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2007 – The 47th Samurai

From the back cover of the Advance Readers Edition:

One afternoon Bob Lee Swagger gets a surprising visitor: a retired Japanese Colonel named Philip Yaho has researched the battles on Iwo Jima and believes Swagger’s father killed his on Mount Suribachi. He is also searching for the miitary sword his father used in the battle. Swagger manages to track it down and personally delivers it to Yano in Tokyo. When they examine it, it turns out to be not an old standard issue military weapon, but an ancient samurai sword, a national treasure. A few days later, the Yano family is murdered, their house burned to the ground, and the sword stolen. Compelled to solve the crime and recover the blade, Swagger enters not only Tokyo’s criminal underbelly, but also the violent, obsessive world of the Samurai.

Booklist is a magazine of book reviews published by the American Library Association. It is the holy grail of book reviews. The July 1 edition included a review of The 47th Samurai with a star, denoting “a work judged to be outstanding in its genre”:

This is the novel Hunter’s fans have been waiting for, the book that brings together his father-and-son protagonists: Earl Swagger, World War II hero and hard-nosed cop, and Bob Lee Swagger, Vietnam sniper and, like his father, the kind of guy who can’t say no to righteous violence. Until now, Earl and Bob have each starred in their own books, but this time, ingeniously, Hunter brings them together when Bob is contacted by a retired Japanese soldier, Philip Yano, who believes that his father’s samurai sword may have wound up in Earl’s hands after the war. Bob tracks down the sword, travels to Japan, and presents it to Yano—after which the Yano family is slaughtered. Bob could walk away, but, of course, he doesn’t.

Throwing himself into samurai culture, he learns swordsmanship from a master and sets off to avenge the Yanos—and, in a sense, his father. Sure, this sounds clichéd, but much of Hunter’s genius comes from his ability to manipulate archetypes—especially the classic western scenario of the lone avenger—drawing on the almost subconscious pull these themes exert on the reader but always infusing them with multiple layers of complexity. As Bob is drawn into the samurai world, and tension builds to the inevitable confrontation with his adversary—a modern samurai seduced by the dark side—Hunter simultaneously fuels our need for bloody resolution and reveals the horrors wrought by devotion to honor and duty. But this time he does it with parallel narratives—juxtaposing the story of Earl Swagger and Philip Yano’s father against the contemporary drama and playing off the same themes across generations.

This is probably Hunter’s most violent novel—and that’s saying something—but violence may have never been more integral to story than it is here. Hunter celebrates the samurai soldier while showing the appalling underside of the samurai way of life and the ideals that drive it.

— Bill Ott



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41 Responses to “2007 – The 47th Samurai”

  1. Wes Says:

    Just finished this book and I could not put it down. Nothing like an old guy like Bob Lee learning a new thing. I actually almost got put out of my own bedroom by my wife because I couldn’t stop reading this. Mr. Hunter, great book. Thanks and I look forward to the next one by you.

  2. Michael Rinaldi Says:

    Just recently I finished “47th Samurai”. I found it to be exciting, intriquing and very entertaining. Being nearly the same age as Bob Lee Swagger, a retired police sniper and a long time student of Kendo and other martial arts, I saw a little of Bob Lee in myself. I felt I truly knew him and could understand his frustrations and challanges. It is hard for us “old warriors” to accept that we are not same “young warriors” we used to be. I feel Mr. Hunter truly captured the spirit of the samurai and the spirit of the sword. I have read all the books in the Bob Lee saga and greatly look forward to the next. Thank You Mr. Hunter.

  3. Michael Mayfield-Brown Says:

    I picked up 47th Samurai at the National Book Festival in DC and got it signed by Mr. Hunter while I was there. That book is one of my favorites and I’m glad I didn’t miss out on it. I look forward to reading your other works.

  4. Forrest Anderson Says:

    Steven Hunter is one of my ‘must read’ authors. I truly enjoy the hero figures that he creates, as well as, the situations that he puts them under. This novel had one trivial error that might only be noticed by seasoned motorcyclists. The Japanese have unique motorcycle licensing. Only two in ten get their license and they have to start on very small machines and to get a slightly bigger machine they have to take another test. And since they only allow one test per person annually it would take three to five years of riding experience to qualify to ride/own 400 cc machine. By that time they would be very good riders, not the scared, inexperienced rider portrayed in this novel. However, this did not keep me from enjoying this very exciting story.

