Michael Fredholm Von Essen, The Shogun’s Soldiers, The Daily Life of Samurai and Soldiers in Edo period Japan, 1603-1721 Volume 1 (2022)
The Shogun’s Soldiers is a fascinating book and one that takes our understanding of Japanese society and the Samurai’s role within it to a new level and makes it easily accessible.
Von Essen covers aspects of the military organisation, structure, and weapons, and goes into some detail on the transition from the traditional instantly recognisable Samurai to the more lightweight folding armour. Von Essen also looks at the aspects of their new roles and how that develops as the society under the Tokugawa Shogunate remains at peace after centuries of incessant warfare.
The bulk of the book is focused on the city of Edo, providing descriptions of the key areas, its social structure, inhabitants, housing, and public services, with topics ranging from Samurai serving as firemen and police to the merchant class, craftsmen, and labourers. Where they lived, what they ate, transport, public baths, and the etiquette involved in many social interactions are also covered. Von Essen has provided a real insight into the lives of both the Samurai and the civilian population of Edo and opens a door on to the complex world of Japan in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
As usual with Helion, there are numerous coloured photographs and black and white period illustrations throughout this book, supporting the text, along with 8 coloured plates showing Samurai in a variety of civilian and unarmoured military dress.
Readers who are looking for a tome containing vast details on the armies of the age of war will need to look elsewhere; although if you do you that, you will be missing a treat. However, if von Essen ever decides to write that book, I’ll be first in the queue to get a copy – Helion’s continued releases of new and interesting books will I think lead many of us to penury. Recommended for those who watch too many chanbara movies, who would want to imbue their Samurai skirmish or roleplaying games with accurate backgrounds, or perish the thought, anyone who has a fascination for a unique culture and just wants to increase their knowledge.
(Reviewed by Mike Huston)