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The Samurai

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,248 ratings  ·  221 reviews
One of the late Shusaku Endo’s finest works, The Samurai tells of the journey of some of the first Japanese to set foot on European soil and the resulting clash of cultures and politics.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 17th 1997 by New Directions (first published 1980)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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The Samurai is even better that Endo’s better known work, Silence. As much as I was moved by that novel about Spanish and Japanese martyrs, it was hard to imagine another book which could be so good.

The Samurai starts off very slow and the characters seem one-dimensional. The samurai of the book’s title is a simple peasant farmer. He and his companions hardly know why they’ve been chosen for this expedition and yet they also know better than to argue. The Catholic priest assigned as interprete
Inderjit Sanghera
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Endo’s prose and imagery resembles the technical perfection of Japanese lacquer-ware; polished and graceful, ‘The Sumarai’ charts the story of Father Velasco, a nuanced and complex character whose drive to proselytise Japan, driven as much by egomania as by piousness, leads to him becoming entrapped in a web of political machinations.

The story is told via the perspective of two narrators; father Velasco and the Japanese Samurai Hasekura. Hasekura’s narrative often concentrates on his surrounding
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos)(RK)
The Samurai is basically ‘good’. I should note though that I was somewhat disappointed by the style and the writing.

This is a story of two men, one a low status samurai and the other a Spanish Franciscan missionary who has dedicated his life to christianising Japan. The story is both a struggle between the two and their cultures and a coming together of their points of view to some degree.

What disappointed me was the fact that, although written by Japanese writer, the writing felt very Western
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a marvelous work of historical fiction. I was interested to learn about the lead up to the Edo period of Japan. This was a time of three of Japan’s most important leaders, Nobunaga, Toyotomi and Tokugawa, who were responsible for unifying Japan. This was also when Japan shut out foreign influences and extirpated all the vestiges of Christianity. This was a time of Shoguns, daimyos and samurais. It was an interesting introduction to Japanese history, culture and religion. But the story is ...more
Jim Zhu
Nov 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
It's about these samurais,
and their other guys.

There was also this priest,
who's not important, not in the least.

Okay I kinda lied,
cause for this priest some guys died.

They were on an awesome mission to Spain,
but they failed, it all went down the drain.

They even became Christian for the mission,
but none of the samurai did it of their own volition.

Back in Japan they be persecutin,
and all the Christians were in hidin.

The priest guy didn't go back,
cause Japan was all whack.

The samurai totally feared
Mar 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
In The Samurai, Endo tells his story from the point of view of two different characters: Father Velasco, a Spanish Franciscan missionary, and Hasekura, a minor Japanese warrior, who is generally referred to in the text as “The Samurai.” Father Velasco is attempting to spread Christianity in Japan in the 17th century. He convinces the local shogun to send a delegation of Japanese to Nueva Espana (Mexico) for the stated purpose of opening up trade relations, but also to give Velasco more authority ...more
Viv JM
DNF @ 56%. I decided to DNF this when I noticed that I wasn't looking forward to carrying on at all but was just forcing myself to because I'd chosen it for a challenge book. I think I need a break from reading challenges while my life is challenging!

This feels very similar to Silence (which I read last year) but without the same emotional energy I felt with that book.
Excellent HF book based on a true story: the voyage of four Japanese envoys in the early XVIIth century to Nueva España, Spain and Rome, and from there all the way back to their homeland. The story is told from two PoV: Rokuemon Hasekura, a samurai whose family eagerly want to have their lands back (were taken because they fought for the wrong side during a war), is probably the 'stereotype' we have in mind when thinking about a samurai (except there's no martial arts involved, or flying and non ...more
Jun 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shusako Endo was a member of a religious minority in Japan, leaning neither to Buddhism nor Shintoism nor to an effort to meld them. He was a Catholic who spent part of his early childhood in Japanese-occupied Manchuria before World War II. In "The Samurai" Endo took up a story from early seventeenth century, when a low-ranking vassal--the translator calls him a lance-corporal--was sent in the company of a Franciscan to New Spain to open trade and wound up traveling as far as Rome. (Those lookin ...more
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hf, lila, asia, mexico, japan, iberia
Images and emotions have lingered. Definite recommend for Shogun devotees.
After reading the samurai's journeys, trials, perceptions, I continue to be both bemused and impressed by Shusaku Endo's combination of Japanese and Catholic. Further impressed with Japanese spiritual beliefs, behaviors, after reading this.
My interest in the the Manila-Acapulco galleon voyages overlapped with Endo's creation.
Thoughts of a couple other books come to mind
Shogun's Reluctant Ambassadors: Japanese Sea Dr
Jeff Diamond
Oct 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everybody
Recommended to Jeff Diamond by: Van C. Gessel
If you have never read anything by Endo Shusaku, stop reading this and go get one right now. Seriously. At this point, if you are still reading, I assume you are either familiar with Endo or you are just bad at following directions. Either way, here we go.