  5. Chris G Says:

    I have read all of Stephen Hunters books and loved them all especially books with the Swaggers in them, although Dirty white Boys was outstanding.The 47th Samurai was FANTASTIC I could not put it down. Great job Mr Hunter and I look forward to your next book.
    Chris G

  6. Bob F Says:

    I’m halfway through The 47th Samurai now, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s the first Stephen Hunter book I’ve read, and I plan to read more. One thing that puzzles me, though, is why some of the main Japanese characters have English first names (i. e. Philip Yano and family, Nick Yamamoto, etc). This would be very unusual in Japan. Do you know why?

  7. larrys Says:

    Hi,

    “47″ was a great read. Too bad it went in 2 days. Going to get “Night” this week. Have read all the books SH has written, and always look forward to the next one.

    As far as the small discrepancies in each book, I would like to remind people that this is a work of fiction, a book, not the sea scrolls!

    Thanks,

    Larry,

    Las Vegas

  8. Gary Romano Says:

    Just finished the book and really enjoyed it. I put the book down and laughed hysterically for 5 straight minutes when Bob Lee said to NII, “the reason you are fat is because you are full of shit”.
    I am a lifetime martial artist and now earn my living teaching. This book captured so much of the Japanese martial art mindset regardless of wether it is Karate or Kendo. It all goes back to the Samurai.
    My only only issue. One week of training??? (ha ha) But who knows, maybe Bob Lee could pull it off.
    Absolutely love your books Mr. Hunter.

  9. V M Barnett Says:

    I just finished the book. My second of Stephen Hunter’s novels. It was great! He delivers just the right balance of action and inner thoughts that keeps you propelling forward to finish the book. I enjoyed reading the relationships between father and son that was so dominant throughout this book.

    His writing lacks reality on the husband-wife relationship. She seems a little too willing to accept his “adventures” without question or much fuss; but then it’s written from a man’s point of view (and a military man at that). That’s a psyche I don’t fully comprehend.

    I’m not Japanese, but I am 1/2 Asian, and Mr. Hunter also describes accurately the complexities formed from generations of traditions, prejudices, and obligations that very few non-Asians can understand. It’s ingrained in the back of your mind even if you are from a more modern generation.

    I wanted a scene where he goes back to the father of the slain Shogun. Perhaps giving him back the sword used to kill his son instead of destroying it — Bob not being able to destroy a work of art. The bitter-sweet regret of accepting inevitability from the father-son tragedy. Then the history forever displayed in museums where the emotions eventually die off and the items become just artifacts with interesting legends.

  10. Bob Cotsobilionis Says:

    I read this book *after* “Night of Thunder.” It is a better effort than NOT, but still not up to the standards set by Hunter’s earlier works. Bob Lee Swagger should not have been chosen as the protagonist of this story. He’s a sniper, not a swordsman, and he’s too old to keep up with Kondo Isami. A better choice for the protagonist would have been Russ Pewtie, the itinerant journalist from “Dirty White Boys” and “Black Light,” who developed an interest in martials arts when he found an old sword in the closet …. Pewtie would have been young enough and could have been fleshed out into an interesting character. Instead we have the old warhorse BLS, a round character in a square plot if ever there was one. The action scenes of Earl Swagger on Iwo Jima are outstanding, although his tête-à-tête with Hideki Yano is preposterous given what we know historically about the battle. Neither Earl nor Hideki would have asked or given quarter regardless of the circumstances.

  11. Jay W. Davis Says:

    I had not read anything for a while, and bought “47th Samurai” on a whim. I couldn’t believe how good my luck was that day. I read this book relentlessly, and loved every page. As a writer, I am SUPER picky when it comes to storytelling. Hunter nailed this story. I talked so highly of it, my wife bought me six or so more of Hunter’s books for Christmas. I can’t wait to dig in :)

  12. Arthur Wentz Says:

    I just finished reading the 7th Samurai. I just wanted to tell you i couldn’t put it down. I meant to go to sleep at 7 in the morning as i work nights but it is now after 11. It was a great book, which i should also add i have not found a book of yours that i haven’t found to be a great book). I onw almost all your books and will still go back and read some of them like Hot Springs. Keep up writing the great books and I will keep buying and reading them.
    Arthur Wentz

