In Nioh, the Dark Souls-like action game, you play as William Adams, the Western samurai and inspiration for James Clavell’s Shogun. Adams didn’t actually slay oni or help lost kodama, but he was a very real man that lived an incredible life as one of the first Englishman in Japan.

It all starts in 1598, when Adams, a skilled 34-year old ship pilot from England, set sail from Rotterdam with his brother Thomas and a merchant company that was the predecessor of the famous Dutch East India Company. He left his wife and young daughter behind for a voyage to the Far East, where the Dutch were certain fame and fortune awaited.

The five ships—Hoop, Geloof, Liefde, Trouw, and Blijde Boodschop—started down South along the Western coast of Africa, and quickly ran into trouble when they ran out of fresh water and victuals they’d need to make it across the Atlantic. The Portuguese had forts all along the African coastline, and they weren’t very friendly at the time. After only a few months at sea, the expedition was running out of food, and many of the men were getting sick with scurvy and dysentery. To acquire the supplies they needed, they demanded supplies from a small town called Praya, made a fruitless stop in Cape Lopez, and raided Portuguese musketeers on Annabon. After all of that, they still weren’t any better off. Victuals were in short supply and strict rations meant getting sick was a death sentence. Still, they had to push forward, so Adams and the rest of the fleet made for South America in January of 1599.

By the end of March, they reached the coastline of Argentina. Despite their desperate need of supplies, however, the ship captains thought it was best to head to the Strait of Magellan as soon as possible. They couldn’t risk getting caught so far south when the harsh winter came. Adams time in the straits proved eventful. Navigation was challenging, severe frost made doing any work on deck beyond miserable, and sailors were whipped and hanged for stealing food. At one point the fleet came across a large colony of penguins and, as historian Giles Milton explains, got their grub on:

...the sight of thousands of penguins, “which are fowles greater than a ducke,” proved too great a temptation for the hungry crews. The fleet dropped anchor and the men clambered ashore; within minutes, they had clubbed to death more than 1,400 of the unfortunate birds.

Adams and company soon found that penguins weren’t the only thing that called the straits home. Native tribesman described as being “ten or eleven foot high... of a reddish colour, and with long hair” would hurl rocks at the sailors as they passed by. They later encountered these peoples ashore, and they managed to capture five Dutch sailors and tear three of them into tiny pieces before the other two could be rescued.

Only three of the five ships made it through the straits, and by the time the remaining three made it through, they had all lost track of each other. Adams, who piloted the Liefde, was alone, drifting in the Pacific Ocean. The Liefde’s men were starving, so they decided to make landfall near the islands of Mocha and Santa Maria to trade with some of the locals. This proved foolish, as 23 of their finest soldiers, including Captain van Beuningen and William’s brother Thomas, were ambushed by over 1,000 natives and slaughtered.

Advertisement

Eventually, the Liefde and Hoop found each other at their backup meeting place, Floreana Island off of Ecuador, where they waited for the remaining fleet. But no other ships ever arrived. The Trouw eventually made it to Indonesia, where they were all killed by the Portuguese, the Blijde Boodschap was captured by a Spanish ship, and the Geloof had turned around in the straits. Just 36 of the original 109 crew members made it back to Rotterdam in July of 1600. When the Liefde and Hoop realized they were on their own, they decided to head west and sail into the unknown. During the voyage across the Pacific, the Hoop was swallowed whole by a large wave during a particularly harsh typhoon.

The Liefde was more fortunate. Adams and crew arrived to the island of Kyūshū, Japan in April 1600. Their crew, which started out 100 strong, had been reduced to 23; most of whom were sick and dying. Adams could barely stand when they were greeted by the local Japanese, and by the time the crew made landfall, only nine men were left.

To be continued...


For further reading, I highly recommend the book Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan by Giles Milton.