Japanese novels are very different from American novels. In America, we tend to like an ending where the bad guy dies, the main character gets the hot girl, they have lots of kids and die happy at the age 109. In Japan, books tend to be more re
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, japan, history
3.5 stars

Acclaimed as "one of the late Shusaku Endo's finest works" (back cover), this novel was a bit disappointing to me due to its misleading title "The Samurai" which should have depicted a brave samurai in a battle like Miyamoto Musashi or any famous one from "The Tale of the Heike" (Viking, 2012). Having read its synopsis at the back cover, I had no choice but kept going because, instead, it is a story of a low-ranking warrior named Rokuemon Hasekura chosen in 1613 in the Tokugawa Period t
Charles J
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Japanese author Shūsaku Endō is known primarily for his 1966 masterwork, "Silence," about the persecution of Christians in mid-seventeenth-century Japan. The backdrop of "Silence" is the aftermath of the Shimabara Rebellion, a peasant rebellion crushed in 1638, which erupted in reaction to the vicious suppression of Christianity under the Tokugawa Shogunate, part of the turn of Japan inward. "The Samurai" focuses on events two decades prior, when Christianity was only partially suppressed, a ...more
Eustacia Tan
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I figured that it’s been some time since I read something by Endo, so when I dropped by Library@Orchard, I decided to borrow the Samurai. A part of me regrets not finding this book earlier because it is such a powerful read (I really think Endo does amazing work when his stories are set in the Edo-period) and makes for a great companion to Silence.

In The Samurai, four samurai, their retainers, and a few merchants leave Japan to New Spain (aka Mexico). Their aim is to get trading rights with the
J.M. Hushour
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
I have this weird thing where I get obsessed with Japanese authors and then have to read everything they've ever written, Mishima, Kawabata, now Natsume, so I thought that having recently read and very much enjoyed Endo's Silence, that I would have a new obsession.
Well, unfortunately, The Samurai is not very good, despite having a promising set-up. Like the other novel, this one is based, albeit loosely, on actual events. I had never heard of Japanese legation that went from Japan to Mexico to S
Jun 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book. This novel is consummate historical fiction, taking the reader into another time with details and humanity presenting a very specific and strange era as understandable and unforgettable. Endo is often called "the Japanese Graham Greene" because he is Catholic and his topics deal with Catholicism/faith and the modern world. In this book he goes so deep into showing some religious history and Japanese history and how they intertwined in the age of exploration (and actually some Me ...more
L.S. Popovich
I only feel comfortable rating this novel 3 stars because I enjoyed a few of his other novels so much more. To be clear, there was nothing bad about it. It was a historical novel about the clash of religion and politics between Japan and Europe. There is much discussion of power and faith, which are two of Endo's primary concerns as an artist. Yet I hesitate to hail this work as a masterpiece because I did not feel drawn or even connected to the characters.

Unlike in The Sea and Poison and The Gi
Ben Smitthimedhin
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
"Do you think He is to be found within those garish cathedrals? He does not dwell there. He lives... not within such buildings. I think He lives in the wretched homes of these Indians."

