East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Journey with the gods: Takizawa Bakin and the writer as masterless samurai

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36c970b7c39c9cba362d798ccec4baf2A few days ago I was reading a short pamphlet by a friend, that reprised, among other things, this idea we have been playing with, of indie and freelance writers being ronin, masterless samurai.
The comparison is strikingly fitting: individuals with competence and skill, bound to a code of conduct (or at least a work ethic), despised, mocked and feared because they lack a master (or an agent, or a publisher), trying to make ends meet.
A self-sufficient adventurer, a loner fighting his own wars.

The problem with these men was that they were armed and out of work.
(Nakasendo Way)

The trick here, I think, is to stick to the solid, serviceable metaphor of the ronin, while avoiding to fall for the romantic aura of the metaphor itself. The lone wolf, the knight errant.
Freelance writers choose flexibility, speed and, yes, freedom, over security.
Sometimes it feels cool thinking about ourselves that way, in other cases – such as in my case, tonight – it feels pretty hopeless.
And yet…

Then I chanced upon this…


Chilled by winter winds
I have decided
To journey with the gods.

This is the haiku that samurai Takizawa Bakin left to his master the day he decided to leave service, and become willingly a ronin.
He was fourteen.
I had to read it twice, because it sounds like a suicide note, don’t you think?
But it’s not, far from it.

Actually, ronin Takizawa Bakin leftthe service of his master to become a writer, and he is today famous for Nanso Satomi Hakkenden, a long pulpy and melodramatic story about eight samurai half brothers, filled with honor and duty and Confucian philosophy. He started publishing it in 1814, and it took him thirty years to complete (the last few of the 106 books of the series were dictated, as the author had gone blind).
Having refused what he perceived as an empty duty, Takizawa Bakin spent his life writing about what he considered real duty.
Incidentally, the book is being translated (and annotated) online, and you can find it here, as The Legend of the Eight Samurai Hounds. Well worth the time.

I must say I like very much the idea of this cultured warrior that left the sword behind and willingly became an outcast and a writer.
Willingly being the key word here: Takizawa Bakin is a good reminder of the fact that independent writers, author/publishers and assorted freelencers we may be, but it was a choice, not an accident.
And we must take responsibility – and if possible, pride – in our own choices.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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