Minowara Shogun Meaning: Lord Toranaga Bloodline


It’s being touted as “the next Game of Thrones” for its war setting and political betrayals. And if you’ve been wondering why everyone’s out to get Lord Yoshii Toranaga in hulu/FX’s new hit show Shōgun, the meaning of Minowara reveals the truth.

Based on James Clavell’s novel, Shōgun is set in Japan in the year 1600 at the dawn of a century-defining civil war. Lord Yoshii Toranaga is fighting for his life as his enemies on the Council of Regents unite against him, when a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village. Enter John Blackthorne, an English pilot who serves on the Dutch warship Erasmus and becomes the first Englishman to reach Japan.

Initially a prisoner, Blackthorne—most commonly referred to as “Anjin”, which loosely means pilot in Japanese—begins to aid Toranaga in more ways than one and becomes enthralled by Japanese culture in doing so.

Clavell’s 1,000-page novel was turned into 10 episodes for FX and shed light on whether fans would get a second season. “We took the story to the end of the book and put a period at the end of that sentence. We love how the book ends; it was one of the reasons why we both knew we wanted to do it — and we ended in exactly that place,” co-showrunner Justin Marks told The Hollywood Reporter.

“And I’ve been party to this in the past with shows like this, where you build a whole factory, and it only pumps out 10 cars and closes up shop. It’s a bummer. You know, one of our producers wrote a nearly 900-page instruction manual for how we do this show — almost as long as the book Shogun itself. All of this infrastructural knowledge went into it.”

The world “Minowara” is first used in the show’s opening episode and if you’re still unclear what Minowara means, it could explain a lot as to why Lord Toranaga has so many enemies.

What does Minowara mean in Shōgun?

Minowara refers to a bloodline, specifically the name for those samurai born into the Minowara clan. While much of the show’s characters are fictional, the Minowara bloodline is inspired by the real-life Minamoto clan, one of the four great clans that dominated Japanese politics during the Heian period (between years 794 and 1185). It derived much of its power from its connection to the Imperial family.

What does Minowara mean in Shogun

As dialogue in “Anjin”—Shōgun‘s premiere episode—suggests, Toranaga’s heritage means he’s a viable candidate for the vacant shōgun title which would make him the ruler over all Japan. It would also explain why his fellow regents plot his downfall because his ancestry poses a threat to their power.

Toranaga is loosely inspired by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who began the Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan in 1603. Historically, he’s regarded as one of the country’s “Great Unifiers”. Ieyasu was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He emerged victorious in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, which solidified his control over Japan and allowed him to establish a centralized government.

Under his rule, known as the Edo period, Japan experienced a long period of stability, economic growth, and cultural development. Ieyasu’s policies, such as the strict regulation of samurai and the establishment of alternate attendance (sankin-kotai), helped to maintain control over the feudal lords and stabilize the country. Speaking with Salon, actor Hiroyuki Sanada explained what inspired his representation of this legendary historical figure.

Lord Toranaga in Shogun

“I thought [of] Toranaga’s real-life model, leyasu [who], after the war period finished, created the peaceful era for 260 years until we opened the country to the world. So that’s why he became a hero in Japan. And for me, I felt telling the story about his life is important, especially for now. We need that kind of hero. That’s why I took this role and then tried my best to put my dream into this show to bring to the world.”

He continued: “Most of the audience will see Feudal Japan, 1600 Japan through [Blackthorne’s] eyes at the beginning. And little by little, they’re gonna start understanding what I am thinking, what other Japanese characters are thinking, what’s going on. So Blackthorne, he’s learning Japanese words little by little and then wearing kimono, wearing the sword, and he’s gonna understand what the Japanese culture is. Like him, the audience will understand, step by step, each episode. So, very important his position is.”

Shōgun airs on hulu/FX on Tuesdays at 10pm ET.

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