William Adams, the First Englishman in Japan

The eleventh of Aprill 1600, we saw the land of Japon, neere unto Bungo: at which time there were no more but five men of us able to goe. The twelfth of Aprill, we came hard to Bungo, where many barkes came aboord us, the people whereof wee willingly let come.”

It took the loss of 5 ships and the death of over 75 crew members for the first Englishman, William Adams,. to set step onto Japan. His story inspired James Clavell to write a book called Shogun in 1975 that sparked a TV show and a revival of interest in Japanese history.  Adams becomes the hero John Blackthrone. Of course, the real Adams had a far less heroic life.

The Fraught Voyage of William Adams

portrait of william adams from the black ship scroll

Portrait of William Adams from the Black Ship Scroll.

Born at Gillingham in Kent in 1564, Adams apprenticed to a shipwright by the time he was 12 years old. Twelve years later, he commanded a supply ship, the Richard Duffield, at a time when England and Spain clashed for control of the seas. The Spanish Armada blockaded England, making ships like the one Adams captained central to keeping England supplied. We know little about how Adams commanded the ship, but he soon served as a navigator and pilot in service of Queen Elizabeth. Later he worked for Barbary Company of London and served as an officer in the Dutch maritime service.

The voyage that stranded Adams in an unknown part of the world attempted to emulate Francis Drake’s circumnavigation, but scurvy, sickness, indecision and starvation plagued the effort. One crew mutinied and returned to the Netherlands. Two more ships fell to Spanish and Portuguese ships. A storm finished off the forth, leaving only Adams’s ship the Liefde to carry on.

Adams’s fame as the Englishman who had the ear of the Shogun owed to luck. When the Liefde reached Bungo, off what is now Oita Prefecture on the east coast of Kyushu, only 24 men remained alive. Six more would die within days of their landing.

The Portuguese Jesuits already had an in with Ieyasu Tokugawa, the man who would become shogun and begin the Edo period. The Jesuits and the Dutch traders didn’t want England encroaching on what they had, so they tried to convince Ieyasu that Adams and the crew of the Liefde were pirates that needed executed.

Luckily, Ieyasu wanted to meet with these new Europeans before he made a decision. Adams happened to be the only sailor who was healthy enough to meet with with the future shogun. Ieyasu questioned Adams about the wars, politics, and cultures of Europe. Adams provided information that differed from what the Jesuits had told Ieyasu and brought skills the Jesuits didn’t share: mathematics, navigation, and shipbuilding.

William Adams and Ieyasu

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Edo period

Tokugawa Ieyasu

Ieyasu decided Adams and the crew would remain free in Japan, but they were not allowed to leave until he gave permission. The future shogun added Adams to his informal council of advisors. He also confiscated what was left of the Liefde, most importantly, her guns and cannon. But he compensated the crew for what he took. Adams eventually was given an estate of 100 households and the title of hatamoto, or bannerman, for his service as an advisor. He worked along side the Jesuit Joao Rodrigues as an advisor.

On the whole, Ieyasu appeared to treat the survivors of the voyage well. While there isn’t solid evidence, it appears the Liefde’s weapons helped Ieyasu win the Battle of Sekigahara, the battled that secured him as Shogun. The fact he treated Adams and his mates so well provides some indirect evidence to this. Ieyasu granted Jan Joosten, one of the mates, a small estate, for example.

Adams become the private tutor of the Shogun, teaching him navigation techniques, geometry, and providing a different view on European politics compared to the Dutch and the Jesuits. He also helped design and build several coastal ships. One of them in the European style ferried Ieyasu on a brief trip. Adams’s work as a ship builder under Ieyasu gave rise to the misconception that he was the founder of the Japanese navy. Instead, Adams helped to negotiate a few trade deals for the English trading companies, but the deals fell victim to the protectionism that defined the Edo period.

For his part, Adams, like the Jesuits, admired the Japanese:

The people of this land of Japan are good of nature, courteous 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.

William Adams, the Family Man

Ukiyo-e by Mizuno Oshikata 1895.

Woodblock print by Mizuno Oshikata 1895. The Edo period, also called the Tokugawa period, shaped Japan as we know it today. The woodblock prints provided the foundation for manga and anime we enjoy today.

