Giles Milton’s “The Englishman who opened Japan” essay

Giles Milton / Japan / culture / William Adams / stereotype

Essay Topic:

The problem of understanding a foreign culture in Giles Milton’s “Samurai Williams: The Englishman who opened Japan”.

Essay Questions:

Why is Giles Milton’s “Samurai Williams: The Englishman who opened Japan” considered to be a historical source?

In what way does Giles Milton portray the Japanese people?

Did Williams manage to become a real Japanese?

Thesis Statement:

The author reveals one of his primary messages through showing that Japanese people were way more civilized compared to the westerners, in spite of being “isolated” from the influence of the “western progress”. So the author implies that the “uniqueness” of Japan was simply protecting itself from the invasion of “brutal” westerners who thought only about money and trade.

 

Giles Milton’s “Samurai Williams: The Englishman who opened Japan” essay

Introduction: Giles Milton did an excellent literary creation by writing “Samurai Williams: The Englishman who opened Japan”. The book cannot be considered to be a historical source but an eye-opening glance on the culture of Japan compared to the Western culture. The book is not just a description of plain facts but has a “poetic” character because the events in the book have their own mood and mystery as the whole Japanese culture. The goal of the author Giles Milton was to show the process of two powerful cultures truly facing each other and trying to find strength to understand each other. The confrontation of the Western and the Japanese culture is reflected through the obvious contrasts in values, way of life, politics, trade and other vital factors. The author reveals one of his primary messages through showing that Japanese people were way more civilized compared to the westerners, in spite of being “isolated” from the influence of the “western progress”. So the author implies that the “uniqueness” of Japan was simply protecting itself from the invasion of “brutal” westerners who thought only about money and trade.

The book also reveals the influence that the Western culture in general and Europe in particular had on Japan. Giles Milton also opens the reader’s eyes one of the most prominent events of the contemporary business world – the beginning of creation of trading connections between Japan and the Western world. Milton wants the reader to understand what Japan is all about through the description of a European living in and profoundly loving the Japanese culture.The book itself is about the life of a mariner named William Adams. In spite of the fact that foreigners were not welcomed in Japan for many centuries in the 1600’s this man manages not only to be accepted but also to have the possibility to influence Japan’s decision on the highest level being the advisor and the personal interpreter of the reigning Shogun Ieyasu. Adams finds himself in the middle between Japan and Europe, making his choices for or against. Nevertheless it is not a book of making choices it is a book of contrasts and understanding those contrasts and the events that lead to the contemporary history. The character of this man becomes of link between Japan and the Western Europe starting from April 12th, 1600 when he arrived in Japan after 19 month of an incredibly dangerous voyage. This man converted Japan from a “ghost–land” which it was for the Western Europe into a real country with a terrific culture. William Adams starts his Japanese life with six weeks of imprisonment waiting to be executed each moment. Only the interest of Tokugawa Ieyasu to the Western lifestyle keeps him alive and gets him out of the prison. Adams rapidly adjusted to the Japanese surroundings: he learned how to speak the Japanese language, how to behave himself in accordance with the Japanese traditions and how to show respect to Japanese people. These talents converted him to Ieyasu’s advisor. William Adams became a real native Japanese man: he started wearing Japanese cloths, married a Japanese woman and had his own piece of land. Japan with all its negativism for strangers opened a completely new life for William. Here he managed to realize his ambitions and learned many things – something he was never to achieve back “home”. Japan became the true home for the European William Adams. Adams from the inside tried to open the wonderful country of Japan to the world and was the first to start destroying each country’s stereotypes concerning one another. Williams tried to help the Europeans to trade with the shogun. Adams gets really deep the life of Japan and loves it with all his heart. The book is about the balance of two countries, cultures and ways of life that met inside one person – William Adams. This book is about the first steps made in the attempt to influence Japan and to “tame” it in a way.

Conclusion: The book is not based on any historical documentary sources with important data and numbers; nevertheless the author cites several books that may be considered rather valuable both if not as historical books so as literary creations. Here are some of these books: “They came to Japan” by Michael Cooper, “The description of England: the classic contemporary account of Tudor social life” by William Harisson, ”Big Chief Elizabeth: the adventures and fate of the first English colonists in America” and others. Due to the fact that the book’s bibliography does not include important historical documents it cannot be criticized from the position of a professional historian, but more from the position of a educated reader, because the book does present several errors not corresponding to the time Japan in described in.“Samurai Williams: The Englishman who opened Japan” is generally a success Giles Milton’s literary career. The main purpose of the author was to show the intercourse of two different cultures and the general historical consequences on the attempts to “invade” Japan as a “trading machine”. This aim was achieved for some parts of the book are very touching and make the reader truly feel the majesty and the dignity of Japan. The message of the author seems to be quite different: not to see in Japanese people what is on the surface and call it “brutality” but to learn their soul and the superiority over the so-called “European civilization” that existed back then. The author perfectly revealed the duality of both of the societies describing both as brutal and violent on the one hand and societies with high culture on the other. The author also manages to explain why Japan after those events stayed closed to the Western world until the mid-19th century.From my point of view, the main purpose of the book was achieved: Giles Milton showed the process of two powerful cultures facing each other for the first time and each of them not being ready to understand the other one and may be explained why the “cold” still remains there.

Bibliography:

Milton, Giles (2003).Samurai Williams: The Englishman who opened Japan. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

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