Immortalised as John Blackthorne in James Clavell's Shogun, William Adams is the intrepid explorer who caused a cultural revolution in Japan, was the first westerner to be accepted by Japanese society, and, most impressively, is the only white man to ever be made samurai.

William Adams was born in the English county of Kent on September 24, 1564. Adams father passed away of ill health when Adams was a child of 12, who then got apprenticed to Master Shipwright and Pilot Nicholas Diggins at Limehouse. Adams spent the next 12 years of his life learning shipbuilding, navigation, and, essential for plying the seas at the time, astronomy.

He served in the Royal Navy with Sir Francis Drake for a period of time, before leaving the service to become a Pilot for the merchant company Barbary Traders. During his time as Pilot Major, he took part in a 2 year expedition to the arctic circle, trying to find a Northern Passage along the coast of Siberia to the Far East. The expedition was unsuccessful.

In 1598, Adams, then 34, went to Holland and was chosen as Pilot Major for a five-ship expedition to the Far East.

William Adams led the fleet out of Rotterdam in June, 1598 on the flagship De Hoop. During the then perilous voyage, which led the fleet via the west coast of Africa, across to the east coast of South America, through the Magellan Straits, and up the coastline of Chile, they were scattered and the majority of the fleet was lost. The Pilot Major changed ships, moving from De Hoop to to the De Liefde (originally called Erasmus, which is the name of Pilot Major Blackthorne's ship in Shogun) and waited for the remainder of the fleet at Santa Maria Island. The only ship that arrived was Adams' previous posting, the De Hoop. It was in the later stages of November, 1599, when the two remaining ships set sail westward for the mythical region of the Japans. The ship De Hoop was claimed by a sudden typhoon in February, 1600. Meanwhile, the crew of the De Liefde were slowly succumbing to scurvy and other mal-nutrition related diseases common for sailors at the time.

The De Liefde sighted land in April, 1600, and made landfall 2 days later at Bungo, now Usaki City. Only 9 of the remaining 24 crewmembers could actually stand, and they were all soon taken in custody after claims by Portuguese Missionaries, the only western influence in Japan at the time, that they were pirates and the vessel was seized. They were imprisoned in Osaka Castle under orders of the present Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu (the basis for the character of Toranaga in Clavell's novel).

However, Ieyasu began having conversations with Adams, whom the Japanese dubbed Anjin-san (Honourable Pilot). Through the course of their discussions, Adams informed Ieyasu about modern warfare, weapons and seafaring, intriguing him greatly. Eventually, William Adams was made a revered diplomatic and trade advisor and gave him many privileges of the Empire that were denied Westerners. In 1604, Ieyasu asked Adams to build an 80-ton ship with his sea-faring knowledge, in Western style, at Ito. This was completed to Ieyasu's delight, who then ordered Adams to build a 120-ton vessel.

Tokugawa Ieyasu's gratitude for Adams' service was such that he gave him incredibly generous rewards, including a large house in the new capital of Edo and 20 servants. However, the best was yet to come. Adams received two swords, the badge of rank for samurai, and was dubbed Hatamoto, one of the highest ranks a samurai could achieve. Adams is the first and only Westerner to achieve this.

The sword and companion sword, katana and wakizashi, not only transformed Adams into samurai, he was reborn, and renamed Miura Anjin. Ieyasu was not yet done, granting Anjin a sizeable fief at Hemi, near present-day Yokosuka. He granted Anjin a sizeable stipend salary, and the means to marry Oyuki, by all accounts a beautiful woman, the daughter of Magome Kageyu, a noble samurai and official of Edo Castle, which stood in present day Tokyo.

Anjin and Oyuki made their home in Hemi, having two children, Joseph and Sussanna. Adams, however, found it difficult to stay in one place long, and was soon roaming the countryside. In vain, he tried to organise an expedition to the Northern Passage that so eluded him more than a decade ago. The idea never got into the planning stages. He helped the Dutch East India Company set up a trading mission in the predominantly Portuguese port of Nagasaki, who soon established a monopoly. Under contract from the East India company, Adams sailed to Indochina, Thailand, and Okinawa.

