Musashi : first contact

As I mentioned in the last post about Musashi Ngrams, the combination of Google Books’ Ngram analysis and Google Books’ Advanced Search identifies the earliest English-language record of Miyamoto Musashi as a paper called “The Vendetta or Legal Revenge in Japan” in volume 13 of the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan.  I believe this is the first mention of Musashi in all of English literature, and today we will examine the paper in more detail.

I don’t believe this is the first mention of Musashi in English only because of the Ngram search.  It is also makes sense in the context of the time period.  Although Musashi seems to those of us who are “budo nerds” to be the preeminent samurai in all of Japanese history and almost the preeminent interest of Japan, “budo nerds” did not–could not–exist at the time of Commodore Perry’s Expedition.

Nor (Tom Cruise movies notwithstanding) do I think they were likely to exist only a couple decades later.  The westerners who went to Japan in the early days were not seeking the lost romance of sword fighting.  Indeed, although duelling was in decline in the west (particularly among polite, progressive society), it was still occurring, and fencing was fairly widely practiced.  The painter Manet fought a duel with swords against an art critic in 1870, and Renommierschmiss could still be seen on faces in the mid-2oth century.

Duel at Bois de Boulogne by Durand, 1874

1874, duelling with swords

No, the westerners who went to Japan in the years soon after the Meiji Restoration were there for reasons of business, geopolitics, and religion.  In fact, if the author of this article on vendettas hadn’t mentioned Musashi, it’s not at all certain how long it would have been before Musashi entered the western consciousness.  (As you could see from my last post, about half the early publications that referenced Musashi referred to his art.  Indeed, despite Dening’s The Life of Miyamoto Musashi, I think it is fair to say Musashi was not known in the West until the 1955 Academy Awards for the Samurai films.)  So, is it likely that any English-speaking expatriate in 19th century Japan would have written about Musashi?  No, so it is likely that this hat tip in the ASJ Transactions was a chance event and the first time any English speaker would have bothered over Musashi.

The circumstances that led to this “chance event” are in their generality well known, but in their specifics probably impenetrable.  That is, the history of the Asiatic Society of Japan is easily accessible, but the string of intentions and actions that led the author to write the paper are almost certainly beyond our ken at this late date.

The Asiatic Society of Japan is probably best described by quoting their website:

The Asiatic Society of Japan… is a learned organisation that strives to serve a general audience of well-read non-specialists who share intellectual interests in “things Japanese.” …Meeting regularly since its establishment in 1872, The Society prides itself on having been the first academic organisation in Japan to promote research and disseminate knowledge about Japan around the world. Among The Society pioneers are such famous Japanologists as Dr. James Hepburn, Sir Ernest Satow, Basil Hall Chamberlain, and William Aston. The historic inaugural meeting of the Society was held in the Yokohama foreign enclave in 1872, shortly after the Meiji Restoration.

Membership in the ASJ included both people in Japan and people in other parts of the world, including the USA, Europe, and expat communities in other parts of Asia.  The ASJ maintained a library at which they would have periodic gatherings.  At each gathering, a member would be called upon to read a paper he had written on some aspect of Japanese history, geography, botany, politics, etc.

The papers would then be submitted to the library and published in collections called the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, each set of recently read papers constituting a volume.  The Transactions were printed in Japan and then sent around the world to the membership.  In this way, information about Japan (which, remember, had been closed for centuries) was disseminated to people all over the world.  Many libraries in the United States still maintain volumes of the Transactions, and they can be purchased through used book sellers as well.  Here is what one looks like:


This particular paper is called “Notes on Loochoo.”  At this time in history, the correct romanization of Japanese was not yet agreed upon, and “Loochoo” refers to Ryukyu, or modern-day Okinawa.  This paper recounts an ASJ member’s trip to Okinawa and the things he witnessed there.  As it happens, I’ve read this paper, and it is quite interesting, even today, as it provides information that is not available now even in modern history books.  More of this paper can be seen on the Baxley Stamps used book site.

