on September 7, 2013
Behind many novels and movies are real people whose lives were more extraordinary than the fictional accounts of them. Such is the case with William Adams, an Englishman born in the same year as Shakespeare (1564) who apprenticed at age 12 as a seaman, fought the Spanish Armada, sailed to find a Northeast Passage around Arctic Russia, and in 1600 arrived in Japan as part of a Dutch expedition. He is the basis for James Clavell's "Shogun."
By the time other Dutch and Portuguese traders arrived in Japan years later, Adams had learned Japanese and established himself as a respected foreigner in the complex society where he spent the remainder of his life. As author Richard Tames observes, "Success, however, seldom fails to arouse feelings of fear and envy." Again and again, Adams would intercede on behalf of those who came to his adopted country but envied Adams' position.
Tames intersperses quotes from source documents within his narrative, which results in a colorful telling.