Isn’t man but a blossom taken by wind, and only the mountains and the sea and the stars and this land of the gods everlasting?
This land of the gods. Japan. I was a senior in college the first time I read Shogun by James Clavell, my soul leaving my San Diego apartment and flying through this far off land of samurai and ninja, of karma and bushido. I imagined myself in Blackthorne’s shoes, arriving in a foreign country and immersing into strange customs, fighting and loving and surviving. I wondered what it would be like to be samurai, or to have the soul-baring experience of a tea ceremony. I marveled at the image of the impregnable Osaka Castle, building up the fortress in my mind.
We have a saying that time has no single measure, that time can be like frost or lightning or a tear or siege or storm or sunset, or even like a rock.
My childhood – and to a lesser extent, my adulthood – were passed away living such dreams. I read to escape, but also to explore. I traveled with authors to distant lands, both real and imagined, trying to picture myself in those worlds. Shogun was the pinnacle of that. Time passed outside, but the world created by Clavell’s words and my imagination remained as pure as the first time I opened the now-worn cover. I determined that one day I would experience this world for myself. This month, I got to do so.
It is difficult to describe the feelings associated with seeing my favorite story come to life, and with experiencing aspects of the story first-hand. Osaka Castle did not look the way my imagination had envisioned, but walking the ramparts and staring at the walls, I understood how impenetrable it truly was. In that moment, I was one with Blackthorne, marveling for the first time at something amazing.
How beautiful life is and how sad! How fleeting, with no past and no future, only a limitless now.
In Tokyo – Toranaga’s capital city of Yedo – I lived my dream of becoming samurai. I held a katana, and learned to use it in defense of my lord; I wore armor modeled after that used during the Tokugawa Shogunate (the period the book is based on). I prepared tea in a traditional ceremony, serving it – and myself – to my companions. I tried to come up with suitable poetry for the occasion, but Lord Yabu’s words put any I could write to shame:
What are clouds but an excuse for the sky; what is life but an escape from death?
As I stare now at the book, the magical book, I am thankful. Shogun has given me gifts of immense value: imagination and escape, knowledge and wisdom, and now of the memory of myself as a central character in the story. It is as though my true heart has been revealed to me, at last.
It’s a saying they have, that a man has a false heart in his mouth for the world to see, another in his breast to show to his special friends and his family, and the real one, the true one, the secret one, which is never known to anyone except to himself alone, hidden only God knows where.