Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More Turnbull: Japanese Castles AD 250-1540

Well, Stephen Turnbull is nothing if not prolific. Only a week or so after the release of his latest book (The Samurai Swordsman: Master of War), he’s hit the stands with another tome-Japanese Castles AD 250-1540. It’s published by Osprey and despite its brevity (the standard Osprey 64 pages, over half of which are diagrams and illustrations) is an excellent effort by Turnbull.

The book delves into the history of Japanese fortifications before the age of the monster castles in the sixteenth century, a subject which has received little attention in English publications (since, obviously, only ruins and reconstructions remain of them). Despite the book’s title, it examines palaces and defensive works as well as castles. The development of fortifications is traced from early Yayoi period fortified settlements through Korean style fortresses of the Yamato state and the crude early Japanese style forts of the Heian age. Castles from the Kamakura and Muromachi periods are examined, and their development is brought up to the beginning of the ‘castle town’ era of the Sengoku (as embodied in the Asakura’s Ichijodani). Turnbull also examines the day to day life within the structures as well as the roles that some played in history. There’s also a short section on castle sites from these eras that can be visited today. Although Turnbull’s bibliography only contains one Japanese source, the English works he uses are impressive, solid, scholarly efforts by well respected authors. Our pal Obenjo Kusanosuke will no doubt want to check out Matsui Akira’s “Palaeoparasitology in Japan-Discovery of Toilet Features”!

The book is also valuable for its plethora of photos and illustrations. Turnbull has taken many nice photos of buildings and structures from reconstructed fortresses, and the book works well as an informal visual reference to the architecture of the times-well worth the cheap cover price just for this. The color artwork plates have been prepared by illustrator Peter Dennis, and are very well done, crisp renditions of the structures as they would have appeared in their own time. They’re a big upgrade over some of the rather murky representations done in some of Turnbull’s other books by different artists.

Overall, Japanese Castles AD 250-1540 continues the trend Turnbull has displayed the last couple of years-that of better and more detailed research resulting in more original works, yet still suited to a general readership. Combined with his three earlier volumes on Sengoku and Edo period castles (Japanese Castles 1540-1640), Japanese Fortified Temples and Monasteries, and Japanese Castles in Korea 1592-1598, they comprise a low cost set of books that will give their readers a solid overview of pre-modern Japanese fortifications.

In more Turnbull news, it's been announced that he is releasing Real Ninja: Over 20 True Stories of Seafaring Sculduggery in September for the kids. Seemingly a combination of ninja and pirates, it looks like REAL ULTIMATE POWER is being served up for the next generation of Japanese historians.