“I have waited eagerly for the day when Unsung Heroes of Old Japan would be translated into English and made available to people around the world. I wrote the book with the faint hope that people might one day become more like the men and women portrayed here. Whether humanity has any universal values, I can’t say. But looking back over the sweep of human history, I am convinced that values like those shown here result in happiness for the individual and society.”
(From ‘Preface to the English edition’ by the author)
True stories of three little-known Japanese of the Edo period who lived lives of sublime selflessness and purity, blurring the boundary between self and others.
Merchant Kokudaya Juzaburo comes up with a brilliant scheme to rescue his dying town from poverty. He and others go deep into debt, risking all to raise money for the cash-strapped daimyo and receive annual interest in return.
Prodigious scholar and former Zen monk Nakane Tori refuses a government post and elects to live in abject poverty, weaving sandals. Though perhaps the age's greatest poet, he throws his works into the fire and ends his days teaching in a country village.
Otagaki Rengetsu, a noted beauty in Kyoto, loses two husbands and five children. She becomes a Buddhist nun and devotes her life to poetry and pottery. With her savings she feeds the hungry and builds a bridge across Kamo River.