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Will Adams

Adams, Will (William Adams), 1564?–1620, first Englishman to visit Japan. As pilot of a Dutch ship searching for gold and trade, he reached Japan in 1600. At first imprisoned and sentenced to death, Adams was released by the shogun Ieyasu, and soon became one of his favorites, advising him on navigation, trade, and Western affairs. The Japanese used vessels constructed under his direction for many of their longer voyages. Adams attempted to foster trade relations with England, and he made trading trips to the Ryukyu Islands, Siam, and Cochin China. He married a Japanese woman, acquired a Japanese name (Anjin Sama, or Mr. Pilot), was named an honorary samurai, and was given an estate at Yokosuka. Western trade with Japan was largely maintained by dint of his close relationship with the shogun. Shortly after Adams's death, foreign trade was prohibited and Japan was closed to the West until the arrival of Matthew Perry more than 200 more years later. Adams's story forms the basis of James Clavell's novel Shogun (1975).

See his letters (ed. by T. Randall, 1850) and his logbook (ed. by C. J. Purnell, 1916); biography by G. Milton (2003); R. Cocks, Diary (1964); and H. H. Gowen, Five Foreigners in Japan (1936, repr. 1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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