Thursday, June 24, 2010

Samurai William - Giles Milton

Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan
Giles Milton
Copyright: 2003

The product description:
In 1611 an astonishing letter arrived at the the East India Trading Company in London after a tortuous seven-year journey. Englishman William Adams was one of only twenty-four survivors of a fleet of ships bound for Asia, and he had washed up in the forbidden land of Japan. The traders were even more amazed to learn that, rather than be horrified by this strange country, Adams had fallen in love with the barbaric splendour of Japan -- and decided to settle. He had forged a close friendship with the ruthless Shogun, taken a Japanese wife and sired a new, mixed-race family. Adams' letter fired up the London merchants to plan a new expedition to the Far East, with designs to trade with the Japanese and use Adams' contacts there to forge new commercial links.
Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan was an interesting read, but not quite what I had expected it to be. I thought, from the description of the book that it would be more about the man himself, William Adams. Thing is, the description on the book itself is somewhat different from the description I've used above. That one is more accurate to the content of the book.

I'm not complaining though. It was quite informative, covering the whole beginnings of Western contact and trade attempts with Japan in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, beginning with the Portugese and the Spanish.

What really struck me about Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan was the level of similarity this book holds to the novel Shogun by James Clavell, which I reviewed earlier this week. I can't help but wonder if Clavell used the same figure, William Adams, as the basis for his Captain Blackthorne. The two books certainly cover the same time-period. Some of the similarities include:
  1. The way he arrived in Japan
  2. Both men were pilots
  3. The initial treatment by the Japanese
  4. Mistranslation or slanted translation by the Jesuit priests
  5. Time in the Japanese prison
  6. His status as Samurai
  7. Closeness to the leader
  8. The information that Adams/Blackthorne gives to the Samurai leaders about the intentions of the Portugese
  9. Even the Japanese name he has.
Definitely an interesting book, and very informative reading about the sixteenth and seventeeth centuries in Japan. Seeing both sides of the contact, the way it's done here is almost amusing. There's sources from the Japanese perspective as also from the English - and not just from one person, but from many of them.

On the other hand, Samurai William: The Adventurer Who Unlocked Japan feels somewhat like a "popular" book. It doesn't seem to go into a lot of depth, and it's certainly a quick read.

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