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John Blackthorne, pilot and acting captain of the Dutch trading ship Erasmus, is shipwrecked on the coast of Japan. Eventually, Omi-san tells Blackthorne that he and his crew must pick someone to die the next day. Eventually, Blackthorne ends up at the House of the Daimyo, Yabu-san. Yabu originally plans to keep the guns and money from the ship, but is betrayed by a spy who has informed his lord, Toranaga, of the ships arrival. The daimyo turns Blackthorne over to the custody of his lord, Toranaga. Blackthorne insists that Omi-san apply the honorary suffix -san and so Blackthorne is henceforth known as Anjin-san.Blackthorne is interviewed by Toranaga, with a Jesuit priest serving as translator. Blackthorne, an Englishman and a Protestant, attempts to turn Toranaga against the Jesuits. The interview ends when Toranaga's rival, Ishido, enters the room, curious about the 'Barbarian' Blackthorne. Toranaga has Blackthorne thrown in prison for piracy to keep him from Ishido. In prison, Blackthorne is befriended by a Dominican priest, who reveals further details about the Jesuits conquests and the "Black Ship" trade. During the same time, Blackthorne learns more Japanese.Blackthorne is taken out of prison by Ishido's men, but Toranaga intervenes. Despite a rocky start, Blackthorne slowly gains an understanding of the Japanese people and their culture, and eventually learns to respect it deeply. A turning point in this perception is Blackthorne's attempt at seppuku (ritual suicide). Blackthorne is torn between his love for Mariko (who is married to a powerful samurai), his growing loyalty to Toranaga, and his desire to return to the open seas aboard Erasmus and capture the "Black Ship," a treasure-laden Portuguese vessel. Blackthorne's plans to attack the Black Ship are complicated by his friendship with that vessel's pilot.In parallel with this plot, the novel also details the power struggle between Toranaga and Ishido



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