Shōgun (novel)

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1st edition
Author James Clavell
Cover artist Ed Vebell (illustrated edition only)
Country United Kingdom, United States
Language English
Series The Asian Saga
Genre Historical fiction
Publisher Delacorte Press (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 1152 pp (first edition, paperback)
ISBN 0-440-08721-X (US) – ISBN 0-340-20316-1 (UK)
OCLC 9326267
823/.914 19
LC Class PS3553.L365 S5 1975
Preceded by first book of series
Followed by Tai-Pan

Shōgun is a 1975 novel by James Clavell. It is the first novel (by internal chronology) of the author's Asian Saga. A major bestseller, by 1990 the book had sold 15 million copies worldwide. Beginning in feudal Japan some months before the critical Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Shōgun gives an account of the rise of the daimyo "Toranaga" (based upon the actual Tokugawa Ieyasu). Toranaga's rise to the Shogunate is seen through the eyes of the English sailor John Blackthorne, called Anjin ("Pilot") by the Japanese, whose fictional heroics are loosely based on the historical exploits of William Adams.


Feudal Japan in 1600 is in a precarious peace. The heir to the Taiko is too young to rule, and the most powerful five overlords of the land hold power as a council of regents. Portugal, with its vast sea power, and the Catholic Church, mainly through the Order of the Jesuits, have gained a foothold in Japan and seek to extend their power. But Japanese society is insular and xenophobic. Guns and Europe's modern military capabilities are still a novelty and despised as a threat to Japan's traditional samurai warrior culture.

John Blackthorne, an English pilot serving on the Dutch warship Erasmus, is the first English pilot to reach Japan. England and Holland seek to disrupt Portuguese relations with Japan and establish ties of their own through trade and military alliance.

Erasmus is blown ashore on the Japanese coast at the village of Anjiro during a storm. Blackthorne and the few survivors of his crew are taken captive by local samurai Kasigi Omi until his daimyo (feudal lord) and uncle, Kasigi Yabu, arrives. Yabu puts Blackthorne and his crew on trial as pirates using a Jesuit priest to interpret for Blackthorne. Losing the trial, Blackthorne attacks the Jesuit, rips off his crucifix, and stamps it into the dust to show the daimyo that the priest is his enemy. The Japanese, who know only the Catholic version of Christianity, are shocked by the gesture. Yabu sentences Blackthorne and his crew to death. However, Omi, who is quickly proving himself a clever adviser, convinces Yabu to spare them to learn more of European ways.

Omi throws them into a pit to "tame" them and tells them Lord Yabu has ordered that they pick one amongst them, other than Blackthorne, to die so the others may live. Blackthorne leads his crew in futile resistance, but they are easily cowed by Omi. One of them is taken and boiled alive, to satisfy Lord Yabu, who cruelly enjoys such spectacles.

To save his crew, Blackthorne agrees to submit to Japanese authority. He is placed in a household, with his crew held in the pit as hostages to ensure his submission. On Omi's advice, Yabu also plans to confiscate the guns and money recovered from Erasmus, but word reaches Lord Toranaga, the powerful president of the council of regents. Toranaga sends his commander in chief, "Iron Fist" General Hiro-matsu, to take Erasmus and the crew as an advantage against Toranaga's main rival on the council, Ishido.

Blackthorne is given the name Anjin, Japanese for navigator or pilot, because the Japanese can't pronounce his name. Blackthorne insists on being addressed respectfully, as Omi is, and is therefore known as Anjin-san ("Honorable Pilot").

Hiro-matsu confiscates Erasmus and takes Blackthorne and Yabu back to the meeting of the council taking place at Osaka Castle, Ishido's stronghold. They travel by one of Toranaga's galleys piloted by the Portuguese pilot Rodrigues. Blackthorne and Rodrigues find themselves in a grudging friendship, despite being required to stay at arm's length due to their national and religious enmity. Rodrigues tries to murder Blackthorne during a storm by sending him forward just as a wave breaks over the deck, but is himself swept overboard by the next wave. Blackthorne not only saves Rodrigues but safely navigates the ship to Osaka with all aboard.

