The Opponent, Miyamoto Musashi

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The Opponent, Miyamoto Musashi
Author: Masaki Kinoshita
Specifications: ISBN  978-4041050804
293 pages
13.5 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Kadokawa Corporation
Tokyo, 2017
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Miyamoto Musashi (d. 1645) was one of the most storied swordsmen of the Edo period (1603–1867); his Gorin no sho (The Book of Five Rings), a discussion of martial arts and military strategy, has even been translated into English. Yet beginning with the question of when and where he was born, there is much about him that remains a mystery. This novel looks at Musashi’s life from an unusual perspective: that of seven swordsmen who faced off with him in a duel and went down to defeat. All were men equally renowned for their facility with the sword, and the story traces the circumstances under which each of them came to face off with Musashi, while also throwing light on how he himself went about honing his skills. The narrative spans a little more than ten years, from the duel in which Musashi felled Arima Kihei at about the age of 13, until his famed showdown with Tsuda Kojirō (a.k.a. Sasaki Kojirō) on Ganryū Island, which has been a frequent subject of novels, plays, and films.

While rooting his story in the historical record, author Masaki Kinoshita introduces a provocative fiction into the narrative: he hypothesizes that the man known as Musashi’s father, Miyamoto (or Shinmen) Munisai, himself a celebrated swordsman who at times challenged Musashi to duels and at other times set duels up for him, was in fact training Musashi to be a swordsman nonpareil in order to ultimately have him kill himself (Munisai). In the account given here, Musashi’s actual father is Munisai’s best pupil Hon’iden Geki. Munisai and Geki grew up together as the sons of samurai families serving the Shinmen clan, but Geki’s family is of far higher rank. Among their childhood playmates is Osei, the daughter of a family related to the Miyamotos. Osei becomes a consort to Lord Shinmen and gives birth to a son, but the baby has a birthmark unique to the Hon’iden family on his lower left limb, revealing that the child was actually fathered by Geki. Their illicit love exposed, Osei and Geki flee with the baby. Lord Shinmen orders Munisai to kill Geki and the child and bring Osei back to him—under threat of death if he fails. He reluctantly faces off with Geki and defeats him, but he also mistakenly kills Osei. On the spot, to atone for having killed his two friends, he vows to rear their boy to be a swordsman more powerful than either Geki or himself. With Shinmen clan pursuers on his heels, he flees from province to province, all the while training Musashi to be his ultimate executioner.

In the final act, Munisai faces off with Musashi after the latter has defeated Kojirō. When Musashi learns the truth about his birth, instead of killing Munisai, he slices off both of his thumbs to make it impossible for him to ever wield a sword again, and tells him to live the rest of his life feeling the burden of defeat on his shoulders.

The archetypal tale of patricide unfolds on a grand scale with plenty of action and swordplay.