William Adams

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William Adams was an English Pilot and the first Briton to reach Japan.

He is the inspiration for Jack Fletcher. The Young Samurai story began with the question: what if William Adams had had a son and only he had survived?

Born in September 1564, William Adams was 34 years old when he set sail from Rotterdam in June 1598 bound for the Far East. 

His fleet landed on the coast of Japan in April 1600, after more than 19 months at sea. They had left Holland with five ships, but only one ship, the Liefde, with 20 sick and dying men had survived the treacherous journey.

They were met by Portuguese Jesuit priests who claimed that Adams’ ship was a pirate vessel and that the crew should be crucified as pirates.  They were imprisoned pending execution, but Adams was fortunate enough to meet with the daimyo (Lord) of Mikawa and the future shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Adams’ knowledge of ships, shipbuilding and nautical matters appealed to Ieyasu and saved Adams’ life.

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Over the years, William Adams came to be one of Ieyasu’s most trusted advisors. The Shogun bestowed upon him the two swords representing the authority of a samurai and Adams received the title of hatamoto (bannerman), a high-prestige position as a direct retainer in the Shogun’s court.

Adams married a Japanese girl, Oyuki, and had a son called Joseph and a daughter named Susanna.

William Adams died in May 1620 and is considered to be one of the most influential foreigners during Japan’s first period of opening up to the West. In Japan, he was known as Anjin-sama. (Anjin means pilot in Japanese) and the Japanese have erected a monument to his memory at the location of his former townhouse in Tokyo.


The full account of his full story can be read in the book Samurai William by Giles Milton.

© Chris Bradford 2016