At Osaka, Blackthorne is interviewed by Toranaga through the translation of Jesuit Father Martin Alvito, who is more sophisticated and higher up in the Jesuit hierarchy, and is therefore more dangerous to Blackthorne. Blackthorne demands that Alvito tell Toranaga that the priest is his enemy. As an English Protestant, Blackthorne tries to turn Toranaga against the Jesuits. He reveals to a surprised Toranaga that the Christian faith is divided and that other European countries intend to sail the Asian waters now that the Spanish Armada has been defeated. The stunned Alvito is honor-bound to translate as Blackthorne, the sworn enemy of his country and religion, tells Toranaga his story.

The interview ends abruptly when Ishido enters, curious about the barbarian Blackthorne. Toranaga has Blackthorne thrown in prison as a ruse to keep him from Ishido. Blackthorne is befriended by a Franciscan monk, who reveals further details about Jesuit conquests and the Portuguese Black Ship which each year takes the vast profits from the silk trade back to Europe. He is taught basic Japanese and a little about their culture. Blackthorne is taken from prison by Ishido's men, but Toranaga intervenes, capturing Blackthorne from his rival and making Ishido lose face.

In their next interview, Toranaga has the Lady Mariko translate. She is a convert to Christianity, torn between her new faith and her loyalty as a samurai to Toranaga. During this second interview with Blackthorne, Toranaga is incredulous when Blackthorne reveals that Portugal has been granted the right to claim Japan as territory by the Pope, and how the Spanish and Portuguese are exploiting the New World in the name of spreading Catholicism under the blessing of the Church.

During his stay with Toranaga at Osaka Castle, Blackthorne is attacked unsuccessfully by an assassin who is revealed to be a member of the secretive Amida Tong, a group of operatives who train all their lives to be the perfect weapon for one kill. After the assassin is dispatched, Toranaga summons Yabu the next day for questioning, since Hiro-Matsu says Yabu would be the only one who would know how to hire them. Yabu is truthful but evasive in his answers, adding more fuel to Toranaga's distrust of him. It is also hinted that the Jesuits may have hired the assassin to kill Blackthorne, to prevent him further revealing what he knows.

The Council of Regents' negotiations go badly and Toranaga is threatened with forced seppuku by the council. To escape the order, he resigns from the council and departs the castle in the guise of his consort in a litter, leaving with a train of travelers. Blackthorne inadvertently spots the exchange and, when Ishido shows up at the gate of the castle and nearly discovers Toranaga, Blackthorne saves Toranaga by creating a diversion. In this way, he gradually gains the trust of Toranaga and enters his service. Toranaga's resignation was designed to also paralyze the Council since five regents are needed for any decisions and a new appointment seemed politically unlikely. Toranaga's party reaches the coast but their ship is blockaded by Ishido's boats. At Blackthorne's suggestion a nearby Portuguese ship is asked to lend cannon to blast the boats clear; but, in return, the Jesuits, seeing the presence of a Protestant pilot in Toranaga's confidence as a grave threat, will only offer aid to Toranaga in exchange for physical custody of Blackthorne. Toranaga agrees and the ship clears the coast. The Portuguese pilot Rodrigues repays his debt to Blackthorne by having him thrown overboard to swim back to Toranaga's ship. Toranaga's ship escapes by staying alongside the Portuguese ship as both pass through the gap left between the opposing boats. Toranaga and his party return to his ship, which then goes back to Anjiro.

