Particularly during the parts of the book set in World War II and the occupation of Japan, Hel is often portrayed as vulnerable and uncertain. He's emotionally conflicted, suffers depression and is sometimes even slow on the uptake and hoodwinked by others. He also undergoes mental and physical agony through torture, although it's pretty obvious that the poor guy is psychologically damaged from the get-go, thanks in no small part to his appalling mother. Then again, he is capable of deep love and friendship (and thus also capable of being wounded by these things, which indeed happens in the book) - for instance, his relationship with the Japanese general is a very moving part of his story. So I don't understand the view that he's some kind of flawless, godlike and utterly cold and sterile cross between a zen master and The Terminator.
Sure, Hel has some remarkable abilities: his intellect, his flair for languages and his genius at the game of go, as well as his sixth sense and, of course, his esoteric arsenal of assassin's tricks. Undeniably, he isn't just yer average hitman. At the same time, though, there's certainly some vulnerability and humanity to the character, and I don't believe that the novel would be particularly engaging were those qualities not in place. I'll go even further and suggest that Hel is actually the classic underdog hero, who works his way up from stateless orphan on the rubble-strewn streets of Shanghai to find that, culturally and temperamentally, he's on the wrong side of history and must prevail against the crushing might of those blasted mercantile American barbarians who've drowned out all that is good and shibumi-infused in this world.
Apart from which, I'm not really sure what to make of SHIBUMI. I am enjoying it tremendously.... but is it a classic that will richly repay further readings? Maybe.
So often the everyday experience of world travel - what we are supposedly so used to - ends just in some utter monstrosity of a tourist ghetto, some exchangeable hotel chain with some fattening franchise dreck chain as food surrogate and some brain-dead opinionated broadcast waste on the 365 telly channels. We are traveling but everywhere we travel it's the same as on our couches, our flats and houses. I think in reality we travel much less than our parents used to.