Sometimes articles would relate research that ASJ members had undertaken and sometimes they would simply describe trips that members had made to “remote” parts of Japan (remember that at this time almost all westerners lived in the Yokohama-Tokyo vicinity).  In the case of “The Vendetta or Legal Revenge in Japan,” Asiatic Society member Joseph Dautremer researched the topic in old Japanese books in a style we would probably associate with historical-anthropological research today.

I have had trouble finding information about Dautremer.  He was an Asian language specialist from France who seems to have started a diplomatic career in 1881 as an interpreter for the French legation in Tokyo, where he was also a member of the Tokyo Geographical Society.  In 1889, he was still in Japan with the French legation, but by 1891 he had been promoted to Vice-Consul of France in Hankou, China, and later he became the French Consul in Burma, where he apparently stayed for some time.  Later in life, he became a lecturer at the School of Oriental Languages in Paris.  He was born in 1860; his date of death is not recorded in a place I can find.  However, by searching Google Ngram in the French literature from 1860 to 1980, we can surmise his career and death.


As you can see, there is almost no activity before 1905, then a lot with a large spike in the early 1940s, and then trailing off until the mid-1970s.  So it seems Dautremer started publishing books around the age of 45-50.  In the early 1940s, he would have been in his 80s, so I suspect the spike represents the obituaries around the time of his death, and, as we can see, his work continued to be published in new editions up through the 1970s.  His paper on the vendetta was not the only one he wrote for the Asiatic Society: he published at least one other Transaction, in 1886 in French on viticulture in Japan, and this may be the very small blip one can see just before 1890.

As one would expect for a language specialist, Dautremer seems to have published some translation work, such as The Battle of Monkey and Crab, published in French in 1885 in Tokyo, and The Old Man Who Made Dead Trees Bloom, published in 190? by Hasegawa.  His major publications seem to be The Japanese Empire and Its Economic Conditions, The Great Artery of China–The Yangtze, and Burma Under British Rule.  These would represent one major book for each of the three diplomatic positions he held, although his total publications are actually much more extensive.

Did Dautremer ever go on to write about Musashi in his native French?  Searching the corpus of French literature with Ngram for Miyamoto Musashi shows only two instances of the term, around 1910 and 1932, while an Advanced Google Books search also shows only one independent result in French: The Bulletin of the Franco-Japanese Society of Paris, issues 19-20 from 1910.  The Bulletin mentions Musashi only briefly as the teacher of a tsuba 鍔 manufacturer (“Ce fut non seulement un fabricant de tsubas maps aussi un escrimeur réputé, élève du célèbre Miyamoto Musashi (1582-1645) de la province de Higo.”), while it mentions Dautremer in connection with his book about the economy of Japan.

For my purposes, it would be helpful to know how it is that Dautremer became interested in the vendetta and, more, how he came to the Japanese books in which he read about Musashi.  However, I have not been able to find any information about this or anything that could lead me to a theory.  At the time of this writing, my resources are limited to the Internet.  I have contacted the librarian for the ASJ to inquire whether they have records concerning their members, but Professor Carey says that everything is in boxes pending a move.  Anyhow, I doubt there is more to be found unless Dautremer left behind some daily journals.


According to volume 13 of the Transactions, Dautremer read his paper on the vendetta to the Asiatic Society members at a meeting in Tokyo on February 11, 1885.  The paper was then published in the next volume starting on page 82.  Dautremer begins referring to Musashi on page 85 in order to illustrate the fact that a samurai did not always have to obtain permission before undertaking a revenge killing:

We see then that the principle thing was the acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the grievances.  But possibly by reason of unavoidable circumstances, such as distance from his clan, the injured man might not have the time or opportunity to go through all those formalities.  In that case, should he meet his enemy and kill him, he would go and report the fact to the daimio of the clan where he happened to be.  The revenge thus became perfectly in order.  An instance of this is given in the story of the revenge of Miyamoto Musashi, the celebrated fencing master of the time of Minamoto no Iyemitsu (1623), and a kerai of Ogasawara, lord of Kokura in the province of Bizen.  “Miyamoto having encountered his enemy on the way, struck him and killed him.  Having revenged himself in that manner, he narrated what he had done to the daimio of the province, who instead of blaming, congratulated him and sent him back in security to his lord’s territory.”


