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The Samurai's Garden

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  17,775 Ratings  ·  1,572 Reviews
The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family's summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent hous ...more
ebook, 224 pages
Published June 24th 2008 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1994)
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Popular Answered Questions

Nescbwi Your question is my question as well and was never clarified anywhere in the novel.
If everyone was speaking Japanese, why are some words left in…more
Your question is my question as well and was never clarified anywhere in the novel.
If everyone was speaking Japanese, why are some words left in Japanese, without explanation? I translate books from other languages, including Japanese, and leaving some words in the original language, especially without explanation, is tacky and makes for a clumsy read.
This book is gorgeously written — especially the color images are wonderful. I drowned in the beauty of Miyazaki’s writing, but feel that the multi-language part needed clarification. Even saying that Stephen spoke fluent Japanese, even a couple of stumbles in Japanese —anything! — would have helped. And please, leave out the elementary Japanese words — mother, father, grandfather, etc., even “sayonara.” If Matsu was speaking fluent Chinese or English, he would probably have known basic words in both languages.
If everyone was speaking Chinese, how does it happen that there was an entire small village in southern Japan that spoke fluent Chinese? Or was everyone speaking English? After all, Hong Kong was a British protectorate, so Stephen was probably fluent in English, but the villagers were unlikely to be fluent English speakers.
My thought is that the author was using a sort of mixed language used within her family, which was both Chinese and Japanese. This made particularly Matsu’s dialog rather clumsy, as if he were speaking pidjin. In a situation where three languages are possible, we should always know what language people are speaking. This bothered me through the entire novel, beautiful or not.
Our Japanese exchange student thinks that having so many (basic! not difficult to translate) words in Japanese limits the readership greatly. I agree. (less)
Nescbwi This is common practice in the business world of Hong Kong — to give your children English-sounding names (or alternative names) so that they can slip…moreThis is common practice in the business world of Hong Kong — to give your children English-sounding names (or alternative names) so that they can slip easily into the English speaking business world.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Marita
Stephen is a young Chinese man from Hong Kong. He suffers from tuberculosis, and it is decided that he should join his businessman father in Kobe, Japan for a while. His father in turn suggests that Stephen should spend some time in his late grandfather's house in the village of Tarumi where the caretaker Matsu could look after him.

Initially Stephen feels very lonely and isolated as the capable Matsu is a man of very few words. Stephen is separated from friends and family, and he worries about
...more
Jim Fonseca
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel very much focuses on Japanese culture in 1930’s rural Japan. At that time Japan was invading China and savaging China’s people and cities. Yet life goes on in the rural village pretty much as usual with the exception that all the young men are missing as they are off at war.

The main character is not Japanese, but a young Chinese man from Hong Kong. His father is a wheeler-dealer businessman who does much business in Japan as his father before him did. So the father inherited a house
...more
Chrissie
NO SPOILERS

This book is beautiful. The primary theme is about beauty. (And then there is a love story too.) I think beauty is very important in the Japanese culture. What really is beauty? The tempo is lulling, quiet, and calming. This too creates a kind of beauty. The concept of beauty is drawn through the lives of the main characters. The novel takes place at the time of the Rape on Nanking, when the Japanese were invading and slaughtering the Chinese at the end of the 1930s. In contrast, the
...more
Aubrey
3.5/5

The jury's still out on this one, but frankly, I know myself too well to believe that they'll ever return with a definitive answer in hand.

Relying simply on gut instinct, I enjoyed the book. I have never traveled outside the US, and the cosmopolitan feeling of having aspects of China, Japan, and vague traces of Western culture all wrapped into one story was appealing, to say the least. The appeal for me was strengthened by the majority of the story taking place in Japanese landscapes filled
...more
Kevon
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent and peaceful book...it is about a young chinese man who is sent to his parent's summer home at the beach in Japan to recover from an illness. The caretaker of the home becomes his life-teacher and as the book unfolds he learns about relationships, how to find peace within himself, and about love and loss. It is written as excerpts from his journal and so it is from his perspective...as though we, the reader, are sharing his inner-most thoughts and feelings. It gave me an in ...more
Ellery Adams
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Languish for a while in the Tsukiyama's Japanese garden and you may never want to leave. The serenity created in Matsu's little haven is contradicted by the military domination of the Japanese over the Chinese and the reclusive leper colony struggling for a peaceful existence in a realm beyond that of war. It is to this environment that a young Chinese boy enters into in search of healthier air and soothing salt of the sea . As his body begins healing, his emotions are delicately fractured by al ...more
Diane Lynn
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Diane Lynn by: Jeannette
Buddy read with Jeannette

On the face of it, The Samurai’s Garden is a beautifully told story of one young man’s journey to figure out who he is, a sort of coming of age story. But there is really so much more below the surface. There is an enchanting and poignant love story. The reader is shown how beauty can exist in a cruel world. There is betrayal, adultery, young love, and two gardens that play a large role as a place of peace. Plus other topics I don’t want to mention so as not to spoil any
...more
Karla
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A gracefully illuminating novel that is tender and as delicate as a first blooming blossom in Spring. There is so much to discuss in this story, perfect for book clubs. At first it appears so simple, a story of a young Chinese-Japanese young man named Stephen leaving his family house in Hong Kong so his younger sister may not get exposed his sickness. So he travels to stay at his family's Summer shore side home in Tarumi, Japan to recoup from a battle with tuberculosis. He stays with Matsu a mas ...more
Kathleen
Have you ever turned off the sound on a video or TV program, and just watched the picture? You see things you don’t see when you are distracted by the “noise.” That’s how this book felt for me--quiet and calm enough to expose some details I might otherwise have missed. And they were delicately beautiful details.