  13. Richard Love Says:

    First, let me say that I have read all of S.H.’s books and enjoyed every one. My favorites are Point of Impact and Dirty White Boys. That said, while I read it cover-to-cover in one long super Sunday, I found The 47th Samurai a bit of a disappointment. I loved the interweaving of Earl and Bob Lee, but couldn’t help but think that our venerable hero is a bit too old for this adventure. His one week of training strains credulity but mostly it reminded me of the Karate Kid – the plot device of the novice seeking training from the master is pretty tired and (IMHO) not worthy of Bob Lee. Really, scrub the dojo, find the world in the tiny and mundane? Why not just say “wax on, wax off” and get it over with? In addition, the sword fight in the snow reminded me way too much of the fight at the end of Kill Bill, Vol. 1. And I agree with a previous poster, what wife would be so understanding? Still, even mediocre Hunter is better than most others, so I will eagerly read Night of Thunder and hope for the best.

  14. Douglas Dickens Says:

    Master swordsman in 3 days, not even a Swagger!!!! I was waiting for Kando to pull his kryptonite tipped sword…First time my bullshit alarm went of in Hunter novel, even though some of the stuff portrayed in past novels has been a bit out there.

  15. David Grenfell Says:

    Awesome. I haven’t carried a book back and forth from home to work/lunch book since reading Dan Simmons Illium. I give 47th the edge on Point of Impact(which I lend to any friend who will take it). I am a sucker for a good author doing the hard work of studying a society and then thrusting something interesting(like Bob Lee) into it. Enough chit chat, Night of Thunder is waiting.

  16. Maluko Says:

    i picked up the french versiob of the 47th Samurai on a library and i enjoyed it !!
    if one like yakuzas'stories it is a book to read ! like "Bangkok Tattoo" or "tokyo blues" !
    keep on the good work !!!

  17. Alan Tang Says:

    Wow! Someone ( my regular bookshop owner [sultanabooks@pacific.net.sg] recomended that I read this book sinceI have almost finished all of John Grisham, Wilbur Smith, Jeffrey Archer, Federick Forsyth etc… whom are my favourites. After chapter 1, I never put it down! That was an awesome read. Well re-searched quite accurate and authentic in terms of Jap culture and characteristics esp on Samurai swords and it's customs and traditions! I think I will read more of Hunter's books! The problem is that it is quite diff to get his books in Singapore!

  18. Dom Says:

    Enjoyed this, despite the overabundance of significant coincidences the plot required (not to mention the extreme implausibility of Bob Lee becoming a sufficiently proficient swordsman in one week). But one thing niggled at me: his daughter's 23? So Point of Impact was set in 1984? Certainly the time that has passed between the novel sin the real world does not seem accurately reflected within them. . . .

  19. Annoyed Grunt Says:

    I'm somewhat of two minds when it comes to this book. I can fully understand why someone wouldn't like it. Bob Lee is too old and too battered to become a master swordsman at all, let alone in a week. I can't dispute that. However, I've seen my share of the Asian swordplay movies that clearly inspired Hunter to write the novel. There's almost always one implausible element you have to accept to enjoy them. For example, there's a series called Zatoichi where the main character has far fancier moves than Bob Lee and he's BLIND! If you have the same mind set as Hunter as he wrote the novel you'll enjoy it more.

    However, Time to Hunt seemed like the logical end for Bob the Nailer and this just seemed unnecessary in comparison. Maybe a lot of these problems could have been skirted if Hunter had just come up with a new character for this story.

  20. Chris Kerr Says:

    My wife and I loved this book. We're heading to Tokyo with our teen sons for the Christmas '09 holidays and were wondering is there are any sights Hunter would particularly recommend. We've tagged the sites in the book, the cemetery and veterans memorial grounds; we think we'll keep the boys out of the randiest parts of Shinjuku. Any suggestions are welcome. Thank you.
    Chris Kerr
    christopherker@gmail.com

  21. RockHardy Says:

    IntenseDebate Notification <DIV dir=ltr align=left>approve</DIV>
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  22. Phillip Varner Says:

    I just finished Night of Thunder and 47th Samurai (in that order). Both books kept me reading much farther into the night than I had intended. For the folks that wanted a different character than Bob Lee in 47th Samurai, I don't think the story would have worked with any other.These are very well written books. There are only a few authors that even come close to Mr Hunter's skill as a writer. There are some discrepancies and implausibilities but you should read Mr Hunter's comments at the end of the book. I would like to say that the Navy has not had Pharmacist's Mates since WWII and DEROS is strictly Army or Air Force. Thanks, Mr Hunter and I am looking forward to I'Sniper!