William Adams, now Miura Anjin, died happily of old age at Hirado, north of Nagasaki, on May 16, 1620. He was 56. Adams had a wife and children in England, but Ieyasu had forbidden the Englishman to leave Japan. In a true stroke of wisdom, the Shogun decreed that William Adams was dead and that Miura Anjin, a samurai, was born. This made Anjin's wife in England, in effect, a widow, and "freed" Anjin to serve him on a permanent basis. Also, only as a samurai, was he eligible to marry a samurai's daughter. It's said that by the end of his life, he had no desire to return to England, his home.

Adams surely had the greatest impact on feudal Japan, opening their eyes fully to the outside world, which, in turn, led to their near-xenophobic attitude to outsiders, and, eventually, the chilling, near revolutionary battle cry of "Sonno joi" ('Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarian') more than 200 years later.

Expanded upon from the writings at, and various other sources.

English navigator
Born ? Died 1620

William Adams was born at Gillingham, near Chatham, England. When twelve years old he was apprenticed to the seafaring life, afterwards entering the British navy, and later serving the company of Barbary merchants for a number of years as master and pilot. Attracted by the Dutch trade with India, he shipped as pilot major with a little fleet of five ships despatched from the Texel in 1598 by a company of Rotterdam merchants. The vessels, boats ranging from 75 to 250 tons and crowded with men, were driven to the coast of Guinea, where the adventurers attacked the island of Annabon for supplies, and finally reached the straits of Magellan.

Scattered by stress of weather the following spring the Charity, with Adams on board, and the Hope, met at length off the coast of Chile, where the captains of both vessels lost their lives in an encounter with the Indians. In fear of the Spaniards, the remaining crews determined to sail across the Pacific. On this voyage the Hope was lost, but in April 1600 the Charity, with a crew of sick and dying men, was brought to anchor off the island of Kiushiu, Japan. Adams was summoned to Osaka and there examined by Iyeyasu, the guardian of the young son of Taiko Sama, the ruler, who had just died. His knowledge of ships and shipbuilding, and his nautical smattering of mathematics, raised him in the estimation of the shogun, and he was subsequently presented with an estate at Hemi near Yokosuka; but was refused permission to return to England


In 1611 news came to him of an English settlement in Bantam, and he wrote asking for help. In 1613 Captain John Saris arrived at Hirado in the ship Clove with the object of establishing a trading factory for the East India Company, and after obtaining the necessary concessions from the shogun, Adams postponed his voyage home (permission for which had now been given him) in order to take a leading part, under Richard Cocks, in the organization of this new English settlement. He had already married a Japanese woman, by whom he had a family, and the latter part of his life was spent in the service of the English trading company, for whom he undertook a number of voyages to Siam in 1616, and Cochin China in 1617 and 1618. He died on the 16th of May 1620, some three years before the dissolution of the English factory. His Japanese title was Anjin Sama, and his memory was preserved in the naming of a street in Yedo, Anjin Cho (Pilot Street), and by an annual celebration on June 15 in his honour.

See England's Earliest Intercourse with Japan, by C. W. Hillary (1905); Letters written by the English Residents in Japan, ed. by N. Murakami (1900, containing Adams's Letters reprinted from Memorials of the Empire of Japan, ed. by T. Rundall, Hakluyt Society, 1850); Diary of Richard Cocks, with preface by N. Murakami (1899, reprinted from the Hakluyt Society ed. 1883); R. Hildreth's Japan (1855); J. Harris's Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca (1764), i. 856; Voyage of John Saris, ed. by Sir E. M. Satow (Hakluyt Society, 1900); Asiatic Society of Japan Transactions, xxvi. (sec. 1898) pp. 1 and 194, where four more hitherto unpublished letters of Adams are given; Collection of State Papers; East Indies, China and Japan. The MS. of his logs written during his voyages to Siam and China is in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Being the entry for ADAMS, WILLIAM in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

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