Shogun (A Novel of Japan)

by James Clavell

Hardcover, 1975



A bold English adventurer. An invincible Japanese warlord. A beautiful woman torn between two ways of life, two ways of love. All brought together in a mighty saga of a time and place aflame with conflict, passion, ambition, lust and the struggle for power.

Library's rating


(1872 ratings; 4.3)

User reviews

LibraryThing member PMaranci
When I was a teenager my father had a heart attack. He survived, thank goodness, and is still fine these many decades later. But while he was bedridden and convalescing, our neighbors brought all sorts of books over to help him pass the time. They were mostly best-sellers of the time; books that I would never have read on my own, since I was a science-fiction fan.

Shogun was one of them. I'm not sure if Dad read it, but I sure did. And I've read it every six months or so, ever since.

Why? Several reasons:

1. It's incredibly readable. This is one of those amazing books that simply sucks you in and makes you live its story. Clavell had the rare gift of writing, and Shogun was his masterpiece.

2. It's really long. I'm an extremely fast reader, but even I can't get through Shogun in less than a week. And yet every time I finish it, I always wish there was more, and more...I'm lucky that I can re-read it within six months and enjoy it as much as ever.

3. It presents a fascinating and accessible take on an ancient culture. True, it may not be an entirely accurate picture of Japanese society in the 1600s (I just read an article by a scholar that sneered at the book unmercifully, although many scholars are far less negative about the book). Still, I've learned a little Japanese from the book - enough to help me understand anime a bit better - and while the culture as presented is doubtless over dramatized, I believe that it has still given me some useful insights into Japanese culture.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
It wasn't far into the book before I knew I wouldn't, couldn't stop despite the novel's intimidating length of over a thousand pages. What grabbed me was the conflict here between East and West--and Clavell picked a perfect time period to highlight those differences, at the dawn of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600 only a few decades after Jesuits had established Christianity in the country but just a few decades before Japan closed itself off from the West for over two centuries. The plot centers upon John Blackthorne, the English pilot of a Dutch ship that is disabled off the coast of Japan during the time the Portuguese held a monopoly on trade.

I've read reviews complaining the depiction of the Japanese isn't always accurate; it isn't surprising Clavell, an Australian-born American citizen, might miss nuances of the different cultures he depicts, largely Japanese, (but also British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese) especially since the novel is set about 400 years in the past. (I read that, in particular, Clavell's Japanese is Babelfishian in its syntax and there are cultural anachronisms. For those who find the overall plot implausible, however, they should look up William Adams, the real English pilot and samurai upon whom Blackthorne is based.) I'm not qualified to know where Clavell might have gone astray, but at least the novel is balanced enough that both the Europeans and Japanese are portrayed as having admirable and repugnant qualities as cultures and individuals.

The prose isn't smooth. There are point of view shifts and a lot of information dumped on the reader in less than an organic way, especially in the first couple of parts. Despite that I found this an engrossing yarn. Clavell is wonderful at conveying Blackthorne's reactions to a culture so alien to him and how he's transformed by his experiences with it, part conversion, part Stockholm syndrome. At the heart of the story is a well-rendered romance, and I thought Mariko, a Christian Samurai, made both a good match and foil to Blackthorne. There was certainly plenty of intrigue, (often gory) action, and touches of humor to hold my interest and the novel did make me want to learn more about Japan and wish to read a Japanese novel or history sometime, especially about this period. (I've heard the Japanese historical novelists Shusaku Endo and Eiji Yoshikawa are good places to start.) I liked it enough I might even try Clavell's other novel of Japan, Gai-jin, a kind of sequel to this one, but dealing with the period of the Meiji Restoration and reopening of Japan to the West around 250 years later.
… (more)
LibraryThing member neddludd
One of the best novels I've ever read. Over 1,000 pages long, and it could have used another thousand. I've read it through twice, at different times in my life. It is such a multi-layered tale. An English explorer washes up onto the coast of 17th-century Japan and is introduced to a whole new way of life. He becomes convinced that the Japanese way is better and learns the language, falls in love with a beautiful princess, and pleases the Shogun, Toranaga, a brilliant military and political strategist. Meanwhile, the Englishman's crew isn't having such a wonderful time. They stick to their European ways and suffer terrible penalties. One must ask, after incidents on both sides, "Who is more of a barbarian?" Also highlights European dispute between Catholics and Protestants, which manifests itself in competition between Northern Europe (Britain, Holland) and Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal). So many unforgettable characters in this epic work, so many brilliant action scenes, such a tender love story.… (more)
LibraryThing member miyurose
If you’ve never read this, I highly recommend it. It’s definitely a major time-investment (it took me over 3 weeks to read), but well worth it. Clavell has created an intricate portrait of early 17th century Japan, from the perspective of both insiders and outsiders. And you learn almost immediately that the man could certainly write an action scene. I know very little about ships, but I could picture this perfectly:

He exerted all his strength as the rudder bit into the torrent. The whole ship shuddered. Then the prow began to swing with increasing velocity as the wind bore down and soon they were broadside to the sea and the wind. The storm tops’ls bellied and gamely tried to carry the weight of the ship and all the ropes took the strain, howling. The following sea towered above them and they were making way, parallel to the reef, when he saw the great wave. He shouted a warning at the men who were coming from the fo’c’sle, and hung on for his life.

For me, the real meat of the story isn’t all of the Japanese political intrigue (you almost need a flowchart to keep track of who is backstabbing who), or even the (somewhat predictable) love story between Blackthorne and Mariko, but Blackthorne’s transformation. In the beginning, he is an Englishman, through and through, but by the end of the story even his personal thoughts are more Japanese than English. Believe it or not, I actually wish the story had gone on a bit longer… I wanted to know Blackthorne’s story to its conclusion. Will he ever be completely happy in his new home? Will he find love? Does he survive Toranaga’s war? So many questions!
… (more)
LibraryThing member RobertDay
A kaleidoscope of Japan at the time of the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate. True, the names have been changed to allow Clavell to exercise artistic licence, but the historical personages are easily recognised.

Also true is the fact that the intimate relationship between Blackthorne and the Lady Mariko would not have happened like that. So it goes.

When this novel was new, many science fiction fans of my acquaintance devoured it eagerly, saying "This is a science fiction novel!" When I asked what they were talking about, they said "It's about a man coming to terms with an alien civilization", and that is true. Japanese society and culture works on completely different rules to Western society, and that has been the cause of so much pain and suffering during the 20th century. Clavell wrote this book from a position of knowledge; he had experience of the Japanese as a PoW in the Second World War, but he then went further and did his research to uncover the reasons behind what he saw. This book, and others like it, play an important part in increasing our understanding of this alien culture, no matter how much they have spin and fancies added for the entertainment of Western audiences.
… (more)
LibraryThing member salol
This book can only be described in one word: epic. Without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read. I literally could not stop reading this book once I started. I was up until 3 or 4 in the morning every night reading, and I read through every meal. This book has been classified as a romance by some, but trying to describe this book with one genre doesn't do it justice. There is so much political intrigue, drama, personal turmoil, strife... It really gives you a good perspective on life in the 1600's in Japan as compared to life in that time in Europe.… (more)
LibraryThing member Radaghast
Epic is the first word that comes to mind when reviewing this novel. Shogun is over a thousand pages long. Yet amazingly Clavell kept me completely enthralled even as I read the final page. I'm not sure a book like this could be written today. Clavell takes you on a long journey, and you have to have the patience to follow. If you do, you will find it a more than worthy journey.

Shogun tells the story of an English sailor who comes to Japan a barbarian. By the end of the story, he has been civilized by the Japanese. He has even become a samurai. This illustrates one of the major points of the book. From the perspective of the Japanese, their first encounters with the West showed them we lacked civility. We had no standards of hygiene. We lacked the order of their feudal system. We had no concept of honor nor the willingness to kill ourselves and others to maintain that honor. We were childish in our views of sex and love. Etc.

On the other hand, we see the English perspective just as clearly. The samurai are brutal, oppressive to the lower classes and obsessed with death. They are so consumed with pride they fail to see the real threat the West poses. They are intolerant of religions that differ from their own. Etc.

You see clearly the flaws and strengths of each culture and the interaction between them that results seems realistic. It is a sharp clash. But you also realize at the end of the day, each character is the same: Human.

Clavell does his historical homework here, to justify all of this. But does the actual story hold together? In my view, that is it's true strength, even more than the clash of cultures. The English ship pilot Blackthorne feels as real as the Japanese samurai woman Mariko. It is amazing how a man in the 20th century can put himself in the mind of people who lived in different cultures, were not of his gender and lived so many years ago. Clavell does this, and then some. The story line itself is equally engaging. The struggle for power in Japan, the struggle between Christianity and traditional Japanese religion, and the struggle of each characters internal problems all keep you reading.