  23. Steve From Oz Says:

    Hi to all
    have just read 47th samurai… just so everyone knows i have read most of Mr Hunters books, point of impact being my fav..i read it over and over, the pages are falling out but still i read it..(if i could somehow capture every dvd copy of shooter the movie and have them all land perfectly into a red hot molten volcano i would, was a travesty ).. i only wish that i had never started the 47th samurai,, i dont mind a bit of poetic licence in a book, but this went beyond the pale.. i love the bob-lee character but to expect us avid readers to believe bob could dare to take on the yakusa and not only kill 5 in his first sword fight, but then to last more than 2 secs with a master and still win..please .i expect any of Mr Hunters japanese readers will be very disappointed with the way they are portrayed.. as for david grenfell at post 15 above , to suggest that this book is better than point of impact is surly a post sword fight rush of Adrenalin :) .. please dont take offence… well heres onto night thunder, hope it can wash away the horrible aftertaste of 47th samurai…

  24. Dan Says:

    I too just finished reading 47th Samurai. I had a very hard time believing a 60 something year old could learn the sword in one week regardless of who they are. Regardless though, it was a pretty decent read. I’m going to give Night of Thunder a try and see where it takes me.

  25. John Says:

    If I may I would bring to your attention the following minor discrepancies. Pages referenced are to the Pocket Star edition of The 47th Samurai.

    On p. 106 reference is made to the high tides at Tarawa. Were there high tides instead of the “dodging tides” encountered, the landing craft would have not grounded far from shore, necessitating the long wade to the beach under murderous fire.

    On p. 400 a one-tenth of a second fall would cover approximately two inches (0.16 feet). A seven foot fall would consume approximately seven tenths of a second, (0.66 to the nearest hundreth of a second). At 32.2 feet per second per second acceleration, at the end of one second a body falling under the earth’s gravitational acceleration would have travelled 16.1 feet and achieved a velocity of 32.2 feet per second.

    On p. 440 the satellite observed from three miles up. I am not familiar with Japanese airspace regulations but in the US that would require even my Cessna 172 to be aware of and dodge reconnaisance satellites. A naked eye view from that altitude would reveal very little detail.

    These are, I admit, minor details and in no way diminish the story. They were however immediately apparent to me. Perhaps because of my amateur historian, engineering, private pilot background.

    These minor anomalies being noted may I say I look forward with anticipation to reading more of Hunter’s work

  26. Count Stagger Says:

    I thought this was probably the weakest of the Swagger novels. By no means a bad book but by Hunter’s (very high) standards, something of a let-down.

    Generally when writers take a character outside their normal setting, it doesn’t work and taking the sniper Bob Lee into a Japanese setting, Hunter also fell into this trap. The idea that a 60-something Bob Lee could master samurai swordmanship in weeks, so as to defeat a young Japanese man who had studied it for years was a little patronising; we’ve already seen that sort of thing in The Last Samurai etc.

    Still, plenty of action and character development and some precious scenes with Earl (which will presumably be sadly increasingly rare, as Hunter is almost out of ‘lost’ parts of Swagger senior’s life to work into the novels). A good read – but let’s keep Bob Lee with a gun in his hand please.

  27. Headache Says:

    I am trying to find a cronilogical time order from the Bob Lee Swagger books written. Shooter, I Sniper, (maybe)Master Sniper. But then here the ones I have know a The 47th Samururai, and Night of Thunder. Two completely diffrernt tittles. Thanks for the help my reading frieds and cohaearts!!!
    email directly if you find a link with a listing chad.elias or gofastg6 both are @cox.net Thanks again!!!
    THanks

    Chad

  28. Joe Cunningham Says:

    After having read I, Sniper and going back and reading the compilations of Stephen Hunter’s movie reviews, I decided to give The 47TH Samurai a read. It was fantastic and now I eagerly look forward to Dead Zero which I understand will include the return of Susan Okada. Although I must say Bob Lee has to be getting a little ong-in-the-tooth doesn’t he?

