THE SAMURAI’S GARDEN
Summary: Hiro Tanaka prepared for a life as a samurai warrior. But his world changed when Japan’s feudal system was abolished by the Emperor. Now, he must find a new vocation. Disillusioned with fighting and violence, he travels alone, going north to the island of Hokkaido. Many other samurai wander through the country and are known as Ronin. Some have forsaken their honorable way to prey on the less fortunate.
Hanako Shimizu experienced first-hand the devastation caused by these disreputable wanderers. The previous winter, they raided her farm and killed her husband. Now, she needs to rebuild but has no money and no prospects — except for the dubious intentions of the town merchant.
When Hiro, tired of his wandering, encounters Hanako in the market, arguing with the merchant, he poses as her late husband’s cousin then offers to help her on the farm in exchange for a place to stay. Working on the land, Hiro finally finds the peace he has been seeking. But the reappearance of the rogue Ronin, led by an unscrupulous leader from Hiro’s past, forces him to take up his swords again. But now, the stakes are higher.
This time, he’s fighting from the heart.
I rarely, okay never, read about historical Japan, despite my love for history and how rich the history of Japan is. But, author Patricia Kiyono gave me the opportunity to read The Samurai’s Garden and I was enchanted not just by the characters, but the setting, rich in detail and tone. Set in late 19th century Japan, Kiyono takes her readers through a poignant love story amidst the fading world of the Bushido, the Way of the Warrior.
At the heart of the story is the widowed Hanako and the former Samurai, Hiro. Hanako has nothing but a floundering farm, left to her upon the death of her less than honorable husband. She meets Hiro, a handsome young warrior who comes to her aid at the local market. Needing a place to stay, Hiro offers to work for the young widow in exchange for a bed and food to eat. What follows is a sweet, slow building love story, the romance between Hiro and Hanako an echo of Hanako’s farm which grows and flourishes under the tender, but firm, hands of the couple. As Hiro becomes a vital part of Hanako’s life, so does his worth increase within the community. Lost after the Samurai disbanded, Hiro finds his calling and destiny on a little farm snuggled deep in the northern part of Japan.
There is much to like about this novel. The author clearly does her homework, accurately portraying this transitional time in Japan’s history and the country’s formal customs. Even the narrative, told from numerous points of view, is laced with the formal tone expected of the people of that time period. Yet, by no means does the cultural lesson detract from the story. And, above all this is Hiro’s story. With the dissolution of the Samurai, he sets out on a journey of self-discovery, learning that being a warrior is just part of who he is rather than the whole.