This alone makes this novel worth it. But there is an added element. Clavell based this all on real events. Of course, he changed many things, but after you are finished reading Shogun, look at the real historical figures this story was based on and you will find a tale just as interesting as the novel.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Piratenin
I enjoyed Shogun massively. It was a book that once I started to read I couldn't put it down, and for such an epic novel, this struck me as impressive. I never felt that plot lagged, it was quick paced and thoughtful, dealing well with a clash of powerful cultures. I enjoyed reading about all of the characters, and felt that they all developed in an interesting and believable way throughout the novel. It was a wonderful story, and although I am not sure how historically accurate it is, it has made me want to know more about Japanese history. All in all the novel captures a feeling of wonder and repusion from both sides discovering each others cultures and this is what makes it an excellent story.… (more)
LibraryThing member DRFP
I first read this book in my mid-teens and thoroughly loved it. These days I tend to read slightly more "serious" authors but I can't deny that this book remains one of my favourites.

I think this book is Clavell's best because of the historical facts that it is based upon (otherwise the book would be completely unbelieveable). As ever with Clavell's novels I (still) find Shogun a wonderfully easy book to read and could happily spend all day caught in its story.

It's no Crime And Punishment but Shogun is still a great read, that's tremendously entertaining, and ultimately, at the end of the day, that's all that mattters.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Leylue
This book is very long, so unless you have some time, don't pick up this one. Some parts are a little slow, especially the begining. Once you get into it, you can't put it down. I loved all the cultural references about Japan and England. You really learn a lot about the Japanese people of this time period in this novel. Well written. For an added treat, rent the miniseries with Richard Chamberlin. I saw the miniseries way back when it was on TV. I read the book and now I am going to watch the miniseries again, but whew! I'll probably never read this book in its entirety again.… (more)
LibraryThing member delphica
My reading of this book came out of a conversation about ... it's hard to describe, books that are famous and well-known, but you're not of the right age to have read them. It was a bestseller when I was a little kid, and a mini-series when I was a slightly older kid, but I was not the kind of kid who was going to watch Shogun; I was too busy listening to Shawn Cassidy records, I'm sure (although I remember it being on TV when my parents watched it). And then after that, it's not the kind of novel that would have been assigned in school, so really, never came across it. Ah, and I think the conversation was somewhat based on this column that used to occasionally be in the Washington Post (I think), about bestsellers that were HUGE in their day but mostly forgotten now. Anyway, so I read Shogun.

It is QUITE the page-turner, that is for sure. It is maybe a little goofy with the main dude being super good at everything so he's able to be a European who finds himself in Japan, and after proving how manly he is about twenty times, proceeds to rock the house as a samurai. And it was the 1970s, so it's made very clear, in case you were worried, that one of his many manly qualities is that he's WELL-ENDOWED.

So let's see, it's 1600, English sailor dude finds himself shipwrecked in Japan, where he eventually gets all involved with a political/military power struggle and in the process, goes from thinking the Japanese are crazy uncivilized foreigners to embracing many aspects of Japanese culture. And there is a love story, and some boom-chicka-wow-wow scenes with courtesans that seem cute-if-awkward now, but were probably steamier when the book came out. It was very riveting, and I cried at the sad parts.

The other funny things is that there are a number of bits that seemed, well, unnecessary at the very least, like describing a mysterious robe in great detail and then explaining it's called a KIMONO. And now, one's reaction is along the lines of "uh yeah, we know what a kimono is, this isn't exactly esoteric knowledge." But then I would realize that one of the main reasons the average American already knows what a kimono is is BECAUSE of this book (and later mini-series), it really had that much of a impact on American interest in traditional Japanese culture.
… (more)
LibraryThing member JackieP
Most books of over a thousand pages generally have a lot of boring 'filler' sequences. Not this one - the action is non-stop.

This novel is breathtaking, a classic epic that everyone should read. Clavell writes with an enormous amount of skill, his tale weaved cleverly with both wit and grace throughout. Japanese history and culture is portrayed through the eyes of an Englishmen in the 17th century, whom ultimately adopts their lifestyle as preferrable to his own. We go through this journey with him step by step, via both tragedy and triumph, each stage an absolute joy to read.

One of the best books I've ever read, I'm sure I'll read this book again and again.