Early in his stay, Adams wrote a letter stating he intended to return to England and to his wife, but he claimed his sailing skills were so useful to the Japanese that they refused to let him leave. In his letters, Adams had a tendency to exaggerate his importance. Although Ieyasu did use Adams as an advisor and as an interpreter, Adams claimed he was a diplomat and more.

He wrote letters back to Britain, urging trade between Japan and Britain and offering to negotiate it. The British United East India Company was offered a warehouse in the new capital city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo), but the company refused. The British ignored Adams’s advice to trade at the port of Uraga. Instead, they set up close to the Dutch, leading to conflicts.

Adams remained separate from these Dutch and English conflicts, to the point of the English calling him a “naturalized Japanner” instead of considering him an Englishman. Eventually the Englishman in the area came to trust his judgment.

As Adams gained wealth and some influence in Japan, his intention of returning home waned. Back home, he would’ve been just a moderately wealthy sailor with exotic stories. While in Japan, he had an estate, rank in the Shogun’s court, and also a Japanese wife.

Adams’s marriage to Yuki wasn’t illicit. According to English Common Law, taking a second wife was a felony if the original partner still live. But exceptions were made when “either party hath been continually abroad for seven years, whether the party in England hath notice of the other’s being living or no” (Corr, 1997) Adams fell in this exception, allowing he and Mary, his English wife, to legally remarry (which Mary eventually did).

Yuki was the daughter of Magome Kageyu, an official in charge of the tenmasho, or horse station in Edo. Horse states were part of a transport system. The marriage created a new house, ie, and they had two children together: Joseph and Susanna.

Despite his marriage to Yuki, Adams still took his family life with Mary seriously.  He regularly sent support payments to Mary through the Dutch and English companies, even though he had no legal obligation to do so. In a letter to a friend, he wrote that he didn’t want his English family to become destitute.

Adams also had a consort (apparently Japanese customs of the time overrode his Englishness) in Hirada. She bore him a child, but Adams never saw the baby. He died shortly before the child was born.

The consort likely resulted from tension between Adams and Yuki. Yuki attempted to take over his estate at one point. In response, Adams willed half the value of his estate to Mary and their daughter back in England, and he willed the other half to Joseph and Susanna. Yuki received nothing.

Sadly, the consort and child didn’t either, but in Adams’s defense, he wasn’t aware of the child.  I suspect he would’ve willed a portion of the estate to his mistress if he had known she was pregnant with his child. He had an obvious love and concern for all of his children, even the daughter in England he would never see again.

The Death of William Adams and the Fate of the Liefde

Utagawa Hiroshige Yahagi Bridge at Okazaki

Another example of a woodblock print the Tokugawa period Ieyasu founded.

After Ieyasu died in 1616, Adams saw his status decline. Ieyasu’s son Hidetada lacked his father’s interest in the West and began the process of closing Japan to the rest of the world. Adams died four years later.

Adams’s 20 years in Japan sparked various stories inside Japan–by the name of Miura Anjin, but today he remains relatively unknown. Luck and strong health allowed him to become the first Englishman to live in Japan, but his mark on history remains slight.

Outside of some exaggeration, his letters to his wife and friends in England are warm at times and professional when they call for it. Other than taking a risk as a sailor, he strikes me as a pretty normal man. He was good at his job–after all, the Liefde did make it to Japan despite the deaths of the crew and the loss of her sister ships.

Speaking of the Liefde. She was damaged beyond repair in an accident. Only the wooden stern figure of Erasmus Desiderius and a map survived. You can find them in the Tokyo National Museum. Adams had altered the map at some point, changing the way the islands of Japan were drawn. He likely did this upon Ieyasu’s request. Although we know Adams drew other maps while living in Japan, none of them survived.

Adams lives on as the inspiration behind James Clavell’s Shogun. He resonates the most as a man dedicated to supporting his children.


Corr, William (1997) Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Englishman. Japan Quarterly 44 (1). 74-82.

Shimada, Takau (1992) Another manuscript copy of William Adam’s letter in ‘Hakluytus Posthumous’ Notes and Queries. 39 (1) 28-29.

