Anjin is the story of William Adams, an English navigator, thought to be the first Englishman ever to reach Japan, where he became known as Miura Anjin – the pilot of Miura – the English Samurai.
Adams set sail as a master pilot in a fleet of five ships that set off from Rotterdam in 1598. After a series of disasters one remaining ship, with a mere twenty men on board out of the original crew of a hundred, limped into port in Kyushu in southern Japan in April 1600.
Despite an initial attempt by the local Portuguese Jesuit priest to have them executed as pirates, Adams became a close adviser to the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu and helped his navy build their first western-style ship.
He helped the East India Company to begin trading with Japan and the Shogun granted him a title and an estate in what is now Yokosuka near Tokyo. Adams lived out his life in prosperity in Japan, marrying a Japanese girl with whom he had two children and becoming the first and only officially recognised foreign samurai. He’s buried in Hirado near Nagasaki.
If you’ve read James Clavell’s Shogun you’ll know him better by his fictional name of John Blackthorne. The novel was a blockbuster, described as ‘one of the great page turners of all time’ by the Good Book Guide. Its most successful manifestation was the TV miniseries in 1981 starring Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune and Yoko Shimada – it won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for best TV series.
The play is an English-Japanese co-production with a cast that mixes English and Japanese actors (with English surtitles) and is directed by Gregory Doran, the newly appointed artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s written by Mike Poulton (best known for his translations of Chekhov) and Shoichiro Kawai and was first performed at the Galaxy Theatre in Tokyo in 2009. This year it’s showing at the Kanazawa Arts Theatre and the Aoyama Theatre in Tokyo before coming to London.
The lead role of Anjin is taken by Stephen Boxer, Lady Mariko is Yoshiko Tokoshima (who starred as Edith Piaf in Tokyo last year) and Tokugawa Ieyasu is played by Masachika Ichimura who has a long list of film and stage credits including the Engineer in Miss Saigon last year.