SERVANT OF THE SHOGUN: Being the True Story of William Adams, Pilot and Samurai, the First Englishman in Japan by Richard Tames

SERVANT OF THE SHOGUN: Being the True Story of William Adams, Pilot and Samurai, the First Englishman in Japan

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KIRKUS REVIEW

British author Tames recounts the career of William Adams, the first Englishman to forge links with the Japanese. Adams was resurrected from relative obscurity when James Clavell appropriated him as a source for his Shogun character John Blackthorne. This time out we have Tames' survey of the historical Adams to get a handle on how a Kentish marine pilot not only broached Japan's borders in the early 1600's, but rose to considerable wealth and power within its inner circle. Tames points out that Adams' achievement is significant in light of Japan's determined efforts to ward off intrusions into their culture by Europeans. Reaching Japan in 1600, the pilot had the good fortune of being singled out by Tokugawa Ieyasu, a powerful shogun whose interest in western technology cast Adams in the role of adviser on matters that quickly broadened to include trade with Europe. Initially forbidden to leave the country, Adams nonetheless enjoyed the security of Ieyasu's favor, married into the surrounding culture, and amassed a fortune while coordinating trade lines between Japan and the ""southern barbarians."" Engagement with Europe was to be limited, though, and by 1640 the tolerance towards westerners exemplified by Adams' career came to an abrupt and violent conclusion. Of equal importance is Tames' documentation of early European observations about Japanese culture that, with references to fortitude, diligence, and a keen sense of social status, bear an interesting resemblance to current commentary on modern, industrialized Japan. Coherent, well-focused work that is as intriguing for what it has to say about the wider Japanese culture as it does about the anomalous career of William Adams.

Pub Date: April 4th, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's