Posted by: Andreas | February 25, 2009

Book Tuesday

Today I did not really have anything to do, so I just kind of came up with this idea that I could introduce books that I have read that either are written by Japanese authors, or just take place in Japan. I’ll see if I can keep this up every Tuesday…

Today’s book that’s to be presented is one of the best books that I have read actually. It is quite long, but brilliantly written. Even though the story is fabricated the book is still loosely based on Japanese history, and I know from reading on forums that some people dislike the author because of the fact that the story is fictional. So if you do not like fiction, perhaps this is not the book for you. But if you do not care if it is fiction or not, and only want to read a book with a thrilling and captivating story, then James Clavell’s Shogun is definitely for you.

shogunShogun is set in the year 1600 and covers the build-up to the greatest battle in the history of Japan, Sekigahara. In the midst of the political turmoil of Japan enters the English pilot-major John Blackthorne when he capsizes on the shores of Izu. He is pulled into the power-struggle between the two lords Toranaga and Ishido who both are aiming at controlling Japan through the young heir Yaemon. Blackthorne ends up helping Toranaga while exploring the painful possibility of never returning home to England. Instead he is stuck in Japan and has to adapt to normal Japanese life as a samurai.

The book features several plots besides the main Toranaga – Ishido one, such as Blackthorne’s love with his female interpretor Mariko, the Christian influence on Japanese politics and trade, and also a lot of minor ones only visible through the thoughts of the book’s characters.

I find the language to be fascinating as Clavell’s style of writing has a way of captivating me while still holding back the important plot elements until the very right moment. It’s also easy to see who is talking or thinking (Clavell uses a lot of the book’s pages for the characters’ thoughts) since he adds remarks depending what language the characters are using. When it’s Latin he uses old English such as thou art, when it’s Japanese he adds neh at the end of nearly every sentence, and if it’s Portuguese Blackthorne always says Senhora to his beloved Mariko.

All in all, I believe that this is a book that can appeal to a lot of people since it has many different features, as I’ve explained above. For me personally, it took quite a while to read it because I wanted to really get as much out of it as possible, so I backtracked, re-read and all sorts of things to get all the plot twists right. Still, this one is already in my bookshelf and I’ll definitively will read it again at some later date. As soon as I’ve finished with Tai-Pan, King-Rat, Gai-Jin and the others in the same Asian Saga series, of course.


Plot:                              10/10
Language:                       9/10
Re-readability:                 8/10
Total:                              9/10

shogundvdThere is also a 1980s TV adaption of the novel starring Richard Chamberlain as Blackthorne and Toshiro Mifune as Toranaga. While the TV version only focuses on Blackthorne’s experiences it is still 9 hours long (12 hours if you watch it with advertisements) and is well worth watching in my opinion. It is available as a DVD box for a reasonable price.

The plot is still quite fascinating, but it really cannot compare to the book. There are so many things lost when only focusing on Blackthorne’s adventures. Still it has some great dramatic scenes, and I like this movie even more after realising that I’ve actually been to the castle they used as Osaka Castle when shooting this TV series, and walked across the same bridge as Anjin-san did when he went “mad”.


Plot:                               7/10
Photo:                            7/10
Re-watch’ability:             9/10
Total:                          7.5/10



  1. Great blog, will read more when I have time! xx

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