William Adams & Kuroshima


Kuroshima is an unassuming island off the coast of Usuki. Most visitors make the short boat journey in summer months to enjoy Kuroshima’s sandy beaches and to fish. However, here in April 1600 the Dutch galleon De Leifde ran ashore with its crew either dead or in a parlous state. De Liefde was the sole survivor of a fleet of five Dutch East India Company ships, which were on an expedition to find passage to the East Indies via the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of South America.

Amongst the remaining crew of 23 sick and dying men, who were the first Dutch and British to ever arrive in Japan, was the English pilot William Adams. He subsequently became a trusted confidant of Japan’s greatest samurai warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu. Adams was rewarded for his service by being given the status of samurai, one of only a handful of westerners ever to reach the rank, and also a Red Seal, which conferred the right to trade overseas.

Although Adams only spent about a week or so in Usuki, the historic arrival of De Leifde is celebrated on the 19th April each year on Kuroshima. A small memorial park has been created where busts of Adams, who to this day is known by the Japanese as Miura Anjin, and his second mate Jan Joostens are displayed together with an artwork inspired by an astrolabe presented by the Dutch government. Nearby, a room houses artefacts related to the De Liefde's journey including a scale model of the ship. Adams, who died in 1620, never returned to England but his story of adventure on the high seas and in Japan gave James Clavell the inspiration to write his famed novel Shogun, which was adapted as a TV mini-series of the same name.

Kuroshima is reached in five minutes on a vintage and atmospheric ferry boat that plies the waters on request. The island, which was once a popular destination for family trips to the beach, has a care-worn charm. A local gentleman, who retired back to his roots after a career in business, takes care of the facilities, sells snacks and drinks, and rents out SUP boards and kayaks to visitors. He has brightened the place up with colourful licks of paint. His affection for Kuroshima is apparent and he happily engages in conversation with visitors and relates how, as a child, he used to swim across the limpid blue waters to the island with his friends as they could not afford the fare for the ferry. There are no longer any permanent residents on the island, but mainlanders sail over from time-to-time to tend mikan orange groves.

Japan, Oita, Usuki, Sashiu, 黒島

At a glance

The island where William Adams, the British sailor who became confident of Japan's greatest shogun, was shipwrecked in 1600.

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