Sunday, November 10, 2013

"The Tokaido Road" by Lucia St. Clair Robson, Historical Novelist.

This is an account of Japan's most famous revenge story set in 1702.

So lonely am I 
My soul is a floating weed 
Severed at the roots 

This is how Lady Asano has felt since the forced suicide of her father. Adrift in a dangerous world, she vows to avenge her father’s death and restore his name to honor. To do so, she will have to travel the Tokaido Road.

As the novel opens, Lady Asano has transformed herself into Cat, a high-ranking courtesan, to support her widowed mother. Yet Cat’s career is temporary; the powerful Lord Kira’s campaign against her family is continuing and she must find Oishi, leader of the samurai of the Asano clan, weapons master, philosopher, and Cat’s teacher. Cat believes he is three hundred miles to the southwest in the imperial city of Kyoto.

Disguising her loveliness in the humble garments of a traveling priest, Cat begins her quest. All she has is her samurai training—in Haiku and Tanka poetry, in the use of the deadly six-foot weapon, the naginata, and in Japanese Zen thought. And she will need them all, for a ronin, a lordless samurai—Tosa no Hanshiro, has been hired to trail her.

    Author Lucia Robson, who wrote "The Tokaido Road" has written a book about one of, if not the single most important tale to come out of medieval Japan,-The 47 Ronin. It should be noted Japan's medieval period lasted from roughly 1185 through the later part of the 1800's. Almost 700 hundred years of feudalism and medieval societal structure. Luckily for us, Robson agreed to talk about her remarkable book.

Q: Why did you write this book? I know this is a very wide and open ended sentence.

A: I lived in Japan for a year in 1970. I choose to live there because I was a huge Samurai movie fan... particularly the films featuring Toshiro Mifune. So when looking for the subject of my fourth book, The story of the 47 Ronin came to mind.

(The 47 Ronin is considered to be the Japanese national epic story of devotion and duty to one's lord.)

Q: Yet you choose to write your story from a female perspective. Why?

A: I always try to avoid the road most traveled. So many books, plays, movies, etc have been written about the 47 I wanted to give it a different POV. Some accounts say Lord Asano had an outside daughter, so I went with her.

(An outside daughter was a child that was born out of love and not through duty.)

Q: If you would tell us more about your main character Cat? And why the name Cat?-(As the father to a 12 year old daughter, I actively seek out authors, books, personalities for her to read up on, or even emulate. I want her to know there is a world for her where a strong woman can live in.)

A:You expressed exactly why I choose to write about strong women who can defend themselves. In a way the fictional character, Cat, inspired my own life. Now that I think of it, I started taking martial arts AFTER I wrote her story.

 My editor asked me why I decided to depart from stories about American Indians. I told her I wanted to write a story with a happy ending. She said, "Only you could consider an ending happy where 47 people disembowel themselves." I said, "But my heroine got to live."

I had a T-shirt with a Japanese woodblock print of a cat sitting in a window in the Pleasure District. Also, Neko-chans, cats, are independent, self-reliant, fast, agile, but also lovable. Seemed a good name for her, since women in the Pleasure District took new names.

Q: What was it called? The Flower and Willow world? A place for a woman to disappear into and remake herself...

A: It had a number of names. And yes, that was why it was better to make Cat Asano's "illegitimate" daughter, since she would be the object of spite from his widow. My friend Yoji Kondo pointed that out to me. Yoji suggested I make her the child by an "outside wife."

Q: Women born into Samurai families were they given or received martial arts training?

A: Women of the Samurai class were expected to be the last defense of their Lord's castle. Above each door hung a Naginata. Cat would have received training in any case.

Q: As far as influences go, did you read "The Tale of Genji?"

A: Can't write about old Japan without making the acquaintance of Genji. But with 187 other sources, I can't say it was a major influence. It is interesting that Japanese women were writing fiction in that era.

(The Tale of Genji was written by a woman courtier named Murasaki Shikibu in 1021. 45 years before William the Conqueror decided to invade England. 1021 Is early in any culture to write a novel. Again to me it shows spirit and determination will overcome just about any cultural bindings.)

A: Excellent point. On the other hand, Japanese culture has always encouraged poetry and the arts, certainly among the upper classes. And upper class women did have time on their hands. Being able to write elegant Kanji was a mark of breeding even then.

Q: It is this point in the conversation I turn the floor over to you... give us one last insight to your remarkable story of a strong willed daughter bent on avenging her father's death.

A: I will admit this about "The Tokaido Road. When asked what book of mine I favor I duck and dodge and say that's like asking which of your children you prefer. But the truth is, Tokaido Road will always be my favorite. My trips back to Japan were so full of wonder, and the book reseach was fascinating. In my office I have a photo of me taken at the graves of the 47 at Sengakuji in 1970... so the interest goes way back.

Lucia St. Clair Robson, thank you for your time, and willingness to share your work with myself, and my readers. This has been a wonderful.

DS Baker.

Here is the link to Lucia St. Clair Robson's official website:

Here is the link to her book, from her official website:

Lucia St. Clair Robson listing on Amazon:

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