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The Asian Saga is a series of Historical Fiction novels by James Clavell, set in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Iran over a period between 1600 and 1979. The novels don't form a single continuous story, but are linked together by several recurring characters and their descendants, and a theme of examining interactions between Asian peoples and Westerners.

The novels, in chronological order of setting, are:

  • 1600, Japan: Shōgun (1975)
  • 1841, Hong Kong: Tai-Pan (1966)
  • 1862, Japan: Gai-Jin (1993)
  • 1945, Singapore: King Rat (1962)
  • 1963, Hong Kong: Noble House (1981)
  • 1979, Iran: Whirlwind (1986)

Shōgun, Tai-Pan, King Rat and Noble House have been adapted for film and television (Shōgun has seen two miniseries — a 1980 one starring Richard Chamberlain and Toshiro Mifune and a 2024 one starring Hiroyuki Sanada and Cosmo Jarvis), and Shōgun was also adapted as an Infocom computer game and a Broadway musical. Also there was a strategy game based on Tai-Pan for many platforms, including ZX Spectrum, and a board game based on Noble House.


This series provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Toranaga in Shōgun, a big stickler for absolute obedience, harshly rebukes Blackthorne's claim that Holland's rebellion against Spain is just, declaring "There are no "mitigating circumstances" when it comes to rebellion against a sovereign lord." Blackthorne simply retorts "Unless you win." After a Beat, Toranaga begins laughing his ass off and concedes the point. He later reflects this moment is when he knew he could get along with Blackthorne.
  • Adaptation Deviation: The 1988 Noble House miniseries, being updated to match the immediately pre-Handover time period, has the Chinese bail out Struan's through an old schoolfriend of Dunross as they're unwilling to let the colony fall into chaos. In the book it's the First Central Bank of New York that saves Dunross, though they're presented as a Red Herring here.
  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • Noble House itself condenses many real-life events from the '60s and early '70s – the 1965 bank run caused by the Canton Trust bankruptcy, the Jumbo floating restaurant fire of 1971, the Kotewall Road landslide of 1972 – into a time period of about a week.
    • The 1986 film version of Tai-Pan removes a lot of plot elements, including Zergeyev's role as an agent of Russian expansion, the Catholic Church putting information into Struan's hands to stop him, Longstaff's entire role, the malaria plague that almost destroys Hong Kong, the British governments's attempts to shut the Colony down and May-May's plot to have Gorth assassinated (Struan simply directly kills him when he comes to confront him about Culum and Tess' elopement). The most notable excision is that Struan's meeting with Jin-Qua completely excises the plot point of the four half-coins so crucial to the novels.
    • Despite being six hours, the 1988 Noble House miniseries has a lot of things missing compared to the book, most notably the Sevrin plot and everything to do with it (including Jacques' status as The Mole, Cross' double agent status and Suslev's character). Other excised elements include the visit of a delegation of British MPs, the role of Author Avatar Peter Marlowe, Dunross' dealings with the Japanese Toda family and anything to do with Dunross' own family.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: In Noble House Linc Bartlett never figures out that Gornt put Orlanda up to seducing him, although he does have his suspicions. In the miniseries he puzzles it out in the third episode and gets her to confess - not that it matters, because he's genuinely in love with her by that point.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • The 1988 Noble House miniseries had a few examples.
      • Linc Bartlett. In the book he's popular with everyone due to his immense charm and charisma, business savvy and personal bravery. In the miniseries he's a lot less scrupulous, and his deal with Gornt seems to be partially motivated by jealousy over Casey's attraction to Dunross.
      • Also Gornt: while played with great charisma by John-Rhys Davies, he's a lot more Faux Affably Evil here. Most notably, his "prank" towards Casey on the boat is NOT laughed off by either of them.
    • In the 1986 Tai-Pan film Brock is much more of a straightforward villain, lacking his book counterpart's depth and code of conduct. Notable is the scene where he flatly admits to Struan that he will use Tess and Culum's relationship to crush the Noble House, something his book counterpart never wanted or tried to do out of love for his daughter.
    • Similarly, Gorth Brock was already a total monster in the book - but in addition to everything, he's given his father's role as the one who castrates Tess's lover.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Edward Gornt, who founded the Gornt company, is a big character in Gai-Jin; while he isn't exactly evil, he wastes no time in trying to get Malcolm Struan's widow Angelique to jump in bed with him. Even though he founds the company which becomes the Noble House's enemy, you can't help but like him, if for no other reason than he has balls.
