Question of Historical Accuracy in Shogun

I am re-reading Shogun by James Clavell (Again) and hoping to finish it this time.

One thing I am curious about however is how historically accurate it is about Japanese culture and lifestyle in that period.

I am curious about Asian History (History in general, really) and enjoy these books, but I would like to know how realistic the “history” is in them.

The history is actually quite accurate, although there have been a few liberties taken and inventions. The characters are real (Oda Nobunaga) or thinly veiled historical figures. Toranaga is based on Tokugawa Ieyasu, who came to power in 1600 after a battle at Sekigahara as mentioned in the afterword of Shogun. Ishido is supposed to be Ishida Mitsunari, who backed Hideyoshi’s son’s as the rightful rulers after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Taiko). Blackthorne is modeled after a real life Englishman, William Adams who arrived in 1600. He did meet Ieyasu and even served in the Shogunate as a trade advisor.

The large events are definitely accurate, although I think that Clavell played up a few of the smaller things to underline the “alieness” of the Japanese culture to his intended audience (modern Westerners). The social strata were pretty much the same as illustrated in the book with the samurai on top followed by the peasants and then the merchants and untouchables at the bottom.

There are a few innacuracies. One is the presence of flintlocks, which weren’t quite invented yet when the story takes place. They would have used matchlocks.

Another is the big deal they make about “Pilot” being a possible source of firearms from the west. That wouldn’t really have been necessary, there was a long tradition of gunsmithing in Japan at that time. One source claims there were more matchlocks in Japan between the time of Ieyasu Toranaga and the Meiji Restoration than in all the countries of Europe combined.

There are a few more, but I forget, it’s been a long time since I read anything on it. Aside to my lurker friend: Brian, I know you’re a freaking expert on this, anytime you wanna help out here…

Jesus, I said Ieyasu Toranaga. I meant Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Wow, just this thread makes Japanese history sound really interesting…

Speaker, it is.

I understand that some of the elements of the story are a bit of a stretch… the love story, for example, is a very Western one. Japanese stories of that kind tend to be more of unrequited love, rather than the Western forbidden affair.

However, none of these are my own conclusions. They’re second-hand, and so I can’t verify anything since I haven’t read the book. Nor can I verify the love story thing.

Ran across a funny one while google searching…Clavell researched for ten years, so a lot of the inaccuracies that are present are, like Ankh_Too said, artistic license. Occasionally he would slip though. At one point a minor character is introduced who has no name but his profession, porter or (i think) “Akabo”. The website points out “Akabo” means “railway porter”. He was about 350 years off-

I suspect Clavell (and I’m actually reading the book right now) played up the “honor and death” aspect more than the Japanese would. For example, while reading “Musashi” the Japanese seem far less morose/obsessed a people, and it takes place not long after “Shogun” is set. Aside from whihc, at the rate the Samurai were dying or trying to kill themselves in Shogun, they’d have bred themselves out of existence.

I guess he also gets some transliterations wrong. For example, one of his characters is named Kasigi, when a good transliteration would make him Kashigi…there being a “shi” sound in Japanese but not a “si” one.

Entertaining reads, nonetheless.

I am re-reading “Whirlwind”, the last installment of his Asian saga.

So, is Struan’s really based on Jardine Matheson?

I know that Peter Marlowe is based on Clavell himself.

There is an interesting biography of Will Adams. The Needle Watcher. Looking at these prices, it may be tough to find. I think I’ll hang onto my copy.

Another nitpick… the tendecy to add ko to the end of female Japanese names didn’t start until much later. So no Mariko in the Tokugawa era.