100 Stone Images Ganman at Nikko

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). 100 Stone Images, Ganman at Nikko Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c935-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Recovery of an MMO Junkie and the Dichotomy of Offline and Online Life

Recovery of an MMO Junkie - reviewWhen I first saw Recovery of an MMO Junkie on Crunchyroll’s list, I wasn’t terribly excited. MMORPG-focused stories have become a genre to themselves ever since Sword Art Online became huge. However, Recovery pleasantly surprised me as a slice-of-life story that followed a 30-year-old woman who had enough of corporate life. The story itself isn’t anything groundbreaking and Moriko Morioka, the protagonist, falls into the rather tired spazzy character archetype. However, the story is solid and provides some interesting commentary about our modern life. She is a hikikomori, but nowhere near as neurotic as Sato in Welcome to the N.H.K..

Throughout Recovery, Morioka attempts to separate her real life from her online life. She plays a male character on her favorite RPG and poses as a male university student when her guildmates attempt top squeeze some personal information from her. She uses the game to escape her discontent with life and enter a world that allows her to have more confidence. She quickly finds she can’t keep her online and offline lives separate. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson of the story. Anonymity is an illusion on the Internet. As soon as you connect, there are corporate gazes watching you, even if they only see you load the browser Tor and all of its proxy bounces. Tor, if you didn’t know, is a web browser designed to make it harder for people to track you. It was intended to break through China’s firewall and other filtering systems.Everything you do leaves a trail, and it’s possible to always remain in character as Morioka discovers. Our true personalities eventually show. Online and offline life bleed into each other through social media and inevitable human interactions online.

Introvert social reaction - MMO Junkie

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this thought as an extrovert drones on.

Morioka can only keep up the role-playing for so long before coincidence and mistakes add up and her guildmates begin to suspect her gender. Luckily, her actions online help her establish friendships offline. For most of us, we don’t get to meet those we play alongside online, but sometimes, the relationships we form through our screens spill out to offline space. In fact, our actions online increasingly affects offline life. What you post on Facebook, Twitter, 4chan, Instagram, etc can hurt your career chances, depending on what you post. Companies can (and will) research your online life. From a Christian standpoint, your offline and online life should be the same. Of course, role playing is okay, but you can’t bully people on an MMO on Saturday night and be a Christian on Sunday morning. One of those yous is a lie. Online life reflects who you are inside. After all, the lack of a human face and the fact the pixels represent a stranger you may never see makes it easier to act selfishly.

Recovery touches on this fact. Morioka’s actions online better represent her true self than her socially awkward, shy real life appearance. She is considerate and capable, but suffers from social anxiety that blocks her ability to express herself. In her case, online life lets her be truer to herself than offline life. For many people, this is true, especially for introverts and those who suffer from social anxiety.

Morioka's social exhaustion and flip out

I sympathize with Morioka’s fretting over social faux-pas and social exhaustion.

Throughout my late high school and early college, I used Diablo II in the same way. I spent far too many hours playing the game with strangers and friends as a way to connect socially because of my social anxiety and awkwardness. It was in the dial-up days of the Internet. But I felt more capable in the game than I did outside the game. It was similar to Morioka’s comfort in her MMO of choice. And that comfort can be addictive if you aren’t careful. It can also give you common ground that allows you to establish connections with people you may not be able to easily connect with otherwise. This is what happens in Recovery. Morioka’s MMO allows her to connect with several people and establish ties she likely wouldn’t have otherwise. It acts as an ice breaker for conversation.

Let’s return to the idea that the online self is more real than your offline self. Online conversations appear to lack consequences. After all, you can just block someone or sign off after trolling. On video games, you often won’t see the same players with regularity. When you have these brief encounters, there doesn’t appear to be a consequence to selfish behavior such as name calling and trolling in general. When you have a void of lasting visible consequence, your true behavior can come out. If you treat them poorly, that shows how such behavior resides deep within you. If you treat them generously, that too reflects positively on you. Morioka finds a positive atmosphere on her MMO, which builds her up in the story. You see, you can never tell how your actions will impact the person on the other side of the screen. Sometimes a comment from a user named XX_PWN_you_XX can cut deeper than you suspect.