Blackthorne slowly builds his Japanese-language skills and gains an understanding of the Japanese people and their culture, eventually learning to respect it deeply. The Japanese, in turn, are torn over Blackthorne's presence; he is an outsider, a leader of a disgracefully filthy and uncouth rabble, but also a formidable sailor and navigator. As such, he is both beneath their contempt and incalculably valuable. A turning point is Blackthorne's attempt at seppuku upon finding out that Yabu has threatened the peasants with death if Blackthorne does not learn Japanese within six months. In so doing, he shows his willingness to give his life in payment for theirs, despite the Christian injunction against suicide. The Japanese prevent this attempt, as Blackthorne is worth more alive, but come to respect this barbarian. When he rescues Toranaga in an earthquake, he is granted the status of samurai and hatamoto (a vassal similar to a retainer, with the right of direct audience). As they spend more time together, Blackthorne comes to deeply admire Mariko, and they secretly become lovers.

Blackthorne is torn between his growing affection for Mariko (who is married to a powerful, abusive, and dangerous samurai, Buntaro), his increasing loyalty to Toranaga, and his desire to return to the open seas aboard Erasmus to capture the Black Ship. Eventually, he visits the survivors of his original crew in Yedo, and is so astonished at how far he has ventured from the standard European way of life (which he now sees to be filthy, vulgar, and ignorant) and is disgusted by them. Blackthorne's plans to attack the Black Ship are complicated by his respect and friendship for Rodrigues, now piloting the vessel. He returns to Osaka by sea with his crew and many samurai.

In parallel with this plot, the novel also details the intense power struggle between Toranaga and Ishido, and the political maneuvering of Protestant and Catholic powers. There is also conflict between Christian daimyos (who are motivated in part by a desire to preserve and expand their religion) and the daimyos who oppose the Christians as followers of foreign beliefs and representatives of the barbarian cultural and fiscal influence on their society.

Ishido holds many family members of other daimyos as hostages in Osaka, referring to them as guests. As long as he has these hostages, the other daimyos, including Toranaga, do not dare to attack him. Unforeseen by Toranaga, a replacement regent has been chosen. Ishido hopes to lure or force Toranaga into the Castle and, when all the regents are present, obtain from them an order for Toranaga to commit seppuku. To extricate Toranaga from this situation, Mariko goes to what will be her likely death at Osaka Castle to face down Ishido and obtain the hostages' release.

At the castle, Mariko (in response to Toranaga's orders) defies Ishido and forces him to either dishonor himself by admitting to holding the samurai families hostage, or to back down and let them leave. When Mariko tries to fulfill Toranaga's orders and leave the castle, a battle ensues between Ishido's samurai and her escort until she is forced to return. However, she states that since she cannot disobey an order from her liege lord, Toranaga, she is disgraced and will commit suicide. As she is about to do so, Ishido gives her the papers to leave the castle the next day. But that night, a group of ninja Ishido has hired slips into Toranaga's section of the castle to kidnap Mariko with the help of Yabu, who had previously become Toranaga's vassal. However, she and Blackthorne (who accompanied her but was not aware of Mariko's plot) and the other ladies of Toranaga escape into a locked room. As the ninja prepare to blow the door open with explosives, Mariko stands against the door and declares that this is her act of honorable suicide, and implicates Ishido "in this shameful act."

Mariko is killed and Blackthorne injured (temporarily losing his hearing), but Ishido is forced to let Blackthorne and all the other hostages leave the castle, seriously reducing his influence. Blackthorne discovers that his ship has been burned, ruining his chances of attacking the Black Ship, gaining riches, and sailing home to England. However, Mariko leaves him money and Toranaga provides him with men to start building a new ship. Toranaga orders Yabu — who he learns helped the attack with the aim of being on the winning side — to commit suicide for his treachery. Yabu gracefully complies, giving his own prized katana (which had been previously given to him by Toranaga) to Blackthorne, saying that no one else deserved the blade.

