William Adams (24 September 1564 16 May 1620), also known in Japanese as Anjin-sama (anjin, "pilot"; sama, a Japanese honorific) and Miura Anjin ("the pilot of Miura"), was an English navigator who travelled to Japan and is believed to be the first Englishman ever to reach that country. William Adams is the only officially-recognised Western samurai. He was the inspiration for the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's best-selling novel Shogun.
Soon after Adams' arrival in Japan, he became a key advisor to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and built Japan's first Western-style ships for him. Adams was later the key player in the establishment of trading factories by the Netherlands and England. He was also highly involved in Japan's Red Seal Asian trade, chartering and captaining several ships to Southeast Asia. He died in Hirado at age 55, and has been recognised as one of the most influential foreigners in Japan during this period
First foreign samurai
William Adams is known as the only officially-recognised Western samurai. He is often erroneously claimed to be the first foreign samurai but this is not true. The first foreign samurai was an African and former slave, named Yasuke, who officially served for Oda Nobunaga, and his exploit is mentioned in Shinchō kōki. Also, it is possible that some Korean or Chinese might have served a Daimyo during Sengoku period and earlier.
The shogun took a liking to Adams and made him a revered diplomatic and trade advisor and bestowed great privileges upon him. Ultimately, Adams became his personal advisor on all things related to Western powers and civilisation and, after a few years, Adams replaced the Jesuit Padre Joćo Rodrigues as the Shogun's official interpreter. Padre Valentim Carvalho wrote: "After he had learned the language, he had access to Ieyasu and entered the palace at any time"; he also described him as "a great engineer and mathematician".
Adams had a wife and children in England but Ieyasu had forbidden the Englishman to leave Japan. He was presented with two swords representing the authority of a Samurai. The Shogun decreed that William Adams the pilot was dead and that Miura Anjin (三浦按針), a samurai, was born. This made Adams's wife in England in effect a widow (although Adams managed to send regular support payments to her after 1613 via the English and Dutch companies) and "freed" Adams to serve the Shogunate on a permanent basis. Adams also received the title of hatamoto (bannerman), a high-prestige position as a direct retainer in the Shogun's court.
He was provided with generous revenues: "For the services that I have done and do daily, being employed in the Emperor's service, the emperor has given me a living" (Letters). He was granted a fief in Hemi (Jpn: 逸見) within the boundaries of present-day Yokosuka City, "with eighty or ninety husbandmen, that be my slaves or servants" (Letters). His estate was valued at 250 koku (a measure of the yearly income of the land in rice, with one koku defined as the quantity of rice sufficient to feed one person for one year). He finally wrote "God hath provided for me after my great misery" (Letters) by which he meant the disaster-ridden voyage that had initially brought him to Japan.
Adams' estate was located next to the harbour of Uraga, the traditional point of entrance to Edo Bay, where he is recorded to have dealt with the cargoes of foreign ships. John Saris related that when he visited Edo in 1613, Adams was in possession of the reselling rights for the cargo of a Spanish ship at anchor in Uraga Bay.
Adams' position gave him the means to marry Oyuki (お雪), the daughter of Magome Kageyu, a highway official who was in charge of a packhorse exchange on one of the grand imperial roads that led out of Edo (roughly present day Tokyo). Although Magome was important, Oyuki was not of noble birth, nor high social standing, so it was likely that Adams married out of true affection rather than for social reasons. Adams and Oyuki had a son called Joseph and a daughter named Susanna. Adams however found it hard to rest his feet and was constantly on the road. Initially, it was in the vain attempt to organise an expedition in search of the Arctic passage that had eluded him previously.
Adams had a high regard for Japan, its people, and its civilisation:
The people of this Land of Japan are good of nature, curteous above measure, and valiant in war: their justice is severely executed without any partiality upon transgressors of the law. They are governed in great civility. I mean, not a land better governed in the world by civil policy. The people be very superstitious in their religion, and are of diverse opinions. (William Adams's letter to Bantam, 1612)