One of my takeaways: creating order and carefully-tended beauty can help us deal with the ugly and uncontrollable things that exist in our lives.

I love this kind of quiet and sensitive wr
...more
Tocotin
Bad, sentimental, insipid book about a young Chinese man from a wealthy Hong Kong family who is sent to a small village in Japan (why?) to convalesce from TB (?), only to discover a leper colony (named Yamaguchi lol) up in the mountains. The Japanese are conquering China, but the young man Stephen who loves to call himself Stephen-san (which he shouldn't do when speaking about himself) doesn't really care either for his country, his friends, or his family. Neither does he care about his illness, ...more
Patricia
Apr 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very old-fashioned book - sweet, slow, peaceful, with a gossamer-light style that will not appeal to all. It is nearly a fairy tale, and a very gentle one, at that. While it takes place during WWII (during Japan's massacre of Nanking), very little of the war intrudes. This is the author's choice, to show an interlude of the sort that took place for those stricken with TB (rather like the middle class Americans who would retreat to the Catskills in the late 19th C., early 20th C.). This is not ...more
Kylie Gillis
Feb 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What is it about Japanese books that soothe the soul so well? The clean, bare rooms with tatami mats, kneeling for tea, the simple meals of rice and pickled vegetables, the good, pure joy of things being simple and beautiful in a quiet and understated way. I can't get enough of this kind of book. And these things are physical representations of the writing itself which is clean, simple, elegant, and real. I'm not finished reading the book yet, but it is completely engaging as it allows me to sli ...more
Kirsty
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: january-2017
I had never read a Tsukiyama book before, but was eager to, as I've heard such good things about her work. She seems to be a little neglected, unfortunately and undeservedly. Whilst perusing Goodreads reviews, I plumped for The Samurai's Garden as my introduction to her work, as I loved the sound of the plot.

I was incredibly satisfied with this novel. There are so many themes which are addressed here - illness, family, society, secrecy, difference, loneliness - all of which were handled with th
...more
Sara
Mar 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a quiet, slow paced book, but yet so much happens. A person's life can change so much in one short year.

During World War II, a young Chinese man stays at his family's beach house in Japan. The war between Japan and China is always in the background of the book, never quite forgotten even though it does not seem to impact the lives of the main characters directly. During the course of the year, there are floods and fires, celebrations and funerals, failed relationships and happy reunions.

As
...more
Jessaka
This book was so hypnotic that it put me in a very peaceful place, and I was saddened when the story ended because I wanted to be with these people, to know them all personally. Gail Tsukiyama is what I call a poetic writer. I hope to read this book again and again in my life. I now keep it behind a glass door in one of my bookselves.
Zaz
A peaceful and very pleasant read, dealing with leprosy and with nice characters.

Because he has tuberculosis, Stephen is sent to a holiday in Japan. He has to leave Hong Kong and his family and adapt to a life with Matsu, the silent housekeeper. While worring about the war between Japan and China, he discovers that some people in the village caught leprosy.

I really enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere. As the book was set in the 1930s, there wasn't really technology or speed, letters took weeks or mo
...more
Mikayla
Apr 07, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: shit-books
So, for starters, this book sucks. Not only is it vapid, shallow, and cliche, it is also factually incorrect. I'm just going to glaze over my problems with this book, or else I'd be writing a novel. First off, the way Tsukiyama wrote the Japanese parts bugged me. At one point Kieko, Stephen's love interest, is apologizing for how rudely her father acted towards Stephen. But instead of referring to her father as "Chichi", she refers to him as "otousan", which refers to someone else's father, whic ...more
Sande
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sande by: M
The Samurai’s Garden is a quick read, in journal style, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Nature-as-Character. It has a calming pace. This book covers a wide range of topics in human suffering, yet the elder characters are filled with acceptance and devotion. It is a lovely story about service.
Cindy
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Cannot stop thinking about this book. I like Booklist's comment,"An extraordinarily graceful and moving novel about goodness and beauty." Wonderful and likable characters, beautiful portrayals of settings, and symbolic meaning permiating the book (Yin/Yang, Death and illness/life and healing, earth/water/wood/fire/metal.
Gitte


It’s harder than I imagined, to be alone. I suppose I might get used to it, like an empty canvas you slowly begin to fill.