  29. Doug R Says:

    Just finished 47th Samurai. A fun read (my third). Seems most improbable that a 60 year old could defeat even that 10 year old girl prodigy and make a contest of it in just a week. But it reminds me of an old samurai legend. A student walks into a kendo dojo and before he can sincerely express his desire to study is spotted by the sensei, who asks “I can see you are a master, tell me, what is your art?” The man replies, bowing, “sensei, I know nothing, I am here to seek the privilege of studying the sword with you, if you will have me as your student.” The sensei, skeptically, replies “I am a master, I know a master when I see one, I require honesty, what is your art?” The man replies “I have no formal art, however, I have given much thought to the way of the sword. I realize that death is the expected outcome, and I have overcome any fear I have ever had of death.” The master says “ahh, I see; well then you are already a master, the rest is merely a matter of technique.” The novel captures the point beautifully. Eight cuts is truly all you need, if you have the mindset of Bobby Lee. Every country has “Samurai”, no country has many.

  30. Jerry Welch Says:

    Mr. Hunter I’m sorry to admit that since my child hood had the TV inflence on me that I never gave reading a book took to long. This has changed from watching the DVD The shooter and catching your interview at the end of the movie. I did buy the DVD and watched it more times than I can count. I wanted to know more about the makeing of the DVD and to my surpirse found out about the book the movie had come. At that point in my life I had read only one book Thank You for the books you have writen I am on my fourth book in your series of Bob Lee Swagger. I have found from reeding my mind inserts the actor’s that I’ve seen on TV and in Movies into to the cheracter’s of the book. In Black Light Earl Swagger was played by Ron Perlman. In Point of Impact Bob Lee was Sam Elliott as well as in the 47th Samurai. Don’t take this the wrong way I liked Mark Wahlberg in the Shooter if not for that DVD I most likely would not have started reading. I do believe I have miss the entertainment your mind can add to a book by not takeing the time to reed. I do enjoy your books when into one I can’t put it down. Thank You again for opening up a new world to me by the way I’m 65 I have a lot of catching up to do. Jerry Welch

  31. R. Stephens Says:

    The 47th Samuari was my first book by Mr. Hunter. WOW!!! Since reading it a few weeks back, I have read Master Sniper and The Second Saladin. I curently have Target on order. I love his writing style and plan on completing each and every book based on when it was written by Mr. Hunter. Keep up the good work!!!!!!!!!!!!

  32. M Merry Says:

    I have read (several times) the Bob Lee and Earl series. I will admit that I have read the 47th Samurai far fewer times than many others. Does it strain credulity that Bob is using a katana rather than a .45 or a .308? Yes. Others have raised similar credulity issues with Pale Horse Coming. I think you have to do two thinks – look at the stories in the context of what they are (besides Earl and Bob stories). Pale horse coming is, at it’s heart, a western, and subject to some of the conventions of the genre. The 47th Samurai is, at it’s heart, a samurai tale. Doug R, above, makes an amazing point that is perfectly in line with that genre. Yes, Mr. Hunter is using characters that have become very dear to us at the heart of these tales, and the use of the 7 against Thebes is arguably more credible, but there iss something to be said for just enjoying the tale, warts, holes, improbable leaps and all that the author tells. And let’s face it – if there was any 60 year old in the early part of the new millenium that could pull it off, it’s Bob.

    And for what it’s worth, I had been reading Point of Impact since 95, and was also hesitant to see the story retold with Marky Mark – no disrepect to his abilities intended, I enjoy his acting ususally. Based upon the framework in which the story was reworked for movie, it was pretty good. I also happen to be a Tom Clancy fan, and have become used to taking the movie on it’s own merits, and not endlessly comparing it to the book. The same theory really applies – take it for what it is, and look at the story you are being told, and judge it on it’s merits.

  33. downsize Says:

    I have read everyone of Stephen Hunter’s books, and love them all. I personally feel Point of Impact is his best. For some reason, I chose for years to not read The 47th Samauri … I was foolishly rebelling at the thought of Bob Lee without a gun in his hands. Big Mistake ! Samurai just blew me away completely.
    There is only one other book, by one other author that I place on a pedestal as high as Mr. Hunters books, and that is Black Cross by Greg Iles. If you haven’t read it, you should !

