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The real history that inspired Shōgun

James Clavell's epic novel was heavily influenced by real events and figures in Japanese history

Hiroyuki Sanada in Shogun (FX/Disney+)
Hiroyuki Sanada in Shogun as Lord Toranaga, who is based on Tokugawa Ieyasu. (FX/Disney+)

Shōgun has landed on Disney+, giving viewers their first chance to dive into the world of James Clavell's iconic novel set in feudal Japan.

The series follows English pilot John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) who finds himself thrust into a civil war he doesn't understand when he and his crew are shipwrecked off the coast of Japan in 1600. There, he is taken in by Lord Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), a powerful daimyo who is one of five helping lead the country until the late Taikō's heir comes of age.

Read more: Shōgun is a masterpiece that deserves every bit of your attention

But civil unrest is brewing, and the feudal lords meant to work with Toranaga are keen to get rid of him out of fear of the power and influence he holds. The series, which is helmed by FX, is fictional but is inspired by historical fact, with many aspects of the story referencing real life events in Japanese history.

The real history that inspired Shōgun

Lord Toranaga is based on one of Japan's most important rulers

Shogun (Disney+)
James Clavell leant heavily on Japanese history to create his world, and was particularly inspired by the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. (Disney+)

While it is fictional, Clavell's story leant heavily on Japanese history to create his world, particularly the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603 after his triumph in the battle of Sekigahara years earlier.

Lord Toranaga is based on Tokugawa Ieyasu, who finished the reunification of Japan first started by his predecessors Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He was one of the country's most influential rulers, and his and his descendants' rule lasted for almost 300 years.

Shōgun is set during the latter years of Sengoku period (also known as the Warring States period), an era of civil unrest that saw the different daimyos —or lords— of the country fight amongst each other. It was Oda Nobunaga who envisioned unifying Japan, and he set about making it a reality through brutal conquest at the beginning of the Sengoku period.

Shogun (Disney+)
Shōgun is set during the latter years of Sengoku period, an era of internal warfare that began when Toyotomi Hideyoshi died and left the Council of Five Elders ruled until his heir came of age. (Disney+)

As viewers will see through Shōgun's fictional representation of Oda, the ruler was ruthless and willing to unleash horrifying bloodshed to achieve his goal. Tokugawa Ieyasu was one of his allies, and together they won several battles during their time together.

Oda is a controversial figure because of his brutality. At the time of his rule some of his own followers even found his actions abhorrent, particularly the killing of monks, women and children at the siege of Enryaku-ji temple in 1571.

While Oda was able to unify central Japan through his brutal warfare, and has been dubbed the "Great Unifier" in Japan because of it, he was assassinated by one of his own followers, Akechi Mitsuhide, in 1582. This event also serves as inspiration for Shōgun, and is especially important to the story of Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai).

Tokugawa Ieyasu (January 31, 1543 Ð June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan , which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but remained in power until his death in 1616. Ieyasu was posthumously enshrined at Nikk_ T_sh_-g_ with the name T_sh_ Daigongen. (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Tokugawa Ieyasu was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. (Getty Images)

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was Oda's successor, and he is the inspiration for the Taikō featured in Shōgun. After his death in 1598, civil unrest began brewing amongst the Council of Five Elders who were left to rule until Toyotomi's heir came of age, one of whom was Tokugawa.

Tokugawa eventually defeated his rivals at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, which was one of the biggest and most influential wars waged in the feudal era. It is the crucial years leading up to this event that inspire the story in Shōgun.

There really was an English navigator who became a samurai

Shogun (Disney+)
Shogun's John Blackthorne is based on a real English navigator named William Adams. (Disney+)

For those who may feel the notion of an English pilot becoming a samurai is far-fetched, or even adds to the idea of the "white saviour" in cinema, the arrival of John Blackthorne in Japan is actually based on fact. There really was a navigator who reached Japan: William Adams.

William Adams, like Blackthorne, landed in Japan in 1600, he went on to become an ally of Tokugawa Ieyasu and was a key advisor to him. Adams presided over shipbuilding in Japan and helped to establish trade in the country.

Commissioned as a pilot for a Dutch fleet in 1598, William Adams sailed to the East Indies [Indonesia] via Cape Horn in South America. The expedition was prior to those of the Dutch and British East India companies, but the objective was similarÑto trade their cargo for silver in South America, which was to be exchanged for nutmeg, mace, pepper and cloves in the Moluccas. A secondary option was to obtain silver in Japan. Blighted severely by mutiny, scurvy, starvation and murder, Adams' fleet was much diminished when it reached Kyushu in April 1600. The Portuguese Jesuits did their best to dissuade the shogun from trading with the Dutch, but Ieyasu ignored their pleas and welcomed Adams into the fold, allowing him to trade, and inviting him to work as a naval architect. Adams married a local woman and never returned to Europe. He died in Japan aged 55 in 1620. Fondly remembered in Japan as 'Anjin-sama', Adams was the inspiration for the character of John Blackthorne in James Clavell's bestselling novel 'Shogun'. (Photo by: Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
William Adams meets with Tokugawa Ieyasu in this painting. (Getty Images)

During his time in Japan he became known as Miura Anjin, a name also used for John Blackthorne in Shōgun. It was learning about Adams that inspired Clavell to write his novel.

The Black Ships, the spread of christianity and its downfall in Japan

Shogun (Disney+)
In Shogun several characters have converted to Christianity, the religion spread in Japan after the arrival of the Portuguese Black Ships in 1543. (Disney+)

Another aspect of Shōgun's world-building that is based on real facts was the arrival of foreigners in Japan. This began famously with the arrival of the "Black Ships", Portuguese trading vessels that landed in Japan in 1543 and established trade between the country and the West.

Following the arrival of Portuguese Catholic traders, Christianity began to take root in Japan through the work of missionaries, who worked to convert the religion among the people. In Shōgun, viewers will see the influence that Christian leaders had during this time and how many Japanese people converted to the religion, like Lady Mariko.

Shogun (Disney+)
Following the arrival of Portuguese Catholic traders Christianity began to take root in Japan through the work of missionaries who worked to convert the religion amongst the people, as depicted in Shogun. (Disney+)

Christianity was eventually stamped out in Japan through brutal methods. Oda Nobunaga allowed the religion to spread, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi continued to show favour to missionaries at first. But he changed his policy towards them when he came to perceive them as a threat. Under him and the Tokugawa shogunate, Christians were persecuted across the country and Japanese converts were forced to renounce their religion, some were even crucified.

Tokugawa Ieyasu closed off Japan from the outside world in 1612, and he also outlawed Christianity during his rule. Over the next 50 years, the religion was all but eradicated in the country.

The first two episodes of Shōgun are out now on Disney+, and the series will continue to air weekly every Tuesday.

Watch the trailer for Shōgun: