Hiroyuki Sanada as Lord Yoshii Toranaga in Shogun

‘Shōgun’ Is a Dazzling Drama but How Historically Accurate Is It?

Shōgun had its two-episode premiere on FX on February 27, and critics and audiences already can’t stop talking about the historical drama series. But many also want to know just how much real-life history made its way into the show.

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The series is based on James Clavell’s 1975 novel of the same name and marks the second adaptation of the bestselling book. It follows the rise of Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada), a powerful feudal lord, as seen through the eyes of shipwrecked English sailor John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). So far, the series boasts a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes out of 58 reviews, which is quite an incredible feat. It has been labeled the next Game of Thrones as viewers compare its epic scale to the critically acclaimed fantasy series.

Adapting Clavell’s 1,200-page novel is no easy feat. However, Shōgun has pulled it off beautifully so far, with a mesmerizing, clever, and dramatic series. Given the hype surrounding it, viewers are likely anxious to know everything they can about this series, including the story and history behind it.

Is Shōgun based on a true story?

Hiroyuki Sanada in 'Shogun,' the new FX limited series based on the novel by James Clavell
(FX / Hulu)

Shōgun is a fictional retelling of a true story. Much of the story is based on real-life events; most characters have real-life counterparts. The series begins by setting up the timeline for viewers and recaps the history leading up to 17th century Japan. Viewers essentially get a summary of the Sengoku Period in Japan. The Sengoku Period was a time of warfare in which the Shōgun, or warrior class leader, had lost power. As a result, a few great warlords stepped up to extend their influence and unify the country again.

The two great unifers were Oda Nobunaga and his successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Before his death, Hideyoshi put together the Council of Five Elders. These “elders” would oversee Japan after Hideyoshi’s death and ensure his five-year-old son would claim the throne when he was of age. Meanwhile, the most powerful of the Five Elders was Tokugawa Ieyasu. Ieyasu is the historical inspiration for Shōgun‘s lead character, Toranaga. The show’s set-up and intro follow history almost exactly, with the exception of changing names. Meanwhile, Toranaga’s story largely follows Tokugawa’s journey to establishing the Tokugawa shogunate and officially ending the warring period of Japan. However, it does take some creative liberties.

One of the major deviations from history comes from Blackthorne. Blackthorne is based on William Adams, the first Englishman to travel to Japan. As the show depicts, Adams actually did become a trusted advisor and friend to Takagawa during this period and was even given the honorary title of a samurai. However, in Shōgun, Blackthorne plays a much more vital role in Toranaga’s rise to power than Adams did in Takagawa’s rise. The show definitely plays up his heroic storyline and even gives him a romance with Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai). However, Lady Mariko is based on Hosokawa Gracia, who had no connection to Adams in real life, given that Garcia died the same year Adams first landed in Japan.

Ultimately, the intro, setting, and premise of Shōgun are largely based on real-life history, as are the characters. It’s important to remember that this is a fictional retelling, though, so there are some minor changes to the timeline and major additions of romance and drama to embellish the story.

(featured image: Hulu)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.