  34. jim mawhinney Says:

    Dear sir. I recently received a copy of this book from a friend who thought I may be interested in reading it as I have an extensive knowledge of the martial arts.
    I indeed enjoyed reading the book and found it interesting as I trained in Japan and was able to relate to the place names mentioned as I have been to most of them.
    I did find a couple of Typo’s which I am sure you have been notified of but here goes 1 the description of the 4 ft. staff which was referred to as a “Bo” which is a 6ft staff. The 4 ft staff used in Aikido is a “Jo”
    secondly there was a reference to tying up the sleeves of the Hakama with the Sageo with a figure 8 loop. The top worn in which the sleeves need to be tied for sword work is a Keikogi The Hakama are the skirt like pants worn by practitioners of certain martial arts as well as for formal wear.
    Overall this was a very enjoyable book to read and I did enjoy it. thanks Jim

  35. Martin de Munck Says:

    Had seen The Shooter allready two times and found it a very good film. Two weeks ago I bought The 47th Samurai and finished it in 5 days. WOW ! It grabbed me from the start. He uses the right names for the slashes when cutting the sword. The right terms for describing all the elements of the swords. Very, very good fieldwork! I will recommend it with my fellowstudents in our dojo where we practice Japanese swordfighting in the style of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu (550 year old swordfighting art). Offcourse I now bought the other books from SH in Dutch. Now reading Dirty White Boys and sometimes I get the creeps! Stephen, you are on the topshelf of my bookrack!

  36. Susie Carter Says:

    I think Stephen Hunter is an amazing writer. I interview men contantly for my magazine (AlaskaMen) and I see little bits of the men he writes about in his novels in the men I write about. My favorite is the 47th Samuari, must be a past life thing. Inspired me to pass on my sword and the book to my son who is a former military man. I hope he writes more in that line with the 47th. I read it in two days and wished there had been more. Thank you for hanging in there for Mr. Hunter.
    Susie
    President, AlaskaMen Magazine

  37. Gord Horton Says:

    I have to agree with those who say this is among the weakest of his works. He spends far too much time on sword technology. Strange terms to start with, he keeps repeating them, as if we are to memorize them as his character did. I felt like I was reading Clancy or Melville. There just was not that much here. Compared to a masterpiece like Pale Horse Coming it, well, pales.

  38. Mike Ilkenhons Says:

    Like a lot of readers, I found Stephen Hunter by first seeing “Shooter”. Then I was given a book by my son entitled “The 47th Samuri”. I studied martial arts, always fascinated by historical value of the swords, but never pursued the practice. In order to understand the depth of this novel, you have to understand the mind set of the Japanese and the spiritual attachment they have to honor, violent honor, and the similarity to the nature of Swaggert. I read the book straight through at one sitting. It made no sense to do anything but read the story and meditate on all the nuances later after I had the whole picture of the events and the ultimate goal. Swaggert fit my ideal Marine Sniper image… and matched right up with my samuri research. If you were disappointed with the story as weak, you missed the real intent of the novel. This was more than entertainment. It brought out the very nature of what it would be like if a 18th century samuri was transported to today and found himself dealing with the same honor issues he left behind. Death was only one option, but not until all his skills had been exhausted. Great novel.

  39. Chris McGarry Says:

    What an engrossing read. I must say it was a bit of a departure for Bob to go to Japan and end up using more hand – to – hand and swordsmanship skills than his traditional sniping methods. But it really held my interest throughout. I have been a writer for the past six years or so and recently got my first novel published, an action thriller titled Unforeseen Fury.

  40. Mike Treece Says:

    This was the first Hunter novel I’ve read. It was great! I want to read all the others. What is the easist way for me to get them?

  41. Roger Furnival Says:

    I just finished the audio version of 47th Samurai. Very good story, Stephen Hunter brings Gunny Swagger full of life and his acknowledgements were excellent. Hunter is a great story teller that is not afraid to tell how he managed so much intricate detail.

    Please pass on major kudos to Buck Schirner. His superb diction, pronunciation, and eloquence added vibrancy clear word pictures of the Japanese characters and phrases. Well done and thanks for being such a professional.

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