I acquired Shogun from my friend who was about 200 pages into the novel. He was having a hard time getting through it, and asked me to take a whirl at it to see what I thought. It is a massive story, so I was a little hesitant, but I’m so very glad that I took the leap and stuck through on this epic journey that James Clavell takes in this novel.

An Honest Opinion: 

It took me about 300 pages to really get into this story. Japanese culture is something I’m not extremely familiar with, and although James Clavell does an outstanding job of teaching you some Japanese phrases and customs throughout this novel, it took me a little bit to gain my footing. I found the second half of the novel riveting, and it had me flipping through pages so fast that I blew through it in a few days. I love strategy, so watching Toranaga’s military plan unfold was awesome. He was always three steps ahead of his adversaries, and following the story of Blackthorne was astounding. It’s truly a story of resilience, duty, strategy, and destiny. 

I love that this novel, and series, is based upon true events. James Clavell does an amazing job of animating the history of the individuals these characters are based upon. It lit a huge fire in me to learn more about the expedition of William Adams, on who the character of John Blackthorne is based. It’s serendipitous that an English mariner would end up surviving a doomed trip to Japan, and ultimately become vassal and hatamoto to one of the most legendary Shogun’s in Japan’s history. 

What I learned: 

I learned some Japanese words like wakarimasu (I Understand) and a little bit about the Asian trades in the 1500s. I also learned about the affect of Western religion in Japan and it’s effects on Japanese politics. There was a lot of detail as well about Japanese customs used by Samurai and Geisha (The Willow World as referenced in the novel). It was all fascinating.

My Favorite Quote: 

“…to think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral you down into ever-increasing unhappiness.To think good thoughts, however, requires effort. This is one of the things that discipline-training-is about. So train you mind to dwell on sweet perfumes, the touch of this silk, tender raindrops against the shoji, the curve of this flower arrangement, the tranquility of dawn. Then, at length, you won’t have to make such a great effort and you will be of value to yourself…”

Bucket List:

  • Visit Edo, Japan, on June 15th – a day of memorial for William Adams

Related Reads:

The Art of War by Sun Tzu: After reading Shogun, the Art of War has been bumped so many spaces up my reading list. I think that there would be many parallels throughout the description by Sun Tzu on the art of war, and the journey you encounter while reading Shogun.

Tai-Pan by James Clavell: It is the next novel in The Asian Saga series. I’m dying to know how the big battle ends, how Toranaga defeats his enemies, and what happens to Blackthorne’s character as he advances in samurai rankings.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: You learn about the start of Geisha history in Shogun, so it’s a great segue to Memoirs of a Geisha which give you an in depth look into the Willow World and talents of Geisha. 

Book Credit:

Clavell, James (2009). Shōgun. New York: Bantam Dell.

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