In the Postscript, Endo indicates that The Samurai is autobiographical in a sense, since he matches his travel experience aboard a ship with the travels that the Japanese merchants and the Samurai trudged through. Indeed, the story can be read allegorically as an account of one's spiritual pilgrimage, and the orig
Jan 15, 2015 rated it liked it
This novel does a great job of looking at how convoluted faith in God can be. Velasco the priest has faith in God to convert fully by baptism even adults without personal faith in Jesus, but at the same time cannot bring himself to believe that God can bring about the conversion of Japan without his lying and scheming. The contradiction points to the same sort of inconsistencies in our own faith in Christ. Some "big" things we have no problem trusting Him for, but in some smaller areas of life w ...more
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Possibly best of Endo's novels, the best I've read this far anyway. It has all the things characteristics of him, ambiguous and unorthodox, instense personal emotions, insight and an effective historical backdrop. Because of his peculiar situation, as a Japanese Catholic, the novel again offers a unique perspective on both the Japanese culture and their country as a whole and Catholicism, not shying away from the good or the bad. The characters were I think the strongest point of the novel, with ...more
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Shūsaku Endō’s "The Samurai" together with his brilliant book, "Silence." It was quite the combination! I may need some time to work my thoughts out, but I recommend this book for lovers of Japanese literature, historical fiction, and complex books about faith journeys.
You can see my thoughts here, including a 10 Minute Book Response by video.
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Taking place in the 1600s, a low-level Japanese Samurai with his servants, some merchants, and a Spanish monk travel from Japan to Mexico to Spain to Rome and then back. Apparently this actually happened.
Shusaku Endo has a lot of things to say about a lot of things. He says them subtly and beautifully. In this book I see the art of juxtaposition. Passion and passivity. Political and individual. Bureaucratic Jesus and personal Jesus. Scheming and sincerity. Western idealism and eastern pragmatis
A beautiful, rich, moving novel focussed on an almost-forgotten episode in Japanese history, the semi-official embassy sent to colonial Mexico and then to Spain and to Rome in the early seventeenth century. During the years the envoys were gone, all contact with foreigners was proscribed in Japan by the Tokugawa shogunate and so what began as an act of obedience was tainted with dangerous outsider knowledge and experience by the time the last of them got home. Endo is interested, of course, in q ...more
Andrew Hall
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Endo is the Dostoevsky of Japanese literature. He has an uncanny ability to portray the human experience in such a manner that deeply convicts his reader. He takes you on a journey of time, space, and spirit, one that is both autobiographical for he the author and enrapturing for we his reader. Where Silence shows the heart and struggle of a devout man who has spent his whole life doing good, The Samurai depicts the soul and suffering of two men who know not the heart of God but are forevermore ...more
Jul 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: japanese noblemen and renegade priests
Fine book that transcends cliched depictions of Japanese culture and clandestine religious orders. At first Endo's style seems so straightforward you wonder if he's laid all his cards on the table, but there's much more going on underneath the surface. Has the feel of a parable.
Walter Adamson
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read other reviews that felt otherwise, but to me, it reminded me of when I first read the historical fiction sagas of Michener.

Whether certain things actually occurred or not does occur to me as a passing thought, but then I keep reading to follow the story. The gist of the story has a context which makes historical sense. And, for those interested, in the back of my edition (Aventura, 1984) it has a postscript "Fact and Truth in The Samurai" which is interesti
Matt Ely
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, fiction, japan
Endo's books take as much as they give.

Known best for Silence, Endo writes historical and contemporary novels that often touch on the nature of the Japanese Christian as an oxymoron, a native outsider. He struggles here again to engage with a history of persecution in his country and what exactly the new religion meant for those who heard it.

The book takes some time to pick up steam, but the back half really does shine and is worth the investment. I appreciated the connections to history, but
Daniel Polansky
Four samurai during the early Edo period accompany a priest on an ill-fated voyage west. Historical fiction going in a direction we rarely see, sort of an anti-Shogun. It lacks some of the juice of the best of these sorts of books, and the protagonists have that sort of tiring habit of directly stating their thoughts, moods and feelings to other characters/the reader. But it has a genuine (if ironic) sympathy for its misbegotten heroes which more than merits a read.
Darrick Taylor
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
Shusaku Endo's fictional account of the embassy of four Japanese samurai in 1614 to Mexico is a wonderful dramatization of the encounter of one ancient, mysterious, and largely continuous culture in Japan, with the missionary faith of the Christian West. Endo's depiction of the zealous and in some ways unscrupulous Velasco shows the pathology of one who thinks he is chosen by God, but does not reduce him either to being a manipulative foreigner nor an overly pious fool (though he is also both). ...more
Nov 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the second book by Endo that I've read, and both of his books have had a profound impact on me. I think so far, he's the only non-western author that I've read who deals with Christianity. While Silence tore me apart inside, this book's impact was milder. I don't think it was any less significant, just more subtle.

My biggest takeaway from this is the inevitable cultural baggage that accompanies religion. Repeatedly, the East and West collide in this book, and both are treated sympathetic
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Shusaku Endo (遠藤周作), born in Tokyo in 1923, was raised by his mother and an aunt in Kobe where he converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of eleven. At Tokyo's Keio University he majored in French literature, graduating BA in 1949, before furthering his studies in French Catholic literature at the University of Lyon in France between 1950 and 1953. A major theme running through his books, which ...more

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