“Shogun” by James Clavell
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in Japanese history and culture. Shogun by James Clavell is an interesting novel that will keep you entertained for hours at 1,312 pages. A story that takes place in Japan, around the year 1600, with bushido, betrayal, lust, secrets, and murder. This novel has so many twists and turns and many different characters with many different schemes. It was difficult to keep things straight sometimes and remember what kinds of plots each character was involved in.
The characters in the story are based on factual historical figures, but the plot is fiction. For instance, John Blackthorne is based on an actual English person named William Adams. Toranagi is based on Tokugaya Ieyasu; and there are many others.
Shogun (Amazon) is mainly about John Blackthorne, the first English ship captain to reach Japan. He was sent to disrupt the Portuguese operations in the area. The Portuguese, and the Catholic Church, controlled European trade with Japan, and England wanted in. Blackthorne’s ship was shipwrecked on the coast of Japan during a typhoon, and all the crew were captured. A local Samurai put them all in prison until his Daimyo arrived and decided what to do with them. Ultimately, Blackthorne becomes a valuable asset to Toranaga, Lord of the Kwanto. Toranaga uses Blackthorne to learn everything he can about the guns and cannon that were on Blackthorne’s ship, and about the culture and military strategies of the West.
Much of the book is about the cultural difference between Japan and the West at that time. The Japanese thought of westerners as barbarians that were dirty and didn’t bathe. A lot of them were disgusted at the thought of eating most animal meat (wondering if this was actually true or not). All throughout the book are instances of Blackthorne learning, and becoming accustomed to, Japanese customs. I should say not only becoming accustomed to, but preferring Japanese customs. He is away from his crew for a very long time, and when he finally gets to see them again, he is pretty disgusted with the way they act.
Eventually Blackthorne saves Toranaga’s life more than once, and Toranaga makes him a Samurai and a Hatomoto, or a trusted advisor. Toranaga gives Blackthorne a fief, income, a Japanese wife, and someone to teach him Japanese. Of course, Blackthorne falls in love with his Japanese teacher. Toranaga appears to be the master military strategist in Japan, having won most of his battles.
Prior to Blackthorne arriving in Japan, the Shogun had died leaving his young boy as his heir. A council of regents was set up to rule Japan until the heir was old enough to be Shogun. Most believed that Toranaga wanted to be Shogun himself. So the council, led by Ishido, expeled him from the council and into exile. Toranaga had few allies, but most of Japan was against him. The author paints Toranaga as a master strategist, with so many subplots of the novel involving Toranaga putting people together, hoping they will do what he had planned for them to do without actually telling them his plan. This is an excellent book that will keep you enthralled and wanting more.
Even though it is not historically accurate, as far as events are concerned, I think that much of the Japanese culture depicted in the book is accurate for the time. Although, I have not done much research to find out if that is true. Like the attitude of the Samurai towards lower classes, which is portrayed as disgust and hatred. But the Samurai would be dependent on the lower classes for taxes and income, construction, and all the necessary parts of a society. I don’t understand how that would work.
And that is what I want to do here, leave you wanting more. I can’t discuss the end of the book, because then you would know how the novel ends.