When I take on a project, I like to immerse myself into the genre. Besides scenarios found in rulebooks, movies and literature (fiction and non-fiction) also provide plenty of inspiration and ideas for not only wargame scenarios, but also for paint palettes, conversions, and terrain and scenery.
Here are a few of my favorite books I've read while I paint up my samurai (not listed in any particular order.) I'll try to post my favorite movies in the future, though I suspect we all have the same favorite movies.
I'm actually fairly new to Japanese literature about the period, so it would be wrong for me to call these my favorite books; really, these are about the ONLY books I've read on the period, but I enjoyed all of them. These are also not the only books I've read; I've gone through quite a few of Osprey's titles as well as a few older titles by Stephen Turnbull.
Revenge of the 47 Ronin
by Stephen Turnbull (from Osprey's "Raid" series.)
This book briefly covers the general facts surrounding the raid of the 47 ronin against Kiri Yoshinaka. Turnbull sets the book out as a chronology of actions complete with basic backgrounds and the politics of the events. He also goes into good detail on the tactics, weapons and equipment used during the raid (lots of spears and bows, a couple hammers and axes, and even a primitive "flashlight" for use in the dark to help identify the captured Kiri.)
This book isn't Chushingura, especially at only 80 pages, but it covers all the details well and provides a good framework for wargamers wondering how to arm their collection (lots of spears for samurai!)
A last note on Revenge; Turnbull makes a great observation that though the ronin are praised and made out to be the heroes, we should also consider all the retainers of Lord Kiri who put up a brave defense of their household despite being surprised in the middle of a snowy night.
By Eiji Yoshikawa
Called the "Gone With the Wind" of Japan, Musashi covers the first 30 years of the life of Japan's greatest swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. The book (at 967 pages) is full of action and drama (and even a little bit of love. Bleck! I'm with Jotaro on this one.) A great novel, but also a great tool for wargamers; there are plenty of duels and skirmishes throughout the book among many different kinds of forces (individuals, sword schools, bandits, lance-armed priests.)
Whether you use it for wargame inspiration or not, anyone who games samurai should read Musashi at least once. If you don't, then at least remember to try not to anger any old women named Osugi.
Samurai: The Japanese Warrior's Unofficial Manual
By Stephen Turnbull
Turnbull seems to be the accepted Western scholar on the history of samurai, so plenty of titles will be by him. In the Samurai Manual, though, he departs somewhat from his academic writing style and narrates the book as a teacher speaking to the student who wishes to become a samurai.
The style of writing has plenty of flowery langauge (referring to the Shogun as "His Most Illustrious Highness," or to soldiers who would use guns as "Lewd and sordid persons.") But it's all done in good fun, yet Turnbull still manages to fill the novice with plenty of well-researched details about the samurai life: Do's and Don'ts of the tea ceremony; the hierarchy of bowing; armor and weapons and their use; preparing for battle and what to do after the battle; how to attack castles; how to prepare for head-viewing ceremonies; how to deal with old age and death; and the list goes on.
There are even a couple multiple choice quizzes about how to conduct yourself as a samurai (a few of the options are, "C: Cut his head off.")
It's an easy read. You can pick it up and turn to a random chapter and read.
The Bamboo Sword and other Samurai Tales
By Shuhei Fujisawa
Not all sword fights and action, but great nonetheless, The Bamboo Sword is a collection of eight short stories taking place in old Japan. The first tale, The Bamboo Sword, is the inspiration for the excellent movie "Twilight Samurai." Since the stories are short, they are easier to follow along, especially for westerners who might find it difficult to keep track of Japanese names (I almost needed to make myself a reference guide when I read "Musashi.")
For the wargamer, their are a few fights that can be easily translated into gaming scenarios. For example, in "All for a Melon," a chamberlain has asked a lowly samurai and his friend to be with him when he confronts a senior retainer about a plot; the chamberlain is certain the retainer will need to be killed. The forces involved include the chamberlain, his two samurai bodyguards, the retainer and his two guards. The setting is a small castle room (and possibly the adjoining corridor. I love gaming what I call "micro-skirmishes," (bigger than a duel, but smaller than a skirmish), and this fight is a perfect example of one.
At 256 pages, this book seems too short; I burned through most of the stories in one afternoon, but the book has a little bit of re-readability. Fujisawa apparently has MANY more samurai tales, but the copyright owners, for some reason, will not have them translated.
Hagakure (The Book of the Samurai)
By Yamamoto Tsunetomo
This is sort of a philosophy book put forth as a collection of tiny vignettes that give examples of the proper conduct of samurai. It was written in 1716, so it is free from modern morality, allowing a more authentic look at life, even if from a limited perspective.
This is another title you can pick up and randomly flip to a page to read. Each story is barely a few paragraphs long.
I, like many people I'm sure, discovered this book after seeing the movie "Ghost Dog, Way of the Samurai," about a assassin for the mob who uses the book as a personal guide to life.
"It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one's sleeve. It may be that when one is sobbering up or awaking from sleep that his complexion may be poor. At such a time, it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge."
There are other books I haven't covered, mostly because I don't own them yet. Here is a short list of some of those books. If any of you have read any of these titles, let me know what you thought. I'm also open to recommendations for anything not in this list. I prefer tales about individuals (such as Musashi) over the grander epics about great lords and large battles (such as "Taiko," by Yoshikawa.)
"Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan"
"Musui's Story: The autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai"
"Katsuno's Revenge and other Tales of the Samurai"
"Pagoda, Skull and Samurai"