This 1152 page epic historical fiction novel set in Feudal Japan is the most detailed, exciting, action packed book I have read. James Clavell captures the essence of Feudal Japanese culture in this book. You can feel the emotions he gives to almost every character he puts in this book. This novel is about an English Captain-Pilot that goes by the name of John Blackthorne. He is the Pilot of his beloved ship named “Erasmus”. Blackthorne and his crew are pirates who are out in the Pacific Ocean preying on towns to rape, pillage and plunder. There is a religious war going on between Christians and Catholics, the crew on Erasmus are Christians, and in the book starts off with Blackthorne fleeing from Spanish ships (or so Blackthorne tells his crew. What he really has in mind, is to be the first English Pilot to sail completely around the world.) but ends up getting his ship caught in a horrible storm. The storm manages to throw Blackthorne and his crew into the Japans.
When the crew of Erasmus comes to, they find themselves in a strange village with Japanese people taking care of them nursing them back to health. They have never seen a Japanese person before, and they soon realize that they are completely different from these people. Blackthorne and his crew are “barbarians” to the Japanese, the Japanese are disgusted with them, and the pirates are equally disgusted with the Japanese. Blackthorne is the first to learn that him and his crew have some very serious problems. At this point in time, Japan is ruled by several extremely powerful and clever Feudal Lords that are referred to as “Daimyo”. These daimyo have several other “lesser” feudal lords under them that are known as Vassals. These daimyo’s have several hundreds of thousands of samurai who are ready to spill blood and die for the honor of their daimyo. These daimyos all have hidden agendas, and almost all of them have one of the same goals, to be the Shogun.
A Shogun is the military dictator of all Japan, and basically has MORE power than the actual Emperor of Japan himself. None would dare defy the shogunate. In the book there is currently no Shogun. Japan is waiting for the heir, a little boy named Yaemon to become of age to inherit Japan. John Blackthorne does not realize to full extent of situation he is in, but what he witnesses and experiences is bad enough for him. The moment he sees a samurai, he witnesses the samurai cut a villagers head clean off with a single swing of his sword because the villager did not “greet” him as politely as he should have. Manners are very important to samurai. Blackthorne’s main objective is to get his crew, and get on his ship and get back to his homeland. Pretty soon after Blackthorne witnesses the beheading, he is introduced to a feudal lord by the name of Yabu, and with him, an enemy he is currently at war with, a Portuguese Catholic priest (Jesuit). This is when Blackthorne realizes how bad the situation is. Blackthorne ends up in the hands of one of the most powerful daimyo in all of Japan, Lord Toranaga. This daimyo has never lost a military battle in his whole life, he is a military genius, some people believe him to be invincible.
Lord Toranaga is the president of the Council of Regents, which is compiled of five of the most powerful daimyos in Japan, and at this time there is treachery to try to end Toranaga, and Lord Toranaga sees this English Pilot as a great source of information to keep his enemies at bay and to protect the heir of Japan, Yaemon. Lord Toranaga ends up befriending John Blackthorne with the help of a translator named Mariko. Mariko is a woman samurai who is also Catholic and speaks very good Latin and Portuguese. Mariko is able to speak direstly to Blackthorne and she is ordered to help John Blackthorne adjust to Japanese customs and has the duty to her Liege Lord to “civilize” him’ but Blackthorne ends up opening Marikos mind and has her see the way of his customs, and the two of them end up falling in love, which is forbidden because she is married to a samurai known as Buntaro. John Blackthorne is a very fast learner and with everyone helping him try to speak Japanese (a whole village is ordered to make him learn Japanese in 3 months, and if they fail they will all die.) he is getting very good with his Japanese. Toranaga ends up really liking this barbarian, and becomes friendly with him. Blackthorne does many honorable deeds throughout the book and Lord Toranaga respects this barbarian enough to make John Blackthorne who becomes known as “Anjian’san” which means Pilot in Japanese, into a fully fledged samurai. Blackthorne finds himself torn between his English and Japanese customs, he starts to enjoy his new Japanese life. While Blackthorne is learning Japanese and enjoying his new life, Lord Toranaga is plotting and scheming on how to put the barbarians ideas into action, specifically sea warfare which Japan knows nothing about.
James Clavell’s “Shogun” is a masterpiece, and shows how this English Pilot who is struggling to try to maintain some control of his situation, does everything in his power to survive in the Japans. Death is around every corner for John Blackthorne, between the Catholic priests, Daimyo’s, Catholic Damiyo’s, assassination attempts by ninjas, natural disasters, and a forbidden love. Blackthorne is completely out of his element and has to rely on his wits to get him out of life and death situations.
“Shogun” is packed with action, drama, suspense, politics, romance, and Japanese culture. What i learned from this book, is if your daimyo tells you to commit seppuku (ritual suicide), you do it. It is the most honorable and rewarding thing in a samurai’s life to die for their Lord. Would you be willing to die for your Liege Lord? Hundreds of thousands of samurai would respond “Hai!”
If you don’t want to read the book, you can attempt to grab yourself a copy of the motion picture. I have yet to see this, so I have no opinion of it as of yet. I hope to watch it in the near future, and I hope that it does not butcher this book.