    • Quillan Gornt, his descendant from Noble House, is a primary antagonist, and yet somewhat charming in his own way - he's a son of a bitch, but he also has quite a way with women. In fact, after he drowns (between Noble House and Whirlwind), Ian Dunross retires from being Tai-Pan of the Noble House because life is just too boring without his archrival there to compete with. In the miniseries, when Dunross asks why he shouldn't just let Gornt be financially ruined by Struan's new share prices, an exasperated Gornt replies that life would be dull for Dunross without him. Tellingly, it works.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Robb Struan was this before the main plot of Tai-Pan gets under way. A mightily-angry Dirk solves him by giving him a pistol and telling him to either clean up or shoot himself.
    • His nephew Culum is revealed to have become a particularly sad case of this in Gai-Jin - having taken over as Tai-Pan after Dirk's death he's nowhere near as competent or strong-willed at it as Dirk was, and the stress cripples him. Coupled with a loveless marriage to the future Hag Struan (who repeatedly unfavourably compares him to Dirk), he turns to alcohol to cope. It ends up killing him not long into Gai-Jin.
  • All for Nothing:
    • The plan for a rat farm and selling their meat to the officers are big part of King Rat plot. King and his people only ever manage to deliver first shipment, and then the war is over, leaving the rats to their own devices once the soldiers are liberated from the POW camp. On a more personal note, when King finally gets all the money back from the sale of the platinum ring, his fortune is rendered worthless overnight, as it was almost entirely in Japanese scrip currencies and they've just surrendered to the Allies.
    • The Catholic Church protecting Blackthorne in Shogun - even though he's a Protestant and avowed opponent of them - so as to keep Toranaga on their side and possibly convert Japan totally, comes across as this given that Toranaga's internal Motive Rant at the end reveals he always saw them as a threat and planned on outlawing and exiling them as soon as he took power.
  • Always Second Best: This is essentially what the feud between Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock (and later their descendants) boils down to. Brock cannot stand that Struan is regarded as THE Tai-pan, even by the Chinese, and while there are plenty of other issues between the two, Brock's obsession with taking Struan's position and becoming the Noble House drives him to ever-lower tactics, especially after Dirk's death.
  • Antagonistic Offspring:
    • Dirk manufactures a falling out between him and Culum in Tai-Pan in order to give the impression Culum is this to his enemies so he can catch them off guard. Unfortunately, as Culum finds out more and more what his dad's really like it becomes increasingly real.
    • Played completely straight with Tess Brock after she elopes with Culum Struan and gets cast out by her father Tyler. Gai-Jin and Noble House detail how she's eventually the one most responsible for destroying all his businesses and ruining him later in life.
    • Invoked by Hakim and Azadeh Khan's half-sister to get Hakim exiled by his father Abdollah Khan in the backstory of Whirlwind, although it's groundless and merely a way for her to increase her own power. Played straight when it's revealed Hakim really had been trying to have the Khan murdered before that point, including sending the assassins Erikki kills.
  • Anti-Hero: Clavell's heroes tend to zigzag this trope: Blackthorne and Ian Dunross are the closest to traditional heroes, but Dirk Struan is very much this: ruthless, manipulative of his family, utterly merciless to his enemies - he actually shows less standards than Tyler Brock (the main villain of Tai-Pan) when he uses Tyler's own daughter against him to kill his mad son. In Shogun Toranaga is so far into this trope he's practically an Anti-Villain.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Due to the shortage of all sorts of medicine, most infections in King Rat end up with amputations. Once Marlowe gets his right arm accidentally crushed by a palm tree and gangrene sets in the wound, he goes into the deep end over the perspective of losing the right arm. A significant part of the plot is King's struggle and effort to keep his friend alive and his arm intact.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • When Blackthorne was horrified and enraged by a Dutch shipmate being boiled alive, no one bothered to tell him that it had been a legal death sentence back home in Tudor England for over 50 years.
    • Noble House has various characters being worried that Delta Force is active in Vietnam and on the Iranian border in 1963. The real Delta Force wasn't actually founded until the 1970s.
