Musashi Ngram: many Rings

Yesterday, we saw that, using Google Books’ Ngram, we could determine that most of the English-language interest in Miyamoto Musashi in the latter decades of the 20th century was driven by the Japanese boom economy, ending in 1991.  But what we didn’t see was Musashi in the post-boom era.

In 1991 the Japanese asset price bubble burst, plunging the economy into a period of stagnation called the Lost Decade 失われた10年.  This can be seen graphically by comparing the Ngrams for “Japanese * miracle” and “Lost Decade”:


As the 90s drew to a close, people stop talking about the Japanese economic miracle and start asking what happened to Japan in the last 10 years.

As people in the English-speaking world lost interest in the Japanese way of business, they seem to have stopped being interested in Musashi.  The terms “Japanese * miracle” and “Miyamoto Musashi”, which were closely related through 1991, dramatically decoupled in the 1990s.  By 1996 the Ngrams show that almost all the bulk of the writing about Musashi is driven by The Book of Five Rings:


If you look carefully at the graph, you can see that Musashi and GoRinNoSho are really closely correlated.  What happened?

I think one thing that happened is that Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū 兵法二天一流 started trying to expand internationally.  I don’t know that’s the case, but I do know that in the 1990s, I didn’t even know HNIR existed as a living koryu, but by 2005 here I am (back row, far right) attending a seminar in Canada:


Why would they do that?  One answer may be that about the time this photo was taken, there were a lot of political wranglings within the school, as explained in the Wikipedia article on the Gosho-ha branch.

Anyhow, if there were increased international interest in HNIR, this would undoubtedly create increased demand for The Book of Five Rings, not only among those attending seminars but among many budoka as the name of Musashi bubbles up to the surface of conversations and thoughts again.

A possible related reason–and this pure speculation here; I am talking out of my rear–is that the actual scrolls of the original Go Rin No Sho may be owned by someone who has recently made them more available to the public.

But I suspect the most likely reason is that changes in the publishing industry, such as e-books and ease of ordering through Amazon, have made selling The Book of Five Rings much easier and therefore more lucrative, inducing more and more translators and publishers to get into the game.

When I originally bought The Book of Five Rings in the 1990s, I had the Overlook Press edition.



But now there are more editions than I can count.  Kenji Tokitsu and William Scott Wilson have their own.  There are so many I can’t list them all here easily, and I’m not even sure I could find them all.  Everybody is translating this book except for William de Lange, whose translation I would be most interested in reading.

Anyhow, that’s what we learn from Ngrams about Musashi in the post-90s era.