Shogun: Was John Blackthorne a real person?

Chris Tilly
Cosmo Jarvis in Japanese attire in Shogun.

Shogun is one of the big new shows of 2024, but is English protagonist John Blackthorne based on a real person?

The story of Shogun is enjoying its third round of success. The Shogun novel — written by James Clavell — was published in 1975, and has since sold millions of copies worldwide. It tells the tale of John Blackthorne, an English sailor who washes up on the shores of Japan in 1600.

The book was turned into a 1980 mini-series that starred Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune, which was watched by more than 30% of households in America at the time.

And now Shogun has been turned into a brand-new big-budget mini-series that’s currently airing on Hulu and FX in the States, and Disney+ in the UK.

Shogun: Was John Blackthorne a real person?

No, John Blackthorne was not a real person — author James Clavell made the character up for the purposes of his Shogun novel.

But, Blackthorne is based on a real person — William Adams, who is thought to be the first Englishman to visit Japan.

You can read a more detailed biography of Adams here, but the basics are that he was born in Kent in 1564, joined the merchant marines as a young man, was captured off the shore of Japan, and thanks to his nautical and combat knowledge, ended up as confidant to the Shogun.

He settled in the country and married a Japanese woman, before dying and being buried in Japan in 1620.

Who plays John Blackthorne in Shogun?

John Blackthorne is played by Cosmo Jarvis in Shogun.

Born in 1981, Jarvis first made a mark in Lady MacBeth in 2016, a dark drama that also helped launch Florence Pugh’s career. He then delivered a truly unforgettable performance as Arm in Calm With Horses in 2019.

Jarvis also had brief runs in TV series Peaky Blinders and Raised by Wolves, while he was most recently seen as Wentworth in the 2022 adaptation of Persuasion.

To find out why Shogun’s director doesn’t want to hear your Game of Thrones comparisons click here, while for more of the best in streaming this month, head here.

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