A recurring motif in the book is Toranaga engaging in falconry. He compares his various birds to his vassals and mulls over his handling of them, flinging them at targets, giving them morsels to bring them back to his fist, and re-hooding them. The last chapter involves Toranaga letting his prize peregrine fly free as he reveals his inner monologue: he himself had ordered Blackthorne's ship burned as a way to placate the Christian daimyos, save Blackthorne's life from them, and bring them to his side against Ishido; he then encouraged Blackthorne to build another one, and will have that one burned too. It is Blackthorne's karma (destiny) to never leave Japan, Mariko's karma to die gloriously for her lord, and his own karma and purpose to become Shogun. In a brief epilogue after the final Battle of Sekigahara, Ishido is disgracefully captured alive. In deference to an old prophecy that Ishido would "die an old man with his feet firmly planted in the earth, the most famous man in the land", Toranaga has him buried up to his neck by the eta villagers, with passers-by offered the opportunity to saw at the most famous neck in the realm with a bamboo saw. The novel states that "Ishido lingered three days and died very old."


Many of the characters in the novel are based on their real-life counterparts:


Clavell claimed that reading a sentence in his daughter's textbook that stated that "in 1600, an Englishman went to Japan and became a samurai" inspired the novel.[1] In addition to becoming a bestseller, with more than six million copies of the novel in 14 hardcover and 38 paperback printings by 1980, Shōgun had great impact on westerners' knowledge of, and interest in, Japanese history and culture. The editor of Learning from Shōgun: Japanese History and Western Fantasy (1980) estimated that 20 to 50% of all students in American college-level courses about Japan had read the novel. He described the book as "a virtual encyclopedia of Japanese history and culture; somewhere among those half-million words, one can find a brief description of virtually everything one wanted to know about Japan", and stated that "[i]n sheer quantity, Shōgun has probably conveyed more information about Japan to more people than all the combined writings of scholars, journalists, and novelists since the Pacific War."[2] The author of James Clavell: A Critical Companion calls the novel "one of the most effective depictions of cross-cultural encounters ever written", and "Clavell's finest effort".[3]


The novel was adapted as a nine-hour television miniseries in 1980, a Broadway musical, and several computer games. The television series starred Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune, Yoko Shimada, and John Rhys-Davies. It was also edited into a two-hour theatrical release, and a 5-disc DVD release in 2003.

There have been three computer games based on the Shōgun novel. Two text-based adventure games with sparse graphics were produced for the Amiga and PC, and marketed as James Clavell's Shōgun, by Infocom, and Shōgun by Mastertronic. A unique graphical adventure game, Shōgun, was also produced for the Commodore 64 by Lee & Mathias and released by Virgin Entertainment in 1986.

Related works[edit]

Clavell was not the first author to novelize the story of Will Adams; several earlier and less successful attempts exist. The first, by William Dalton, was called Will Adams, The First Englishman in Japan: A Romantic Biography (London, 1861). Dalton had never been to Japan and his book reflects romanticized Victorian British notions of the exotic Asian. Richard Blaker's The Needlewatcher (London, 1932) is the least romantic of the novels, he consciously attempted to de-mythologize Adams and write a careful historical work of fiction. James Scherer's Pilot and Shōgun is less a novel than a series of incidents in Adams life. American Robert Lund wrote Daishi-san (New York, 1960). Finally Christopher Nicole's Lord of the Golden Fan was published just two years before Shōgun, in 1973. Adams is portrayed as sexually frustrated by the morals of his time and seeks freedom in the east where he has numerous encounters. The work is considered light pornography.[2]:7-13


  1. ^ Beamon, William (15 September 1980). "Shogun: $20-Million Samurai Saga Sprang from a Single Textbook Line". Evening Independent. p. 1B. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  2. ^ a b Smith II, Henry D., ed. (1980). Learning from Shōgun: Japanese History and Western Fantasy. University of California, Santa Barbara / The Japan Society. pp. xi–xii, 18, 151. 
  3. ^ Macdonald, Gina (1996). James Clavell: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 82–83. ISBN 0313294941. 

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