June 5, 2014

Who says books can’t change the world? 400-year-old pirate feud solved by bestseller in Japan


Books 1 and 2 of Murakami Kaizoku no Musume

Books 1 and 2 of Murakami Kaizoku no Musume

How long do you think you could feasibly hold a grudge? It doesn’t matter, because I can guarantee that this group of Japanese pirates have you beaten.

In 1576 (that’s four hundred years prior to the release of Station to Station for David Bowie fans) the Murikami Suigun, a collection of several Japanese pirate clans based around the islands in Osaka Bay, became embroiled in the Battle of Kizugawaguchi, part of Oda Nobunaga’s bloody attempt to unify (aka conquer) Japan.

The pirates fought on the side of the Mori clan, an indie holdout which had successfully thwarted Oda Nobunaga’s onslaught by establishing a naval supply fleet between the islands and the mainland. This was working pretty well until Oda Nobunaga sent a fleet of iron-plated warships. Let me repeat. IRON-PLATED WARSHIPS. In 1576. History is cool.

So, after the various pirate clans were whupped, one of them, the Kurushima Murakami clan, did the unthinkable . . .

. . . they sided with the enemy.

The two other clans, Innoshima and Noshima, were mad. Not Mean Girls mad. Not even Hamlet mad. They took their fury to such an extreme length that the members of the clans didn’t speak to one another for 440 years. That’s about 17 generations, or the equivalent of you still bearing a grudge against Shakespeare because he gave your distant ancestor a swirlie. (Just imagine a swirlie in 1576! Or better yet, don’t.)

So, how exactly do you heal a four and a half century difference of opinions? Apparently with a bestselling work of fiction.

Murakami Kaizoku no Musume (“Daughter of a Murakami Pirate”), a work of historical fiction by Ryo Wada quickly leapt to bestseller status after it was awarded the Honya Taisho prize.  The novel depicts the various battles, allegiances, and betrayals of Oda Nobunaga’s campaign, and of course it’s already being released as an epic action movie in Japan.

When Wada came to speak at a museum in Imabari, a mainland city near the islands, the descendants of all three clans came face to face for the first time since the feud began.

They, chatted, shook hands, and agreed to put their disagreements aside. Noriko Murakami, a descendant of the Innoshima clan said, “I feel deep gratitude that the three families can see one another again. I hope to interact with them from now on.”

So there you have it! And authors take note, because solving a feud is probably easier than writing the next great American novel. Here’s some source material to get you started.


Amy Conchie is assistant to the publisher at Melville House.