    • In Gai-Jin there is an important plot point in the marksmanship of British sailors and Redcoats with modern centerfire rifles and metal cartridges and their introduction to Japanese Daimyos. As of 1862, the British service rifle was the caplock, paper-cartridge Pattern 1853 Enfield. The first British centerfire rifle, Snider-Enfield, did not appear until 1867, and even the early Snider-Enfield still fired paper-cartridges with metal base, similar to modern shotgun shells.
    • Also in Gai-Jin, the Emperor of Japan is repeatedly referred by both Japanese and Britons as "Emperor Kōmei". Emperors of Japan get their regal names after their deaths, during lifetime he was called only "The Emperor" or by his titles.
    • Ishido's peasant-soldier background is always brought against him by everyone, from the highest Daimyo to the lowliest samurai. Real Life Ishida Mitsunari had been born samurai in a line of relatively-wealthy samurai warriors. This, however, may be a case of Composite Character with Ishida's master, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who did rise from the lowest ranks.
  • As You Know: In Noble House, Casey says this before giving a long and conspicuously encyclopedic description of Armenia and its location, history and geopolitics to characters who do not, in fact, have any reason to know anything about Armenia. Dunross later uses this exact phrase when explaining a Chinese saying to Tiptop Toe - an actual Chinese who wouldn't need this explained.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Downplayed (but still present) in the books, given the sheer amount of Asian characters, who sometimes struggle with specific phases when using English. Played absolutely straight with all the adaptations, where there is at least a single character speaking in Engrish.
  • Author Avatar: Peter Marlowe in King Rat and Noble House is based on Clavell himself.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: During Shōgun, Toranaga becomes the shogun, and all the power that such a title brings.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In Shōgun, this is one of Toranaga's principle strategies: Making out to do one thing, then doing something completely different. He'll give a Rousing Speech to his army announcing a bold forthcoming attack, only to never follow through, knowing his "plan" will leak and cause important players to make certain moves. At one point he agrees to present himself to his foes by a certain date (an act that amounts to surrender), but ultimately intends simply to not show up; every day until then is an opportunity to maneuver further, while his enemies fail to do the same as they assume they've already won. He'll also do such mundane things as "change his mind" regarding leisurely activities merely to test his underlings by their reactions.
  • Batman Gambit: Used frequently by many people, but Toranaga stands out. Toranaga’s plan against Ishido relies on Ishido’s refusal to allow Mariko to leave Osaka and subsequent attempt to capture her. Toranaga also can’t defeat Ishido as long as he stays in Osaka Castle, so he’s counting on being able to provoke Ishido to leave. Toranaga’s plans for defeating the rest of his enemies after Ishido is dealt with rely on giving them actual authority, then acting against them when they abuse it in predictable ways.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Dirk Struan from Tai-Pan benefits immensely from being Nice to the Waiter, both by knowingly exploiting people will be loyal and eager to work for him if he treats them humanely and fair, along with gaining allies in form of people who are grateful for various, often small, acts of kindness he showed them in the past.
  • Bed Trick: Shōgun features a double-reverse version: after a drunken party, Blackthorne is visited in the dark by a woman he assumes to be his interpreter Mariko. Next morning, he learns from Mariko that it was really one of the maids. However, we later learn that it was in fact Mariko, who took the place of the maid, but didn't want him to know about it.
  • Benevolent Boss: Dirk Struan of Tai-Pan knows all too well what conditions on ships are normally like, so he makes sure to pay wages on the day, in silver, and equips his ships with the best of everything. Sailors fight for the chance to work aboard one of his ships.
  • Berserk Button: In Shōgun, asking whether or implying that Toranaga wants the Shogunate for himself is the only thing that consistently gets an emotional reaction out of him. That being said...
  • Betty and Veronica: Mei-Mei and Shevuan over Dirk in Tai-Pan are a curious case, for they are both Veronicas, but each of them see herself as a Betty.
  • Big Bad Wannabe:
    • Yabu from Shōgun believes he is smarter and more cunning than Toranaga and is constantly looking to maneuver the latter's poor position to his own advantage. Needless to say, he's not and Toranaga decrees You Have Outlived Your Usefulness near the book's end and orders him to commit seppuku.