Stephen, a young Chinese man with Tuberculosis travels alone to the family cottage in Japan during WWII. Here he lives a quiet life far from war, family and friends. The only company he has is the silent Matsu who looks after the house and garden. Slowly a beautiful friendship emerges between the two men.

Matsu scared away most people with his aloofness, but I was somethin
...more
Diane S ☔
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderfully written and poignant story. Stephen is sent from China to his grandfather's beach house in Japan. It is here that is life becomes entwined with Matsu and Sachi, a leper colony and a young first love with a Japanese girl. He learns about the Japanese invasion of China from radio broadcasts and letters from home. The characters are amazingly fleshed out, I felt like I really knew them by the end of the book. It ended the only way I believe it could have ended. This is a coming of age ...more
Marcy
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Marcy by: I had already read Women of the Silk.
Gail Tsukiyama is one of my favorite authors! Born to a Chinese mother and a Japanese father in San Francisco, Gail understands both cultures. In The Samurai's Garden, she portrays a Chinese student who develops Tuberculosis and spends a year in Tarumi, Japan, in his grandfather's summer house in order to recuperate. The war between Japan and China begins. Not only does Stephen recuperate in Tarumi, but he learns the meaning of life, death, peace, friendship, and love. I cried many times through ...more
Christopher Hicks
This was a beautifully written book. It wasn't fast paced or even had a thrilling storyline. It was just so calm and moving, almost like poetry. The moral of the story is that no matter how hard or ugly life is. It's always worth living and there is always beauty even in the darkest of situations. At least that's what I personally got from it. The characters were all well written and thought out. I Loved this book.
Laura
A very touching book telling the story of Stephen, a chinese man, who is sent to his family's summer house in Japan in order to recover from tuberculosis. There, he meets Matsu, Sachi and Kenzo and how these friendships will change his life forever.
Dolores Ayotte
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Samurai's Garden" is a novel that came highly recommended to me by my sister. I had no idea what to expect as she never gave me any hint about the book's content. At times, it can difficult to find the most appropriate words to describe how a novel has impacted the reader. This is one such novel.

I am neither familiar with Japanese nor Chinese culture, therefore, I was intrigued to learn more about both. Author Gail Tsukiyama has definitely been exposed to both cultures as the daughter of a C
...more
Norma Christensen
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to give this book three stars, however if I read it again, I will probably give it four.
I didn't get into this book at first and I think it may have been so gentle and tender, that I didn't recognize it's beauty at first. As I got further into the book, I decided it was very well written, and I became more captured by its essence.
One passage that I would like to mention:
"The things you remember about a person when they're gone are funny. No two people will feel the same way, though usu
...more
Jordan
Jul 28, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While a good read I would have to say this is my least favourite Gail Tsukiyama novel to date. While a great story and a touching one like most of her other novels I somehow wanted this story to give me more and was expecting it do so only be a little let down in the end. I also found fault with the author's attempt to try and non-stigmatize leprosy only to add fuel to the stigma such as that lepers skin rot and have a smell of rotting. That is just plain not true as lepers skin does not in fact ...more
Kat (A Journey In Reading)
This was a beautiful book that has so many layers among its simple writing. Simple beauty.

Stephen is a Chinese man who is away at college when he is stricken by an illness and is sent home to recover. His parents decide to send him to their family home in Japan to recuperate. It is Japan where Stephen learns that many things in life are not as they seem, the things he once thought were important are irrelevant. Stephen is taken care of by his family's caretaker Matsu. Matsu has taken care of the
...more
Sirpa Grierson
Mar 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this almost a decade ago and again in 2014 for a reading group and surprisingly enjoyed it even more the second time. The quote "Even if you walk the same road a hundred times, you'll find something different each time" (210) is true for me in rereading this novel. Tsukiyama's novel is gentle and subtly crafted as we move through the seasons with Stephen, a 17-year-old Chinese adolescent who is sent from his home in Hong Kong to recover from tuberculosis at the family beach house in Japan ...more
Hana
Jul 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Hana by: Jeannette
This was a bit of a let down. The story was interesting, as were the main characters Stephen, the son of a wealthy Hong Kong business man, and several older characters including the caretaker of the family's house in Japan, the Samurai Gardener, Matsu and his friend Sachi, a woman from a neighboring village. It's set during the 1930s as Japan begins the invasion of China, but the war takes a backseat to the struggles of village and family life.

Critics describe Tsukiyama's prose as "spare" but t
...more
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nice book 6 44 Apr 13, 2015 08:37AM  
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Born to a Chinese mother and a Japanese father in San Francisco, Gail Tsukiyama now lives in El Cerrito, California. Her novels include Women of the Silk (1991), The Samurai's Garden (1995), Night of Many Dreams (1998), The Language of Threads (1999), Dreaming Water (2002), and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (2007).
More about Gail Tsukiyama...

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“Sometimes you can’t let go of the past without facing it again.” 286 likes
“Beauty exists where you least expect to find it.” 39 likes
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