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5 Books like Shogun: The Far East up Close and Personal

Mandy Baldwin itcherIf you want Ninja wars and wise old Senais giving advice to ‘Grasshopper’, then don’t read ‘Shogun’. What you will find in James Clavell’s 1975 masterpiece is brilliant characterisation, exquisite historical research, a heart-stopping romance and the inexplicable explained. Books like ‘Shogun’, ‘The Life-giving Sword’ or ‘Under Heaven’ each offer a window into a world which the west never won. ~ Mandy Baldwin

The Finnesse of Feudalism

In feudal 16th-century Japan a man of English and Dutch heritage is promised free passage home if he will only teach the Japanese how to build ships which can explore beyond their islands. And yet somehow, all the ships he builds are destroyed, so he can never leave.

As he learns more of the culture he lives in, where self-restraint is learned by not wincing at the cries of a man being boiled alive, where delicacy of movement extends to using a brick for a pillow, and where the blood-line of the dissident is wiped from the earth, he begins to have contempt for his own, less graceful barbarism.

Truly magnificent.


Books Similar to ‘Shogun’…

‘The Life-giving Sword: Secret Teachings From The House OF The Shogun’ (Yagyu Munenori, 2012)

Image Source: Koryu

If you have been fascinated by ‘Shogun’, you will probably be curious to know the belief system which inspired so many of the characters.

A book like no other you will ever read, this is the translated work of the seventeeth century swordsman Yagyu Munenori, advisor to two Shoguns and the inspiration for almost every writer on the subject.

Interestingly, despite the fact that Munenori was a reknowned warrior, his book teaches ‘the way without the sword’ and the various ways in which threatening or posturing as ruthless and violent can avoid the necessity to use violence.

Here you can find the spiritual basis of the way of life so beautifully described in Clavell’s novels.

Similarity Match: 90%
Not a novel, but this book straight from a leading figure of the time ‘Shogun’ is set, could be the words of Clavell’s characters.

‘A Brief History Of The Samurai’ (Jonathan Clements, 2013)

Image Source: Strand Books

As the title suggest, this is not a work of fiction, but gives a full history of the art, life and culture of the Samurai.

‘Shogun’ is set at the height of the power of this warrior caste, just before they began the wars that destroyed the society which had nurtured them.  

Fascinating as a confirmation of Clavell’s research, it is startling to learn that the feudal society described in ‘Shogun’ continued to exist well into the nineteenth century.

This impressively detailed history makes sense of the clash of east-west civilisations in the early years of the twentieth century.  The writing is beautifully accessible, making it easy to absorb the descriptions of a way of life and government which lasted longer than any system of government in the world.

Similarity Match: 85%
So similar to ‘Shogun’ in its wealth of research, this proves that fact is sometimes stranger than fiction.

‘Young Samurai: The Way of The Warrior’ (Chris Bradford, 2008)

Image Source: Flixcart

A seventeenth century shipwreck, a boy rescued by Japanese, a need to understand an alien culture.

Jack Fletcher hopes to become a Samurai warrior but must overcome the treatment he receives as an alien and an outcast.
This is well researched and highly entertaining but has more of a ‘boy’s adventure’ feeling about it: including the appearance of some murderous Ninjas.

Yes, there is little or no possibility that an English boy would have been trained as a Samurai, but this is unashamed fiction, and the story is fast paced, dramatic and enjoyable.

Similarity Match: 75%
If you are looking for ‘Shogun Lite’, a book like this is the book for you.


If You Like ‘Shogun’, You Will Like…

A book like ‘Shogun’ gives a powerful story coupled with thorough research, but these recommendations add a hint of fantasy to fantastic stories.

And you will particularly enjoy them if you have been missing your helping of Ninjas and sword fights.

‘Samurai’s Apprentice’ (David Walters, 2011)

Image Source: Amazon

Fantasy adventure takes over as a quiet boy’s life is transformed when he finds a warrior lying unconscious after an epic battle.

Fascinated by the world which opens up to him when he saves the warrior’s life, he accepts him as master.  He leaves his peaceful life in a small village, and learning from the warrior he travels across the warring Japanese kingdom observing battles and the Samurai code of honour, until he himself eventually aspires to become one.

Does what it says on the tin: this is researched enough to give backbone to a ripping yarn.  

Has all the fascination of ‘Shogun’ but less gravitas.

‘Under Heaven’ (Guy Gavriel Kaye, 2010)

Image Source: Aidan Moher

And now, we take a detour to China: a fantasy, 8th century China where Shen Tai, an orphan in mourning for his father who has been living alone beside a great lake, has set himself the task of burying 10,000 corpses.  

The bodies are all that remain of a battle between two rival empires, and their ghosts rise at night to haunt the brutal landscape and terrify local people.

His fortunes change when he receives a letter from a princess, charging him with another task, and offering him a reward no sane man would refuse: a herd of horses famous for their intelligence and beauty.  

Only later does he discover that the cost of the reward is too high and by then, he is too attached to the princess to refuse her anything.

Epic, endlessly colourful and endlessly exciting.

The same exotic drama as ‘Shogun’, but not limited by the bounds of reality.


Clashing Swords and Colliding Cultures

These books describe a world which is so far removed from western culture, it could have existed on another planet.

The grace in brutality, the formality in barbarism, and the code of honour, all both fascinate and repel.

Do these books make you look at Sushi in a whole new way?

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