He continues on pages 87-88 by describing the duel between Musashi and Kojiro and then finishes discussing Musashi by writing, “Any who wish to see how much the vendetta was prevalent in Japan should read the voluminous book called Sho koku Kataki uchi Ni hon Musashi Kagami ( 諸 國 敵 討 日 本 武 士 鑑 ).”


On my first reading of this passage, I assumed Dautremer was referencing the Japanese book from which he had drawn the examples about Musashi.  However, a closer inspection reveals that there are some problematic aspects to the kanji and the roman transliteration Dautremer provides.

First, although it’s true that Musashi’s name contains the character 武 , the name is not (usually?) written 武士 , but rather 武蔵 .  However, 武士 is another word, bushi or warrior, that would make perfect sense in this context.  So, I think Dautremer has made a mistake.  The title is more likely shokoku katakiuchi Nihon bushi kagami, or something like “the pattern of Japanese warrior vendetta from several regions.”

Second, when I try to translate the first two characters 諸國 in Google Translate, it tells me they should be read “shokuni,” rather than “shokoku.”  However, there is another similar-looking kanji 諸国 , which has virtually the same meaning and which Google Translate tells me should be read “shokoku.”  So, I think it is at least possible that Dautremer got these kanji mixed up.  What is the relevance?  We can see that 諸国敵討日本武士鑑 is a 5-volume work from 1696, as seen (reprinted?) here:


We can see that 諸國敵討日本武士鑑 is also an old book [PDF – search for “諸國” in the document], but I cannot find a date associated with it, so are these the same books or two different ones?  I don’t have the resources to say.  Are there perhaps several volumes with very similar names?  I note that a PhD dissertation by Drake Langford, written last year, refers to a book called Shokoku katakiuchi Kokon Nihon bushi kagami, which is translated as “Vendetta Across the Lands: A Mirror of Japanese Samurai Past and Present.”  I can’t find the kanji associated with this dissertation topic, but there are at least two differences with the work cited by Dautremer: (1) the addition of kokon (“ancient and modern times”), which means  古今 should be in the Japanese title; and (2) the translation of kagami as “mirror” rather than “pattern”, or 鏡 instead of 鑑 –two different kanji with the same reading.  The presence of this other book with a similar yet different title suggests that there may have actually been several volumes of vendetta stories circulating in 19th-century Japan with similar titles.  At any rate, a summary of Langford’s dissertation makes no mention of Musashi, so I think it is an open question whether Musashi’s story is included in Dautremer’s 諸國敵討日本武士鑑 .

On a second reading of Dautremer’s vendetta article, I also noticed that on page 85 he appears to cite a completely different work in association with the Musashi story, the Miyamoto bu yu den 宮本武勇傳 .  Although 傳 is not a kanji that appears in the Japanese database for Google Translate and only appears once in the Jim Breen WWWJDIC in the title of a book, the Chinese character translates as “biography,” so the “biography of Miyamoto’s martial valour.”  Here, I will simply note in passing that this book and one with the same title written with the more common kanji 伝 both return many hits in Google, but seem to apply to a wide range of topics, including comic books, boxing, etc.  However, both are cited in Google Books as Japanese publications from 1886 and 1854.

Anyhow that is the story of Musashi’s first appearance in English literature: a Frenchman named Joseph Dautremer referred to him in an article on samurai vendettas published in 1885.

Again, what would really be of interest is to know how Dautremer came into contact with the Miyamoto bu yu den or the Shokoku katakiuchi Nihon bushi kagami.  Were the stories of Musashi so popular at the time that every Japanese knew them?  Was the fact that westerners weren’t writing home about Musashi a quirk that failed to reflect that any westerner living around Tokyo in the 19th century would have known about Musashi?  These are questions I am completely unable to answer given my inability in Japanese and lack of resources here in Kyoto.  If you know the answers, please leave a message in the comments or e-mail me.