In the interests of full disclosure, I was given this book for review purposes
Title: Samurai Castles
Author: Jennifer Mitchel Hill; Photographs by David Green
I like to think of martial arts as a gateway drug. If you do any research on the history of any martial art, you will have to delve into the history, politics, and sociology of the country of origin for the martial art. In order to really, deeply understand the Japanese martial arts, you'll have to look into the samurai. That leap alone brings in so much art, history, and yes.. architecture. This book may be on the fringes of what's I consider a martial arts book, but it's definitely martial arts adjacent, and sometimes you need some of the background information to fill in the bigger picture of how, when, and why a martial art was developed.
This book starts off giving a brief history of the how and why of castles in Japan. It includes some features common enough to be considered normal. However, the main part of the book is the 24 castles that the book explains and details. Each castle gets its own write-up, map, and some really beautiful pictures to accompany the history given. Mrs. Hill and Mr. Green did an amazing collaboration on this book.
I've never been a fan of coffee table books, but now I want to get a coffee table, just to put this book on it. The write ups are brief enough that you can read it in a few minutes, but long enough to give you a good overview of each individual castle. Besides the gorgeous pictures, one of the things I liked the best was the "Points of Interest" with each castle. It also gives you a little bit of a travel guide. The "Make sure you see this" aspect. In fact, my wife and I started planning our trip to Japan based of this book. This book made me want to travel to Japan, and experience these places myself. I can't think of a higher compliment.
The only con I could give would be the same thing I said in the introduction. This is a martial arts adjacent book. If you are looking for a martial arts book, or a history of the samurai book, then this isn't for you. If you are interested in expanding your cultural understanding of samurai and how they lived in order to deepen you understanding of your martial art, then this is a great book. Just having it around your house for guests to see should start up conversations... or make you decide on your travel plans.
I've basically said how much I loved the book. The pictures alone are worth the price of admission. It has tremendous pictures that really capture a certain calm aspect that the castles were originally designed to emote. The write ups are brief, but fulfilling and accurate. If you wanted to plan a trip around Japan to visit samurai castles, there are a lot of worse places to start. This book gives you enough to organized your trip around. The only reason I don't rate this book higher is, as I said, it is not a true martial arts book. It does help you get into the heads of those who developed the Japanese martial arts, and that should be enough to draw in many readers. Which means I'm going to give this book 3.5 out of 5 Ninja Stars. Read it. Enjoy it. Or just look at the pictures.