421 years ago, an Englishman by the name of William Adams became the first to reach Japan. Initially detained by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, he became an invaluable source of innovation regarding shipbuilding and establishing English and Dutch trading factories in Hirado, Nagasaki. Recognised as one of the most influential foreigners in Japan during this period, he became the first of only a handful of Western samurai under the name of Miura Anshin (三浦按針). In fact, he became so immersed in the Japanese culture that when English traders arrived to set up their factory they deeply distrusted him, with the leading envoy Captain Saris being appalled at Adams’ lack of Englishness and fearing that he no longer had reliable interest in getting them a good deal (see Ryu 2009). Having left his family behind in England, Adams started a new one in Japan, remarrying in 1613 before passing in 1620 at the age of 55.
A recent archaeological investigation has attempted to verify remains claimed to be his own. While Adams was buried as a nobleman, the repression of Christianity from the 1620s saw Christian graveyards destroyed, although it is rumoured that Adams’ were excavated and reinterred for protection. Using the latest scientific technologies such as carbon dating and DNA analysis, a team of scientists and archaeologists are working hard to see whether the bones really belonged to the ‘Blue-Eyed Samurai’ himself. You can read their report in English and Japanese and let us know what you think.
How significant do you think this would discovery be if found to be true? Would you make a pilgrimage to the verified resting place of William Adams in Hirado? Leave a comment below or start a conversation in our forum.
Source: Catherine Ryu, ‘The politics of identity: William Adams, John Saris, and the English East India Company’s failure in Japan’, in Jyotsna G. Singh (ed), A Companion to the Global Renaissance: English Literature and Culture in the Era of Expansion (Oxford, 2009)