At the opening of Shogun: A Novel of Japan, John Blackthorne. English pilot of a Dutch ship named Erasmus, arrives in Japan hoping to break the Jesuit trade monopoly on the Far East. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the feudal politics of a war-torn nation. His involvement begins as soon as he reveals his dislike for a Jesuit priest. Lord Omi and Lord Yabu see that Blackthorne may be the key to getting rid of the Jesuits. In addition, Blackthorne has the knowledge necessary to create a musket regiment for Yabu—so he can be Shogun.
Before Yabu can secure Blackthorne, Lord Hiro-matsu, the trusted aid of Lord Toranaga Yoshi, persuades Yabu to give the ship, its contents, and its pilot to Toranaga. Hiro-matsu then takes them all to Osaka aboard a galley piloted by Vasco Rodrigues, a Portuguese merchant. He tries to kill Blackthorne, but Blackthorne saves his life instead.
For Blackthorne, Osaka makes the "Tower of London look like a pigsty." Inside the castle, Blackthorne meets Toranaga, President of the Council of Regents and overlord of the Kwanto. Father Alvito is present to interpret and to negotiate with Toranaga about the Black Ship—the trading vessel under Jesuit control whereby the Japanese obtain goods from China. Toranaga decides Blackthorne could be his secret weapon if he learns to be Japanese. Lady Mariko will be his teacher.
In order to keep Blackthorne from his rival Ishido, Toranaga has Blackthorne thrown in prison. There, Blackthorne learns the history of the Jesuits in Asia from Father Domingo, a Franciscan and enemy of the Jesuits. After a few days with Father Domingo, Ishido's guards kidnap Blackthorne. While they attempt to steal Blackthorne away, Toranaga's men in disguise steal him back. By coincidence, Yabu arrives and rescues Blackthorne. Ishido, consequently, loses face, while Yabu and Blackthorne feel closer to Toranaga. Hiro-matsu and Toranaga get a good laugh.
With information from Blackthorne, Toranaga begins to understand how European affairs impact Japan. More immediately, Ishido is ready to orchestrate the political demise of Toranaga. Therefore, Toranaga disguises himself as Lady KM and sneaks out of Osaka, but Blackthorne notices the trick.
As the party nears the last checkpoint, Ishido stops them. Blackthorne risks his life to prevent Ishido from noticing Toranaga. He succeeds, and the party makes it to the galley, which is barricaded in the harbor by samurai in fishing boats. Toranaga cuts a deal with the Jesuits, and they take him out of the harbor. Rodrigues repays Blackthorne a life by allowing him to pilot the galley alongside the Portuguese vessel as it leaves. As a result of enabling Toranaga's escape, Blackthorne is made Hatamoto—a high-ranking samurai.
Back in Anjiro, Toranaga avoids Yabu's traps-He does this by honoring Yabu in front of all his men, who cheer "Toranaga!" Then, Toranaga quickly exits before Yabu realizes he has been manipulated.
That night, Blackthorne attempts suicide to protest Yabu's order that the entire village be killed unless he learns Japanese. To their surprise, Blackthorne was not bluffing, but Omi stops his arm. The Japanese now see Blackthorne as a true samurai.
While working to train Yabu's musket regiment, Blackthorne falls in love with Mariko, who is teaching him Japanese. Blackthorne discovers that to progress in his studies, and to survive, he must become Japanese.
The Game Begins
Toranaga returns to Anjiro and begins to implement his war strategy. First, he develops a false personality—one that is indecisive and weak—in order to make everyone think he is beaten. Second, he does everything in his power to gain time.
After speaking with his officers, Toranaga tells Mariko she must go to Osaka with an order for his ladies to join his procession to the castle. Then he converses with Blackthorne about the Black Ship. An earthquake disrupts the meeting, and Blackthorne saves Toranaga again. As a reward,...
(The entire section is 1,307 words.)