While that is partially your responsibility to let comments slide over you (easier said than done sometimes), it is also XX_PWN_you_XX’s responsibility to be compassionate too. I place more responsibility on perpetrator than victim. But in either case, behavior comes from deep within you. The less important it seems to be good, generous, and compassionate, the more important it is to be just so. Those small, seemingly unimportant events online are tests to character. They can create habits of behavior.

MMO Junkie- g!aming is life

Recovery of an MMO Junkie doesn’t pontificate these points. They are all hidden under the romance and awkward social behavior it focuses upon. You can enjoy the story for what it is–a fairly adult love story that uses an MMO to get it moving. Or you can see these interesting trends in how offline and online life interact with each other. It’s a short anime at only 10 episodes. Morioka’s spazzing grated on my nerves. I know its meant to be funny in its over-the-topness, but the trope is tired. Anxiety is rarely so overt, which is what makes anxiety so insidious, but aside from that, I found the story charming and worth a watch if slice-of-life is your thing.

Ashio Road near Ashio

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). Ashio-Road, near Ashio Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c936-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Japan and the Language of Flowers

“If I were asked to explain the Japanese spirit, I would say it is wild cherry blossoms glowing in the morning sun!”
— Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801)

Japan’s flower language isn’t as well develop as the West’s. Japan’s stories and theatre focused on humanizing plants as opposed to using them to convey emotions and messages. Victorian Europe took the language of flowers to an extreme, but Japan had its own set of symbols. Because anime has developed into an international medium, I’ll examine both Japan’s flower symbology and the West’s flower language. You will see both styles mixed in anime. 

Japan’s Language of Flowers

chrysanthemum seller in Japan c. 1890

A chrysanthemum seller in Japan, ca. 1890, photographer unknown, via Photographic Heritage

During the Heian period, the symbolism of flowers took off, appearing in noh, poetry, and the world’s first novel. However, Japanese language allows for an identification between human emotions and nature that English doesn’t really allow (Poulton, 1997). In Japanese culture, natural phenomena has a spiritual life and power of its own. Noh showcases this in its more than a dozen plays that feature a flower or tree revealing itself as an incarnation of a god or Buddha. Various folk stories feature trees and flower spirits that can marry humans and bear children. The Willow Wife is one of my favorites. This aspect of Japanese culture remains unique. We don’t find many European stories that allow plants to be Christian saints or to marry humans.

Hanami, or flower viewing, was popular during the Heian period. The cherry blossom became a favorite, representing the fleeting moments of life. But each season had its own flower. And not everyone loved the sakura. The poet Saigyo found his hermitage invaded by visitors wanting to see a nearby tree’s blossoms (Poulton, 1997). He doesn’t refuse them when they visit, but he grumbles about it in a poem:

The cherries’ only fault: the crowds that gather when they bloom

Despite its popularity, the cherry blossom wasn’t the most important flower. Chrysanthemums became the symbol of the imperial house soon after they arrived from China. The flower became the imperial crest and the throne of the emperor was even named after it: the Chrysanthemum Throne (Lombardi, 2014). The flower meant the opposite of the cherry blossom: it represented longevity and power as opposed to transient beauty and gentleness.

While most flowers associated with Japanese women, the chrysanthemum directly associated with men. In the story of The Chrysanthemum Spirit, a young woman falls in love with a handsome courtier. She eventually finds out he is an autumn flower–the chrysanthemum–that took the shape of a human. The story “uses visual and poetic imagery traditionally associated with women to reframe reproductive potency in male terms (McCormick, 2013).”

Murasaki and Floral Characters

Japanese women with cherry blossomsWhile shapeshifting flowers remained popular in noh and traditional stories, Murasaki took the idea and converted it into indirect story telling in her Tale of Genji. The novel tells its story indirectly through what is left unsaid and it’s imagery. It’s a difficult read because of it’s layers. Murasaki used various flowers to represent character personalities, future events, themes, and more. She relied on the reader to put everything together.

Murasaki weaved the names of flowers into chapter titles to suggest the events that will happen and the characters associated with each chapter. Flower included: evening glory, saffron flower, hollyhock, orange blossoms, lavender, morning glory, plum, cherry blossoms, carnations, and many others. She gives many of the women in Genji’s life the names of flowers. They act as shorthand for the character of each woman and stand in for her.

