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The Lost Samurai (Hardback)

Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593–1688

Frontline Books Frontline: 17th-19th Century Military 17th Century 16th Century

By Stephen Turnbull
Frontline Books
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526758989
Published: 2nd March 2021



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The Lost Samurai reveals the greatest untold story of Japan’s legendary warrior class, which is that for almost a hundred years Japanese samurai were employed as mercenaries in the service of the kings of Siam, Cambodia, Burma, Spain and Portugal, as well as by the directors of the Dutch East India Company.

The Japanese samurai were used in dramatic assault parties, as royal bodyguards, as staunch garrisons and as willing executioners. As a result, a stereotypical image of the fierce Japanese warrior developed that had a profound influence on the way they were regarded by their employers.

Whilst the Southeast Asian kings tended to employ samurai on a long-term basis as palace guards, their European employers usually hired them on a temporary basis for specific campaigns. Also, whereas the Southeast Asian monarchs tended to trust their well-established units of Japanese mercenaries, the Europeans, whilst admiring them, also feared them. In every European example a progressive shift in attitude may be discerned from initial enthusiasm to great suspicion that the Japanese might one day turn against them, as illustrated by the long-standing Spanish fear of an invasion of the Philippines by Japan accompanied by a local uprising.

It also suggested that if, during the 1630s, Japan had chosen engagement with Southeast Asia rather than isolation from it, the established presence of Japanese communities overseas may have had a profound influence on the subsequent development of international relations within the area, perhaps even seeing the early creation of an overseas Japanese empire that would have provided a rival to Great Britain. Instead Japan closed its doors, leaving these fierce mercenaries stranded in distant countries never to return: lost samurai indeed!

"Definitely a book that explores a little-known area of Japanese history."

Read the review here

Portland Book Review

"The portrayal of the historical actors is fascinating, sometimes even moving, and Turnbull successfully contextualizes the story with interesting political, diplomatic, and military insights on the stormy period of Ming-Qing transition."

Journal of Military History

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a interesting book about Samurai, I enjoyed going through this book as it was well researched and interesting. I would read another book by Mr. Turnbull.

NetGalley, Kay McLeer

This book provides an interesting look at the Samurai from this period in Japanese history and gives a different perspective of what a Samurai warrior was. This book will definitely appeal both to historians interested in the Samurai, but also will be a great resource for those war gamers wanting to campaign outside of Japan and utilize Samurai warriors in their forces. It would also be a useful for those interested in a possible alternative history campaign where the warring clans expand over seas fighting for additional territory. I found the book quite an interesting read and would highly recommend anyone interested in the Samurai or Japanese history to pick up a copy.

Irregular magazine, Issue 16 Volume 2 / Summer 2021 - review by Jason Hubbard

Turnbull is without peer in bringing the complex world of the Samurai to a public audience yet works like this demonstrate that he is no lightweight historian. This is also a bit of a detour for Turnbull, away from the history of Japan he clearly loves and into southeast Asia with its ancient civilizations and early modern European interlopers. Turnbull follows the sources, sketchy as they might be sometimes, to paint a colourful picture of individual and collective exploits, some of them very gruesome indeed. He also provides the background and context for the use of Japanese mercenaries, which uncovers a familiar but alien world in many respects. The structure of Turnbull’s book is short, self-contained chapters like an edited book of essays on a theme, and it works well, though some chapters are deeper than others. Readers interested in the Samurai and southeast Asian early modern history will no doubt enjoy this book.

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Beating Tsundoku

The book has drawn upon much detailed research, archival sources and it references many documents from the period. This volume is quite superb, and the author needs congratulating for this. He has produced a remarkably interesting book which undoubtedly will have many surprises to the reader as the author has uncovered many previously little-known details about expatriate Samurai history. Those people who are interested in Japanese martial history should read this tome as it will give you a vastly different perspective to the “traditional” image of the Samurai. These were Samurai who fought for foreign masters and eventually they became “Wild Geese” who could not return to their home islands after Japan closed its borders. This book will have many surprises for the reader and anyone with an interest in Samurai history / culture ought to read this wonderful tome.

Dr Stuart C Blank

An inherently fascinating, impressively well written, exceptionally informative, and meticulously detailed history, "The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593 - 1688" is a unique and unreservedly work of seminal scholarship. Enhanced for academia with the inclusion of a thirteen page Bibliography and a four page Index, "The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593 - 1688" is an extraordinary and especially recommended addition to community, college and university library Japanese/India/Philippines history collections in general, and Samurai Martial History reading lists in particular.

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Midwest Book Review

This is a fascinating read and something that warrants further investigation. If you are interested in the martial cultures of Japan and the samurai, this is an excellent book to give you a very different set of stories.

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Medieval Sword School

An interesting and engaging read, I have an interest in Japanese history and culture , but I’m no expert, so I found this book well presented, immersive and really interesting, it really was well thought out, researched and laid out. Thoroughly recommended to anyone interested in history, Japan or even war, great read.

NetGalley, Tara Keating

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A very interesting book looking into a history group that I honestly had no idea had even been around, but this book was engaging and well written . History and Japanese buffs will love this book!

NetGalley, Heather Bennett

As my father was captured at the fall of Singapore, I wanted to know more detail of the Japanese in battle.
The book tells the history of the Samurai very well.
I learnt much more about the Japanese way of thinking.
Ron - FEPOW Family

Ronnie Taylor

About Stephen Turnbull

Stephen Turnbull took his first degree at Cambridge and has two MAs (in Theology and Military History) from Leeds University. In 1996 he received a PhD from Leeds for his thesis on Japan’s ‘Hidden Christians’. In its published form the work won the Japan Festival Literary Award in 1998. Having lectured widely in East Asian Studies and Theology he is now retired and pursues an active literary career. His expertise has helped with numerous projects including films, television and the award-winning strategy game Shogun Total WarThe Lost Samurai is his 82nd book to be published.

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