LONDON – A play about William Adams, thought to be the first Englishman to set foot in Japan, is being staged in London to mark the start of J400, a yearlong series of events to celebrate 400 years of Anglo-Japanese relations.
“Anjin: The Shogun and the English Samurai” is a drama about Adams’ friendship with the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The play tells how Adams, a maritime pilot, was washed ashore near Usuki in present-day Oita Prefecture in 1600 and gradually became one of the shogun’s most trusted advisers. He was given the name “Anjin,” meaning pilot, and became a samurai.
Adams helped to establish trading relations between the two countries in 1613 and, despite having a wife and children in Britain, decided to remain in Japan and start another family. He also gave the all-powerful Japanese ruler valuable information about shipbuilding and the use of cannons in warfare.
In the play, Adams, who is played by Stephen Boxer, gradually becomes disillusioned with his homeland and begins to appreciate the Japanese culture and lifestyle.
The play, which has many humorous moments and is performed in English and Japanese, also documents how the shogun cemented his power through various battles and describes how many early Christian settlers were executed.
The production, directed by Gregory Doran, from the Royal Shakespeare Company, runs until Saturday at the Sadler’s Wells Theater and has received mixed reviews from newspaper critics.
Audience members at a recent performance were impressed.
“I thought the story was good and the costumes and acting was wonderful,” said one, while another lauded the portrayals of “history, political maneuvering and fight scenes.”
However, others said they struggled to watch the subtitles and action simultaneously and found the acting sometimes a little rigid and overly reliant on stereotypes.