In one scene, Genji and a woman named Yugao were having an affair. Yugao was a common flower at the time. It blooms only at night and dies soon after. During their trist, Murasaki makes repeated references to a blooming yugao, foreshadowing Yugao’s early death just a few scenes later (Kido, 1988). Murasaki makes other flower references to foreshadow Genji’s other affairs and the fates of each woman. Even Genji’s fall from grace can be seen in these flower symbols. Centuries later, Charlotte Bronte would adopt the same technique for her work.

The Victorian Language of Flowers

A flower is not a flower alone; a thousand thoughts invest it.

During the Victorian period, women often became amateur botanists. They began developing a complete language using flowers, but early dictionaries often contradicted each other (Engelhardt, 2013). Many of the definitions extend deep into history, such as the idea olive branches symbolize peace, roses symbolize love, and so on. Although the Victorian period saw codified symbols and expansion of the language, most of the floral code date to medieval and Renaissance literature (Rothenberg, 2006; Engelhardt, 2013).  But Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot used the symbols to construct a language fairly similar to Murasaki. Jane Eyre used flowers as sexual codes and to describe characters in shorthand as Murasaki did. For example, during a scene when Jane and Rochester take a walk, flowers appear throughout the description.  Engelhardt (2013) drops the emotional associations and meanings of the plants during the walk:

…edged with box [stoicism]; with apple trees [temptation], pear trees [comfort], and cherry trees [deception] on the one side, and a border on the other, full of all sorts of old-fashioned flowers, stocks [lasting beauty], sweet Williams [sensitivity], primroses [first youth; if evening, inconstancy], pansies [thoughts], mingled with southernwood
[jest/bantering], sweet-briar [I wound to heal], and various fragrant herbs. (249)

According to Engelhard (2013), Bronte seems to use the flowers to reveal the feelings of the lovers and of Rochester’s mysterious behavior in the scene. He is tempted (apple trees) to open his heart after years of being a stoic, but he realizes this would require deception (cherry trees) and ruining Jane’s beauty (stocks) because of her inexperience with love (primrose) and her sensitivity (sweet Williams). So Rochester jokes with her (southernwood) and hopes he will heal the pain of his marriage to Bertha (sweet-briar).

Victorian era coupleMost of the time, people used flowers to express embarrassing feelings, on par with what Bronte outlines with Rochester. In these floral dialogues, a lady or gentleman would ask a question or express an emotion by showing a flower. The other would then respond with their own flower. Flowers can be combined to form entire sentences, and the color of the flower can shift the meaning. So to carry Bronte’s illustration:

pink rose + cherry blossom + pink rose = desire to be educated in passion.

Pink roses have three meanings: desire, passion, and joy of life. Cherry blossoms equate with education. So the combination can also mean passion to be educated in desire, which still has the same general meaning.

Flowers and Their Meanings

Because the meanings of flowers were in dispute throughout the Victorian period, you may encounter some dictionaries that contradict what I list there.  As with any language, time and use can change the meanings of words.


Endresak, David, “Girl Power: Feminine Motifs in Japanese Popular Culture” (2006). Senior Honors Teses. 322. htp://commons.emich.edu/honors/322

Hoffman, Michael (2012) Sakura: Soul of Japan. Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/03/25/general/sakura-soul-of-japan/.

Kido, Elissa (1988) Names, Naming, and Nature in the Tale of Genji. Literary Onomastics Studies. 15. Article 4.

Lombardi, Linda (2014) Chrysanthemums are more than just a symbol of autumn. Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/10/27/national/chrysanthemums-just-symbol-autumn/

McCormick, Melissa. (2013) “Flower Personification and Imperial Regeneration in The Chrysanthemum Spirit.” In Amerika ni wattata monogatari-e. Tokyo: Perikansha.

Poulton, Mark. (1997) The Language of Flowers in the No Theatre. Japan Reveiw. 8. 39-55

Rothenberg, David (2006) The Marian Symbolism of Spring ca. 1200-ca.1500: Two Case Studies. Journal of Musicology Society. 59 (2) 319-398.

View of Imaichi at Nikko Road

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880 – 1890). View of Imaichi, at Nikko Road Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-c929-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99