Wednesday, 9 December 2009
William Adams was born in the Kentish town of Gillingham, England, in the year of our Lord 1564.
At the age of twelve he was apprenticed as a shipwright working in Limehouse, an area of the old London docks.
His apprenticeship lasted twelve years before he gained a position as Master and Pilot with the Worshipful Company of Barbary Merchants, where he spent a further twelve years, including joining a Government funded expedition to the Arctic to try to find the fabled Northwest Passage.
In the year 1598 an opportunity arose to join a small Dutch Merchant fleet as Pilot Major, with the objective of opening trade between Holland and Japan.
The fleet consisting of five merchantmen, sailed that year and headed off for the tip of South America.
Only three vessels made it through the Straits of Magellan, one of which was captured by the Spanish and another was lost in a storm.
The last remaining vessel crossed the Pacific and arrived off Japan in April 1600, with only 20 of the original crew of 100 surviving. The most senior of which was William Adams.
Initially they met with a hostile reception from locals accompanied by Jesuit priests, who wanted them crucified as pirates.
However, word was sent to Tokugawa the Daimyo of Mikawa, the future Shogun of Japan.
He insisted on interrogating Adams over a considerable period of time, on such subjects as his profession, country, religion and England's relationship with Spain and Portugal.
Much to the annoyance of the Jesuits, Tokugawa refused to countenance the execution of people he did not have a quarrel with.
Adams was commissioned by the now Shogun to build Western style sailing vessels, the first of which was used to chart the coast of Japan.
Within a two year time frame Adams became fluent in Japanese and gradually replaced the Jesuits as the advisor to the Shogun on matters covering shipbuilding, trade and diplomacy.
About this time the Shogun presented him with two swords and changed his name to Miura-Anjin, thus he became the first European to be made a Samurai.
Known by most as Anjin-sama, meaning Lord Pilot, he received an estate which included 100 servants and was located at a place called Uraga, near modern day Tokyo.
Adams married a local Japanese girl, by whom he had two children.
Given privileged trading and diplomatic rights, he served Japan until his death in 1620.
His grave can be seen today in Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture, where it is maintained by local monks.
William Adam's memory is preserved to this day in two places, Anjin-cho, in Nihonbashi and at a village in his former fiefdom called Anjinzuka.
Every year on the 10th August, the city of Ito holds the Miura Anjin Festival.
His story was the inspiration for a novel by James Clavell and also turned into a mini-series called Shogun.