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The Samurai's Garden

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  24,175 ratings  ·  2,286 reviews
A 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen 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 housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu's secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Mat ...more
Paperback, 211 pages
Published May 4th 1995 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published May 4th 1994)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  24,175 ratings  ·  2,286 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
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.

(Edited 5/11/19 to hide spoilers and add photos)


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
Sep 10, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hf, japan, china

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
Beautifully written and hypnotic. I found such peacefulness when reading this story even though much of it is about a village of lepers living in Japan in the 1930s.

It begins with the young man, Stephen, who is sent to live at his family’s summer home nearby in order to recover from tuberculoses. While there he meets their housekeeper, Matsu, who tends the garden and finds beauty in all things, which explains why I fell in love with this book and the characters in it even though it was filled wi
Aug 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully written and serenely paced.
Connie G
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
"The Samurai's Garden" is a touching, gentle novel filled with Japanese culture. A Chinese young man, Stephen, was sent to his family's vacation home in a coastal town in Japan to recuperate from tuberculosis. The artistic student spends time with the caretaker, Matsu, who has created serene gardens. Matsu is quiet, but has hidden depths of wisdom. Matsu has been taking care of an older woman, Sachi, in a leper colony since they were both teenagers. Although Stephen is the narrator of the story, ...more

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
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Ellery Adams
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 Barnes
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a good book, a well told, gentle story, with believable, likable characters, but, for whatever reason, I just never got emotionally involved. A solid 3, heading toward 3.5.
Diane Lynn
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I hesitate to call this a "quiet" novel because often that means dull and boring. I enjoyed every page of this gentle, meditative book. The Samurai's Garden starts as the straightforward story of Stephen, a young Chinese man who goes to his family's seaside vacation home in Japan to recover from tuberculosis during WWII. But underneath the calm surface there is much more going on. Stephen's taciturn caretaker emerges as a hero, a woman whose face is eaten away by leprosy is profoundly beautiful ...more
Apr 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Mar 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Lovely book. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to accompany Stephen back to Hong Kong to rejoin his mother and sister. Also, I wanted him to continue to have Matsu and his garden and his words of wisdom in his life. Sigh. The book ended too soon.
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-audio
A beautiful story with difficult subjects. Four stars for the wonderful characters and the setting. The fifth is for the narrator of the audiobook, David Shih. He really made the two main male characters come to life for me.
Oct 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful writing. The story begins with a Chinese young man going to Japan to recover from a serious illness during the war with China. The slow pace about everyday activities while he is being cared for by a Japanese caretaker is meditative. I love learning about other cultures and history. Definitely recommend.
The serenity and beauty of a Japanese garden and assistance of a samurai come through this story. Both aspects unveil a poignant story.

1937: Stephen Chan, 20 years old, is sent by his family from busy Hong Kong to his family’s summer house by the sea in Tarumi, Japan, to recover from tuberculosis.

He is met there by the only occupant of the house Matsu, who’s been taking care of the house and garden since early age. The garden reflects the extension of his life. In the village he is known for hi
Apr 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Samurai’s Garden is so quiet and gentle in how it unfolds that it is hard to describe. Slow and somehow not dull, but beautiful. It’s about a friendship formed in a oceanside village in Japan between a Chinese student, a Japanese caretaker, and a beautiful Japanese woman disfigured by leprosy during 1937 and 1938 when their countries were at war. About finding beauty in the least likely of people and places.

“There are rare people who will help you carry your burdens through this life”.
Jun 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I am amazed i never read this book. a beautiful and sad tale set in China and Japan- The characters are so well portrayed -with all their worries and loves. very lovely and an escape to the sea in a village in Japan.
Smitha Murthy
How did I read 800+ books without discovering Gail Tsukiyama? What an utterly magical author! A couple of years ago, I read 'The Guest Cat', which a friend had recommended, and I didn't like that book at all. Even now, it's a joke between us. But the friend had suggested that book to me thinking that I would like the quiet, meditative quality in that book. She knows me too well - I do love 'quiet, meditative' books that ripple with stillness and poetry. But while 'The Guest Cat' didn't blink its ...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
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
Feb 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
Monotonous prose. Every character sounds like every other character. Stilted, stereotyped, and preciously simple - presumably to evoke the ethereal experience of life in “The Samurai’s Garden.” (WTF do samurai have to do with this story?) Apart from an almost throwaway revelation near the end, this novel is as shallow and unmemorable as an article in an in-flight magazine. Thank God the word “Zen” does not appear in the text. It really reads as if a nice California lady read a couple of Wikipedi ...more
Gitte - Bookworm's Closet

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 s
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.

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
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, favorites, hf
I picked this up as part of a summer reading program because it was relatively short. I fell in love with this quiet story set in a small village in Japan in the late 1930's. " Even if you walk the same road a hundred times, you'll find something different each time." A MUST read. When faced with shunning from one's community, "it takes greater courage to live". The story illuminates taking care of one another. I look forward to reading something else by this author. ...more
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Play Book Tag: The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama - 5 Stars 5 16 Jan 02, 2021 01:54PM  
Play Book Tag: [Poll Tally] The Samurai's Garden – Gail Tsukiyama - 5 stars 2 17 Jan 15, 2020 08:16PM  
nice book 6 49 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

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