the Era of Genji

The Yamabuki series traces the adventures of a young samurai set shortly after the time of The Tale of Genji. It is in large part a homage to Genji’s author, Lady Murasaki, while never forgetting it is a head-on story of a warrior in the tradition of Japanese chambara (crashing swords) and jidaigeki (historical (i.e. costume) drama).

It is an immersion in 12th century Japan and an entertaining look at what life might have been like when the world was still flat and oceans were thought to pour over its edges.

An oft used trope in Japanese tales is to utilize a priest, a missionary, or other non-Japanese person to act as an interpreter for the author in communicating with the reader. Another trope is when a person in the modern age is thrown through a time warp into old-time Japan. The Yamabuki story, however, sidesteps this and seeks to entice the reader with total immersion in a strange world that at the same is both very old historically and very new to someone seeing it for the first time.

And this is not all that different from how Yamabuki feels about it.

Yamabuki comes out of the royal court of her warlord father and journeys into an exotic world. Although she is educated in languages and the science of the day and well-trained in weapons and fighting, yet the world outside the rarefied palace is as strange to her as it is to us.

Writing in a Japanese historic voice was an exciting challenge.

In BBC series I, Claudius, the writers were faced with presenting speakers of Latin to modern viewers and the simple choice for the broadcasters was for the characters simply to speak BBC English. This does not at all work in a jidaigeki. It would be odd indeed if Lord Ichimonji Hidetora in Kurosawa’s Ran starts sounding like Lawrence Olivier doing King Lear.

The action in the Yamabuki series takes place when people in England were more or less speaking Beowulf English. In the case of Yamabuki, this led to a careful choice of vocabulary to hopefully pull off an “vernacular” of sorts on the written page. The Oxford English Dictionary, the OED, became a key tool in this. Commoners in the Yamabuki series use Anglo-Saxon root words. The upper classes, like Yamabuki, use the occasion French or Latin root words, but none use any word that was current after the 1700s, and most have earlier roots. The same can be said of idioms, many of which are Japanese, but accessible to the modern reader.

The reader will find Japanese words sprinkled into the text and this is for clarity and not confusion. You say you don’t speak Japanese? Don’t worry. An example from Yamabuki is using the word “naginata” for a polearm instead of “halberd” or “glaive” which is the translation, but which only adds to confusion for the translations evoke a picture of European heraldry.

Bottom line. Yamabuki is an adventure. It is set in a strange world, with realistic people, and surprises at every turn.

Lastly, many modern readers who are familiar with samurai and the Japanese culture will look with puzzlement at a world where there is a woman samurai. But the lense where women are relegated to the shadows is not the world of Yamabuki, an actual historic person. There were a number of women warriors in the 12th century, most of which appear in the Yamabuki series, along with a woman “shogun” who lived at the time.

I look forward to bringing Yamabuki and her world to life and hope to entertain the reader and, borrowing from another fantasy:

to explore a strange new world and boldly go where the reader has not gone before.

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5 thoughts on “A Woman Samurai in the Era of Genji”

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    I really liked the first installment, so I can’t wait to read more. I think you pulled off your dialogue choices really well, for the most part. 🙂 It reminded me of reading Heike’s translation.

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    Wow! I hadn’t considered all that. This post rather was useful and challenged
    me to think in new ways. Good job. I would like
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    1. Avatar

      Sorry for the belated reply.

      The covers were assembled by Laura Scott, the series editor, from public domain of original woodblocks with input from the author. I have a fondness for the work of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 月岡 芳年, 30 April 1839 – 9 June 1892, who was born in pre-Meiji Japan and most of the covers utilize his elements.

      Laura Scott, a master of Adobe Suite’s Illustrator, Photoshop, and In Design, cobbled together various elements. Not only did she assemble the covers composition-wise, but she also made them reflective of the story down to the pixel level. For example, Yamabuki’s armor is deep green–so dark it’s almost black–as we see on the cover of Cold Sakee. This drawing was one of the earliest ones she worked with, but it was of Tomoe whose armor is crimson red with green bindings and trim. Laura not only changed the kazone platelets to dark green, but the silk ties from bright green to cobalt blue and the metalwork from a brass color to the silver which Yamabuki, a Princess, would have worn.

      On the Cold Blood cover, her second cover design for the series, the horse is white and had a mule-like look which Yoshitoshi always gave his horses. Laura spun the horse facing the other direction and gave Mochizuki, Yamabuki’s yearling (soon to be stallion), a bit more dignity. Turn the dapple into a black and redid all the bridle tack color to make it consistent with Yamabuki as envisioned by the author–all down to the pixel level. The background is from another artist in the public domain of about a century ago, suggesting The Barrier Strait.

      The kanji, the Chinese characters of the front of each book, were suggested by the author. Since the books use kanji and Japanese words, if a reader would not want to get that deep into the Heian world, the kanji on the front alerts the reader that they will encounter some of that within. Of course the kanji are the book titles.

      Laura is too involved in the actual book production to be doing a detailed posting on how she did her artwork. I sat next to her as she did the work and it was amazing.

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