William Adams

Stone marker at the former site of Adams' Edo mansion
  • Born: 1564
  • Died: 1620
  • Other name: Miura Anjin (三浦按針)

William Adams, also known as Miura Anjin, was an English navigator who settled in Japan. He is now famous as the prototype of the hero of James Clavell's quasi-historical novel Shogun.

Adams was born in 1564, in Gillingham, England. From age twelve to twenty-four, he worked as an apprentice to a shipwright. At age 24, in 1588, he captained a supply ship during the fight against the Spanish Armada. Adams met his first wife, Mary, the following year, and later had two daughters with her. He then joined the Barbary Company in the 1590s, and presumably traveled a number of times between England and the North African coast. He may have also sailed with Dutch crews in search of the Northwest Passage on at least one occasion.

Then, in 1598, Adams was hired by a firm based in Rotterdam to serve as pilot for a fleet of five ships to journey to Japan, and to attempt to establish trade relations there. The Spanish and Portuguese were the only Europeans trading in Japan at this time, and gaining access for the Dutch would break their monopoly. By the time Adams reached Japan, however, the Liefde was the only one of the five ships which remained. It made landfall in Bungo province, in Kyushu, on April 19, 1600 (3/7 on the Japanese calendar). Only 21 of the original 110 crew were still alive and with the ship, and three more died shortly afterwards, leaving only 18 survivors of the voyage.

While the rest of the crew were held in detention by the local daimyô, Tokugawa Ieyasu, then the chief tairô (senior counsellor), brought Adams to Osaka as the crew's representative. He had an interview with Ieyasu on May 12[1] and apparently favorably impressed him. Ieyasu united the archipelago under his rule following the battle of Sekigahara, which took place on 9/15, and later took Adams into his service, along with Jan Joosten van Lodensteiyn; a few of the other survivors were similarly granted fiefs or posts by Ieyasu, or by regional daimyô.

Adams served Ieyasu in a number of fields, even building him an 8-ton European-style boat (the San Buena Ventura). He also served as interpreter; tutor in geography, geometry, and navigation; shipwright; commercial agent; and as foreign relations advisor. Both in his advisory capacity, and as intermediary or interpreter in shogunate negotiations with the Spanish Philippines and Dutch Company, he played a role of no small importance in shaping the position of the bakufu towards Spain, Portugal and the Catholic Church.

Adams was named a hatamoto in 1605 and was given land in the Miura Henmi (三浦逸見) district of Sagami province (near the mouth of Edo Bay), along with 80 servants,[2] along with the name Miura Anjin (三浦按針), anjin meaning "pilot." His fief was rated at roughly 250 koku, and Richard Cocks wrote that it included some one hundred farms. Adams was also given a mansion in Edo, in a neighborhood which quickly came to be known as Anjin-chô ("Anjin Town" or "The Pilot's Neighborhood"). Though Adams was married to an Englishwoman, he also married a Japanese woman around 1605. According to Meiji period sources, her name may have been Oyuki, and she may have been the daughter of Magome Kageyû, headman of the Nihonmachi Otenmachô post-station. English sources refer to her only as "Adams' wife" or "Mrs. Adams," and do not give her name. Mukai Masatsuna, Ieyasu's chief naval advisor, is said to have been the go-between (nakodo) for the marriage. London Merchant's Company documents give her sister's name as Magdalena, and Magdalena's husband as Andreas, strongly suggesting that both were Catholic converts. If Oyuki was Christian, too, she would surely have also been Catholic; though this would have been a sure source of tension between her and the Protestant Adams - who decidedly saw the Catholic Spanish & Portuguese as his enemies - the couple seem to have gotten along quite well though; sources suggest he was genuinely fond of her, and that he enjoyed showing off his Japanese family to English and Dutch guests. Adams had good relationships with his in-laws as well; his father-in-law worked for him as a commercial agent for some time, and his sister-in-law Magdalena, along with her husband Andreas, seem to have been involved in Adams' commercial ventures in some fashion as well.

Adams had two children with his Japanese wife, Joseph and Susanna. The years of their births, and hence their ages, are not known, and it is also unclear whether either child spoke English, or if they were raised speaking only Japanese. Still, Richard Cocks seems to have been quite fond of them, and continued to communicate and exchange gifts with them after Adams' death.

In addition to this close family, however, Adams also kept a concubine at Hirado. In 1621, after Adams' death, she brought her child to Cocks, though with what intentions is unclear. He offered to pay for the child's schooling, provided the child would later be given over into the protection of England, but the mother refused. Some years later, a record shows, Cocks sent money to help pay for the child's coat.

In 1612, he requested from the shogunate permission to return home to England, but was rebuffed, as Ieyasu still thought him too useful. The following year, members of the London Merchant's Company (i.e. the British East India Company) arrived in Japan for the first time, and because of his position, Adams was able to secure rather liberal trading rights for them. Later that year, he was granted permission to return to England, but decided to stay, perhaps because of a renewed interest in the amount of wealth he might be able to amass through trade.

Adams was granted a red seal trading license by the shogunate, and traveled to Ayutthaya (Siam) on several occasions in 1615-1616, aboard his ship the Sea Adventure,[3] as well as to Hoi An (in Vietnam) in 1617, and Ryûkyû on at least one occasion. Cocks, the first head of the London Merchant's Company's operations in Japan, visited Adams at Henmi in 1616.

He died of illness in 1620, in Hirado. There is a grave in Henmi (now Yokosuka City), called "Anjin-zuka" and said to be his, though it also may be that of his son Joseph; in either case, the neighboring grave is believed to be that of his wife, Oyuki. Following Adams' death, Joseph inherited his red seal license, his fief, and the name "Miura Anjin," and continued to trade for a time under that name and license.[4] He made at least five trips to Southeast Asia in 1624-1635.[5] In 1633, Miura (Joseph) was to be only one of seven families to still hold a shuin license.

There is a marker on the site of his Edo (now Tokyo) mansion; the address is Chûô-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-10-8. Until the beginning of the Shôwa Period (1926-1989) the area was called "Anjin-chô"; there is still an "Anjin-dôri" ("Anjin Street") there. There is also an annual festival in his honor, held in Itô, Shizuoka Prefecture, called Anjin Matsuri.


  • Gary Leupp, Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900, A&C Black (2003), 56-59.
  1. Adams gave this date in a letter to his wife. It is not clear if he was using the Gregorian or the Julian calendar. It seems most likely that as he came on a Dutch ship he would be using the calendar of the log of that ship, presumably the Gregorian one (see http://webexhibits.org/calendars/year-countries.html). This would mean the date he he saw Ieyasu was 1600/3/29 (Japanese calendar). However, England was still using the Julian calendar. If Adams as an Englishman used the Julian calendar, he would have met Ieyasu on 1600/4/10.
  2. Gonnami, Tsuneharu. "Images of Foreigners in Edo Period Maps and Prints." Unpublished manuscript. Presentation at symposium "Edo: Past & Present," University of British Columbia, April 1998. p7.
  3. Geoffrey Gunn, History Without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800, Hong Kong University Press (2011), 223.
  4. Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 19.
  5. Leupp, 66.