The brutal Japanese history that inspired Shōgun

“Violence as a punishment was meant to be spectacular, and terrifying so as to ensure compliance to the laws,” says Conlan. Perhaps seppuku itself, then – often offered as a “privilege” to samurai defeated in battle, but also favoured as a method of capital punishment since a victim’s family was less likely to seek revenge for a self-inflicted death – typified this spectacle more than anything. In one famous incident, the Taikō even ordered his already-exiled nephew to die by suicide in 1595 to avoid a potential challenge to his heir’s succession. Such cruelty (Hideyoshi also executed his entire family, totalling 39 men, women and children) contributed to Western perceptions of the Japanese: “Europeans were shocked that Hideyoshi would do this to a close relative,” says Conlan.

The Sengoku period would reach its climax with the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 – the largest and arguably most important in Japanese feudal history, which left up to 36,000 dead or seriously injured in a single day. It’s an event that seems to loom on the horizon in Shōgun. In its wake, Japan would enter a new age, Edo – defined by more than 250 years of relative peace, an isolationist foreign policy (intending to remove the colonial and religious influences of Spain and Portugal), and the prohibition and persecution of Christians. With a bit of luck, Blackthorne might make it to this period – what’s more certain, though, is that there will be grave horrors to face first.

Shōgun is streaming on FX/Hulu/Disney+ internationally now.

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