“Shogun” is a book written by a famous writer James Clavell telling us about the way of life, customs and traditions existing in feudal Japan in the sixteenth century and about life and adventures of one shipwrecked English ship pilot who suddenly finds himself in medieval Japan with its rival war-lords, samurai, seppuku, geishas and other things and notions looking strange and even wild for a European man.
The book’s main characters are John Blackthorne, an English ship pilot of the Dutch ship “Erasmus”; a beautiful lady Toda Buntaro Mariko who falls in love with him; the most important Japanese feudal lord and warlord Yoshi Toranaga, the leader of half the country aiming at becoming Shogun (a supreme military dictator); and his rival Ishido. The novel begins with the description of the violent storm that caught a Dutch ship “Erasmus” not far from the coast of Japan.
The British pilot-major John Blackthorne with part of his crew who managed to survive find themselves on a strange island captured by strange people following strange and unknown customs and code. The ship is confiscated along with Blackthorn’s stolen prot?? g?? es “rutter” which I their only map home. Everything is strange and unknown for Blackthorne. He finds that the town he is in is ruled by a samurai named Omi. The author describes a terrible scene in which Omi decapitates a peasant just for nothing – for not bowing, it is shown here that in this country life costs nothing, it is also shows that disrespect can cost one’s life.
The samurai Omi put the pilot and his crew members into a pit that is used as a jail. It became clear to the samurai that the only captive worth dealing with was the pilot-major, Blackthorne. After the torture and death of one of the crew members and Omi’s threat to do harm to other members if he misbehaves, the pilot agrees to behave. And after that he’s allowed out of the pit. It is difficult for the Japanese to pronounce “Blackthorne”, so Omi renames him “Anjin” which means “pilot”.
When Blackthorne or Anjin realizes that he is really out of prison, he can hardly believe it. It becomes clear later that it was Toranaga who threw him into jail for the purpose of keeping him from his enemy Ishido. After being released Anjin is taken for a meeting with Toranaga who has a plan to unite the warring samurai clans under his own leadership, and who is thinking of using Anjin in his plans. Anjin is told to live in the house of a local villager; he gets a respectful treatment as a high-ranking foreigner.
Also at this point Anjin gets acquainted with Mariko, a dishonored betrayer’s daughter who was ordered to accompany Anjin every day in order to help him learn about the Japanese language and culture so that the Japanese could learn from him, in turn. There is a prejudice against foreigners among the Japanese, but luckily for Anjin, Toranaga appreciates his knowledge of seamanship. Anjin’s destiny and career may be considered successful taking into account the patronage of Toranaga. In a while he gives Anjin an honorable title “-san”.
As time goes by Anjin-san learns a lot about the code of the samurai and about various Japanese customs, traditions and habits. And the more he learns, the more he changes his opinion about this country and about its people. He first thought of the Japanese as a vulgar, violent, hard-hearted people who do not value life. But now he sees a superior culture to his own. Anjin-san learns the language, he begins to bathe – he didn’t bathe before as Europeans didn’t do it in the sixteenth century. He also learns to bow and to wear Japanese clothes and to follow the local code of behavior.
So he is gradually changing and beginning to look and to think like a real samurai. And taking into account his military skills, his bravery and luck Anjin-san gains some weight and some position in the local society. Of course the main character, Blackthorne, developed enemies. One of them was Kasigi Yabu, a lesser noble, who tried to kill him. The Catholic Church was afraid that this Japanese-European could destroy trade and weaken the influence of the Church upon Japanese Christians and therefore would be happy to get rid of him.
And, of course, the main Toranada’s enemy Ishido, the leader of the other half of Japan, was also his enemy and wanted him dead. The author also pays attention in his book to the relationship between Anjin-san and Mariko who fall in love with each other after a number of adventures and obstacles they went through together. They realize that they are in love when they are left in Anjiro for some period of time so that Anjin-san could learn Japanese. But there’s one serious problem: Mariko has a husband. Female adultery is a rather dangerous affair in Japan, as a married woman caught with another man has to be put to death.
This affair ends tragically – Mariko later dies painfully while doing her duty the highest form of sacrifice, and the most holy of deaths. Anjin-san meets with Toranaga and learns that one of the regents resigned from the council and that Ishido, Toranada’s enemy, outrageously killed him and his family. Now Toranaga has to petition the emperor in order to be made Shogun. A civil war is about to begin. At the same time Anjin-san proves to Toranaga his devotion: he saves his life during an earthquake and gives Toronaga his sword to replace the one that Toranaga lost.
When he returns home he finds out that his spouse Fujiko is burnt and that his house is destroyed. Anjin-san or Anjin-sama (higher rank by now) is awarded with a “fishing village” and more for saving Toranaga’s life. Toranaga also grants him the honorable rank of samurai. Finally, the civil war takes place, in this war Ishido dies awfully, Toranaga gains victory and becomes a supreme ruler of the country, Shogun. Anjin-sama becomes the most trusted of the Shoguns advisors, and stays in Japan till the end of his life.
I liked the book very much as it contains all in one – an adventure story, a story of sad but beautiful forbidden love, a story about political tactics and strategy, and an intriguing culture. James Clavell describes in his book not only Japanese traditions, history, and the social structure of the country, but the very essence of Japan, the Japanese outlook itself, it shows us how Japanese see violence, love, sex, family relations, life and death. The book also tells us about the Japanese attitude toward politics, war, self-discipline, duty, business and philosophy.
Shogun” is full of comparisons between the Japanese and Western characters and ways of thinking; it is an intense study of a national attitude that inspires me to improve my own way of life. The moment that impressed me most in the book is the episode with the pheasant: at times it was still difficult for the main character to apprehend the mentality of the locals. The author describes this episode as such: the servants brought Anjin-san a pheasant, that he hung to dry for a couple of days, which seemed strange and disgusting to the locals – to cook a spoilt poultry.
In a while the pheasant had a terrible stench that the gardener couldn’t stand, so he cut it down, and his head was chopped shortly afterwards for not following Anjin-san’s orders. Anjin-san was upset with the death of the gardener, and he was shocked when he got known that it was his fault. He (and me too) was even more surprised when he knew that the gardener had known about the punishment but he had decided to express his protest against the stench in the garden anyways.