Shōgun’s John Blackthorne is Based on a Real English Navigator

Hulu’s historical drama series, ’Shogun,’ transports the audience to 17th century Japan, where the rivalry between the feudal lords paves the way for a war with only one of the five emerging as a victor. It is during this politically charged atmosphere of Japan that an English sailor lands on its shores and immediately becomes important to the plotting taking place in the King’s palace while the nobles fight for power.

The series sets itself apart by diving into a historically accurate presentation of then-Japan and relying on the real details about the politics, religion, and culture of the time to engross the audience. All of this is bound to make one wonder if its characters, especially that of John Blackthorne, are inspired by real people. SPOILERS AHEAD

John Blackthorne is Inspired by the First English Man in Japan

John Blackthorne in ‘Shogun’ is a fictionalized version of a real English navigator named William Adams, who arrived in Japan in 1600 on his ship de Liefde, which belonged to Dutch merchants. While the show, which is based on the book of the same name by James Clavell, adds some fictional details and changes a few things about how things may or may not happened in real life, the basic trajectory of Blackthorne’s arc highly mimics Adams.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Adams and his eight other crew members, who battled sickness and starvation on their ship, touched land in 1600 after months on the sea, with the small island of Kyushu marking their arrival. As shown in ‘Shogun,’ the coming of the English Protestants was not seen favorably by the Portuguese Catholics, who were at religious odds with them. Immediately, the Portuguese claimed that Adams and his crew were pirates and should be punished by death. However, Tokugawa Ieyasu (Lord Yoshii Toranaga in the show) saw an opportunity in the arrival of the foreigners and decided to use their leader, Adams, to further his political cause.

By this time, the Portuguese Catholics had found a stronghold in Japan, and they were not ready to let England or any other European country discover this secret place they’d claimed for themselves. Adams’ arrival changed that drastically. Once he found favor with Ieyasu, he quickly rose the ranks and eventually became his main advisor on the matter of connection with the Western world. Apart from this, his knowledge of shipbuilding and navigation, among other things, was employed by Ieyasu to build Western-style ships, which further facilitated trade and commerce with the Western world, eventually leading to the establishment of the English Trading Company in Japan in 1613.

In return for all his work, Adams received a prominent position in Ieyasu’s close circle and was also bestowed with land and money to support himself and build a new life in Japan. In fact, he was forbidden from going back home to England and was the last of all his crewmates to receive that permission. By then, he had become so entangled with Japan that he decided not to leave. Eventually, he was even given the title of samurai, becoming the first Westerner to have that honor.

How did William Adams Die?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

William Adams died at the age of 55 in the year 1620 at his house in Hirado, where he’d been living for the past few years of his life. While there is no specifically known reason for his death, it is known that he had been ill for a while before he succumbed to his final breaths. His remains are buried in Nagasaki.

Before Adams left England, he had been married to a woman named Mary Hyn, with whom he had two children. However, when he left for Japan, he saw his family for the last time and was never reunited with them. He is, however, known to have sent them financial help from time to time. Having settled down in Japan, he is known to have married a woman named Oyuki, with whom he had two children as well. On his death, Adams’ will directed for all his assets, from his land to the money, to be equally divided between both his families.

Adams’ time in Japan brought him many ups and downs. It was his connection with Ieyasu that turned things in his favor. Otherwise, there were many odds already stacked against him, and he could have easily fallen by any of those things. ‘Shogun’ brings his story, though with some fictional touch, vividly alive on the screen.

Read More: Hulu’s Shogun: All the Sites Where the Historical Show is Shot