Something To Do

Exploring the Asia’s Edo Period | Heart of a Samurai and the Bamboo Sword

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Sometimes, the work of a certain author just speaks to you. You know that, the second you see their work, that it will be magical.

That’s how I feel about not just one, but two books from award-winning author Margi Preus.

Author Margi Preus

Several years ago I picked up a copy of her book Heart of a Samurai k because of the lovely cover, drawings, and illustrations inside. I was hoping the book would be as good as it’s cover and it didn’t disappoint. From the minute we started we were taken away on a real life adventure.

Then recently I stumbled upon another of her books, The Bamboo Sword-yet another book that gives reader insight into the beautiful and mysterious Asian Edo Period.

The Bamboo Sword / Book Trailer from Joellyn Rock on Vimeo.

Let’s look at these books separately.

Heart of a Samurai is author Margi Preus’ first novel for the young and it won a bank of awards including a Newbery Honor Book.

This is a wonderfully captivating TRUE story about 14 year old Manjiro, a Japanese boy who was swept out to sea in a fishing boat. After spending a month on Bird Island, Manjiro along with 4 other fishermen were rescued by an American whaling vessel called the John Howland.

Manjiro quickly learned English, became a sailor and learned how to catch a whale, traveled all over the world, was adopted by Captain Whitfield, went to school in America, signed on another whaling ship, worked the gold fields of California, and then finally after many years, returned to Japan, only to be imprisoned as an outsider. With his hard-won knowledge of the West, Manjiro is in a unique position to persuade the shogun to ease open the boundaries around Japan; he may even achieve his unlikely dream of becoming a samurai.

Manjiro, whose American name was John Mung, had to endure many taunts and much bigotry not only on the ship but on land as well. Interspersed throughout  the text in this book are Manjiro’s sketches and drawing.

The Bamboo Sword:

When American ships steam into Edo Bay for the first time, it is into the forbidden waters of mid-19th-century Japan. Outsiders are not allowed to enter the country, and Japan’s samurai prepare for war. Thirteen-year-old Yoshi longs to join the fight to expel the hairy barbarians…But how? As a lowly servant, he is not permitted to become a samurai or to carry swords.

Margi Preus

Yet the ships have barely arrived when Yoshi finds himself wielding a sword in a way that will change his life forever. Forced to flee, he meets-and is employed by-and odd samurai named Manjiro, who is on his way to Edo to advise the shogun about the western invaders. Yoshi encounters plenty of adventures traveling with a man suspected of being an American spy.

Through it all, Yoshi, like most of his countrymen, just wants the “hairy ones” to go away. But when he and an American boy from one of the ships become entangled in a web of adventure and intrigue, including spies and assassins, the two boys discover that they must rely on each other to survive.

Though I haven’t had the chance to crack the cover of The Bamboo Sword, if has the same mesmerizing quality of Heart of a Samurai, I know it will be instant “book love.”

Happy reading!

Something To Do: Let’s Discover

Manjiro/John Mung: Manjiro/John Mung is actually a true story. He was from a small fishing village off the coast of Shikoku Japan in Naka-no-hama. Though his story is very well detailed in this book Heart of a Samurai, his story continued on.

Using his know-how of western shipbuilding, Manjiro contributed on behalf of the Shogunate to build a modern Japanese navy. Japan had been cut off from the world for 250 years. Manjiro, working as an ambassador between Japan and the United States, participated in the construction of  the Shohei Mary, Japans first western style warship to be built after opening up its borders.

Along with shipbuilding he translated Bowditch’s American Practical Navigator into Japanese, and taught his countrymen naval tactics, whaling techniques, and English.

Among his many accomplishments, Manjirō was probably the first Japanese to ride a railroad, sail in a steamship, to be an officer of an American vessel, and to command a trans-Pacific voyage.

In Fairhaven, the Manjirō Historic Friendship Society is renovating William Whitfield’s home to include a museum dealing with the Manjirō legacy.

Our first step in discovering Manjiro’s life was to follow his footsteps taking the Manjiro Trail.  Though we couldn’t be there in person, this lovely photographic map of Manjiro’s life in Fairhaven Massachusetts fills in the blanks and gives a close up look at Manjiro’s legacy there.

Acts of Friendship

Manjiro was a very kind and friendly person regardless of how people treated him. He always kept his honor by being respectful. While living in Fairhaven MA, he celebrated May Day by quietly leaving a May Day basket for Catherine, the girl he liked so much. It was the tradition at that time for a boy to make a May Day basket filled with flowers and leave it at the door of the girl he liked. Once the basket was deposited, the boy would knock on the door and then runaway with the girl he gave the flowers to chasing him. The idea was for her to catch him and give him a kiss. Though Manjiro ended up going back to Japan and working as an envoy to the United States, Catherine kept her May Day basket and the note he had written to her until the day she died, which was way into her 80’s.

As a sign of friendship, why not make a flower basket and give it to someone you’d like to know better? Word Play House has wonderful  May Day basket ideas which are good for any season.


Edo Period of Japan

The Bamboo Sword is set during a time when American ships steam into Edo Bay for the first time, it is into the forbidden waters of mid-19th-century Japan. The 800’s was the end of the feudal Edo period of Japan. The Edo period lasted from 1603 to 1868. The first Shogun was Tokogawa Ieyasu, who ended years of civil war and established a stable society.

To secure his status as leader of a unified Japan, Ieyasu introduced a strict class system and the tight control of the ruling daimyo families from the capital city Edo (Tokyo).The four levels of society were created around Shi-No-Ko-Sho, Samurai (warrior),peasant, artisan, and merchant. Individuals had no legal rights and the family became very important at all social levels.

To read more about the Shi-No-Ko-Sho, go HERE.


Recipient of the 2017 IBPA Ben Franklin Awards-Children’s/YA-New Voices GOLD Award!

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