Who is this rabbit ronin star of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo? That answer goes back hundreds of years to a man who was a contemporary of William Shakespeare’s, though he lived on the other side of the world. Miyamoto Musashi (also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke and Niten Dōraku) was the author of Go Rin No Sho (The Book of Five Rings) a tactical and philosophical strategy guide that is still studied today as a guide to business (amongst other things). He was also the founder of his own style of swordsmanship (called “Niten-ryū”) and a wandering ronin (masterless samurai) whose adventures spawned legends that became film and television sagas, remaining popular to this day. Even in Musashi’s own day there were pictorial texts that told his tales in a format not unlike today’s comicbooks.
This artwork may well have been the inspiration for Japanese American Stan Sakai to create his own comicbook based on the life of Musashi. This proposed manga was to focus on the real history of the historical (and quite human) Musashi, until Sakai playfully redrew his version of the ronin as a bunny rabbit with a top knot comprised of his black hair-covered ears. Sakai found the image too compelling to abandon and (after a drawing revision that left the rabbit’s fur all white) Miyamoto became Usagi, a roamin’ ronin with Musashi’s history, but a free background with which to create Sakai’s own world. Still, Japanese films continued to influence Sakai’s gridded page.