News On Japan

How Historically Accurate is the Shogun TV Show?

May 29 (Kings and Generals) - With FX's Shogun having wrapped up to critical acclaim, now is as good a time as any for the team at Kings and Generals to offer a final opinion on the series as a portrayal of history.

Both critics and viewers have praised this one-season wonder, but as a History Channel, reviewing the series' cinematography is out of our scope, so we will instead focus on whether medieval Japan is portrayed historically accurately and what historical inaccuracies can be found within its world.

Shogun is based on the 1975 novel by James Clavell, which itself is loosely based on real history. Many of its main characters, like Yoshii Toranaga, John Blackthorne and Toda Mariko, are based on real people: Tokugawa Ieyasu, William Adams and Hosokawa Gracia, respectively. That being said, most of the events in the story are either entirely fictional or are inspired by real ones but significantly altered. This isn't a problem, however, since the series never tries to depict history with 1:1 accuracy and makes itself clear that it is historical fiction, not historical fact. On the other hand, the show does exceptional work in its depiction of Sengoku-era Japan, with clothes, armour, ideas and customs generally portrayed faithfully.

As the first episode begins, we are greeted with the arrival of Blackthorne in Japan aboard the Dutch ship "Erasmus," the show's counterpart of William Adam's ship, the "Liefde." A squad of samurai and ashigaru welcomes the Erasmus, and we are more than happy to see them carrying firearms, which by that point in time had become a staple in Japanese warfare, regardless of how many times movies will tell you the samurai found them dishonourable. Their armour is dyed a shade of blue, and this is something we see with the soldiers of other clans as well later. During the Sengoku period, some clans, like the Takeda and Ii, had their troops dress in a certain colour to help distinguish themselves from the enemy, instill fear, or promote a sense of comradery within their ranks. The show cleverly uses this, perhaps to a greater extent than real life, to help the viewers distinguish which soldiers belong to which clan.

Next, we are also introduced to the character of Yoshii Toranaga and the political background of the story: the council of regents. Just like in history, the council rules the land until the Taiko's son comes of age, but the show deviates from real history in who is on the council. In the show, we see the counterparts of real life, Otani Yoshitsugu, Konishi Yukinaga and, of course, Ishida Mitsunari, who in the show is named Ishido and serves as the main antagonist of the story. It is during this first council meeting that the show introduces us to one of its great themes: honour. Tadayoshi, who feels that his lord Toranaga has been insulted by Ishido, draws his blade, but after realizing his mistake, he offers to commit seppuku and end his bloodline as an apology. This is historically authentic as there was a law in Japan forbidding anyone from drawing a sword in Edo castle or in the presence of Shogunal emissaries, and for the show, the same law seems to apply in Osaka castle....

Source: Kings and Generals

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