Karma, neh?
… (more)
LibraryThing member furriebarry
An interesting plot marred by POV shifts, strange chapter structures and poor characterisation. Also contains a huge info dump for the first 150 pages. A let down.
LibraryThing member BryanThomasS
What Michener did for Western American history in Centennial, Clavell does for Japan. I love the book. It's even richer than the miniseries, which is also good. Truly a monumental read you'll never forget. An investment of time due to size but well worth it. One of the best books I've ever read and Clavell's best.
LibraryThing member marfita
Someone recommended this to me when I was in graduate school, but I didn't pick it up, actually, until several years after I was thrown out (I am not a scholar). "You'd enjoy it!" he insisted. I looked at it one day. It was 4 pages short of 1,200. Faugh! Once I started it, though, I could not stop. It took me six days (and this was while I was working at the convent of Sister Mary William Hilton) and I read it on the sly, taking loooong bathroom breaks. By the end of it I was convinced that I was fluent in Japanese. Shortly afterwards I came across a book that had the history behind the English anjin-san who never left Japan. And I thought Clavell had made the whole thing up! Well, he added about 1,160 pages of damned good filler. I also watched the Richard Chamberlin mini-series of same and I recall being reasonably impressed with how well they did it. Of course, I still wonder what about me made that guy (whose face I recall but not his name) think I'd really like this book. I think this book is so great that I buy cheap copies of it whenever I can (25 to 50 cents! Quelle bargain!) to give to people I think need to read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member julsitos2
Deserves more than 5 stars. Despite its 1200+ pages, the story is quite short. The characters are endearing and the plot deliciously complex. A veritable saga!
LibraryThing member GirlFromIpanema
I already bought three copies of this book. A paperback back in 1980 after the mini series was shown (or before?), another fell into my lap and was quickly bookcrossed by placing it in a hut in the Japanese Garden and now I found a nice hardcover edition for a mere 1€. I will, however, not stop buying copies and giving them away! I love this book for its wonderfully complex and rich story and characters. Like the mini series, I can read this one over and over again.… (more)
LibraryThing member Stir
Shogun is an epic tale taking place in feudal Japan during the 17th century. A compelling piece of historical fiction that provides incredible detail about Japanese customs and traditions without bogging down the story. The real strength of this book is the characters, which are well developed and often have competing objectives. There is a fair bit of political intrigue but the characters don't always share all the information at their disposal. Therefore, the reader is left trying to understand their actions instead of being in position to evaluate and second guess their decisions.… (more)
LibraryThing member ckoller
Tremendous story. I can't believe how complex and intricate it was. It was a great great book.
LibraryThing member santhony
James Clavell's series of novels on Japan and China are the finest pieces of historical fiction ever produced. Beginning with the epic Shogun, Clavell follows the narrative through Tai-Pan, Gai-Jin, Noble House and ultimately the loosely related King Rat and Whirlwind. A perfect example of how reading for enjoyment and reading for educational purposes can be combined seamlessly.… (more)
LibraryThing member ursula
Shogun is an epic: a huge cast of characters, a historical setting, a sweeping picture of landscapes and cultures, smaller stories caught up in larger ones, everything you could really expect from the word "epic." It takes place in 1600, when Englishman John Blackthorne and the remains of his Dutch crew come ashore in Japan. They are the first non-Spanish, non-Portuguese Westerners to arrive in that country, and they get a less-than-friendly welcome. Drama, political intrigue, romance, cultural misunderstandings, violence, and secret plots ensue for the next thousand-plus pages.

I guess it's inevitable with a book over a thousand pages long, but I was bored a fair amount of the time. The characters are clearly drawn, so it's pretty easy to keep them straight most of the time. Even so, with many layers of intrigue and lies told to different people to manipulate them in different ways, you're bound to get lost occasionally. Before too long, though, the cast is shortened by someone getting their head lopped off or committing seppuku, so don't despair.

Recommended for: people who watch a lot of anime, people who find sword violence less objectionable than gun violence, fans of Machiavelli.

Quote: "The peasant soldier who became a samurai and then a general and then the greatest general and finally the Taiko, the absolute Lord Protector of Japan, is dead a year and his seven-year-old son is far too young to inherit supreme power. So the boy, like us, is in pawn. Between the giants. And war is inevitable."
… (more)
LibraryThing member itbgc
I LOVED this book for many reasons, and I think it is one of the best books I have ever read. However unfortunately, I sometimes hesitate to recommend it to others because it is quite graphic and may be disturbing to some people with its violence, sexuality, and profanity.
LibraryThing member nhoule
I read this novel when it was first published and was totally mesmerized.
LibraryThing member ElTomaso
An excellent history of early Japan in novel form.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I found this book immensely enjoyable, and despite its length, at no point did it really start to drag.

Clavell's psychoanalysis of his protagonists is quite exceptional, especially with regards to the daimyo and liege Lord Toranaga; the way he is able to construct and unravel such intricate court intrigues is quite marvellous.

My only complaint is that, about two-thirds in, Clavell's style becomes slightly predictable: a scene is introduced, and then a framing flashback occurs, with clear grammatical marking using the past perfect simple (had arrived etc). I began to see these points coming, and it began to grate very quickly. But for this, a certain 5/5.
… (more)



Original publication date





Original language

Page: 0.2948 seconds