    • Katsumata, the puppetmaster of the Sonno-joi movement and hugely respected samurai master in Gai-Jin regards himself as The Chessmaster, maneuvering the shishi in driving a wedge between the gai-jin and the Shogunate to pave the way for putting the Satsumas in power. However, he overreaches and makes the mistake of striking at Toranaga Yoshi via inserting a disciple in the entourage of his mistress Koiko, who then fails, leading to her death and that of Koiko. Yoshi has him captured, and he's reduced to begging fruitlessly for his life and offering to sell out others in the plot (which all who hear it regard as shameful). Yoshi eventually lets Koiko's Mama-San cut his balls off and slit his throat in retribution for his getting Koiko killed.
    • Suslev, the KGB operative in Noble House should be the Big Bad given how fear of Communism and the Sevrin plot permeates the book. Yet he keeps managing to make things worse for himself - his open admiration of Stalin causes the previously loyal Jacques to have severe second thoughts. Later, he betrays his Executive Officer to the Hong Kong police, but doesn't anticipate them taking him alive, which puts him in the impossible position of either having to give up Sevrin to escape their grasp or say nothing and have them let the Soviets know what he'd done (with the inevitable KGB retribution that implies). He escapes, but not through any planning on his part, just dumb luck that the landslide leaves the Western characters thinking he's dead.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Played with in Shōgun. Blackthorne and Mariko speak to each other in Latin when they don't want to be understood by Japanese or Portuguese speakers. Unfortunately, some enemy samurai are Catholic, and they also speak Latin. Blackthorne figures out who was eavesdropping by reciting a prayer and waiting for an "Amen". Later on, Blackthorne faces a similar problem with an officer who speaks Portuguese.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tai-Pan is on its way toward a Happily Ever After, until a typhoon devastates Hong-King, killing Dirk and Mei-Mei right in the end. However, despite that, the Noble House continues and prospers, along with Struan dynasty, while Culum seems to be taking a badly needed level in badass, when he gets over his emotions and finally sends back to Tyler Brock the money he paid for Dirk's coffin.
  • Blade Enthusiast: Erikki Yokkonen from Whirlwind is never seen without a Finnish pukoh knife, to the point where he's known as He Of The Knife by many Iranian characters.
  • Blatant Lies: Toranaga resents any implication that he wants to be Shogun. Going as far as saying "Who cares about titles, power is what matters" to an envoy. They both know perfectly well that in Japan, titles, even when completely removed from any real decision-making, are still potentially very important. Eventually when the Emperor is made to ask Toranaga to be his shogun, he "reluctantly accepts".
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality:
    • Given the massive culture clashes prevalent in the novels, this is a theme. While the actions of the Chinese, Japanese and later Iranians are totally within the framework of their own cultures and religions, they appear this way to bewildered Western onlookers like Blackthorne or Casey and Bartlett, so alien are they to the Western values of the time (for example, witness Blackthorne's trouble understanding the samurai's right to kill peasants on as small a whim as testing their swords). While some, like Struan and Dunross, manage to gain an impressive understanding of Asian culture, it's never enough to get it fully.
    • The Struan/Brock, and later Dunross/Gornt rivalries are special in this regard, as the blood feud between them means they often take actions utterly incomprehensible to outsiders, even other Westerners. Failing to understand the depths of this is one of the things that dooms Casey and Bartlett's expansion attempt from the start.
    • Dirk Struan has also a very specific and in a weird way idealistic plan for the future of both Britain and China, which involves forcing both nations to learn from each other and mutually elevate themselves, then to help the rest of the world to be a better place. Unlike typical case, he's very open about the fact he doesn't expect others, be them Chinese or Westerners, to "get" his ideals and mentality.
  • Boyfriend-Blocking Dad:
    • Tyler Brock is fiercely protective of his children, particularly his teenage daughter Tess. This is not Played for Laughs, for Brock ends up beating to death Nagreck Thumb, one of his best captains for sleeping with Tess, then covering it up as part of the real pirate raid Brock just defended against.
    • A more light-hearted example is the Running Gag in Noble House of Dunross being this to his daughter Adryon, to the point of beating one prospective boyfriend (who fancied himself as a boxer) up in a gym after he got a little too forward. Downplayed overall, as while he's not keen on her current journalist boyfriend he generally keeps his distance other than a few fatherly warnings.
  • British Stuffiness: Oh yes. It's a recurring trait of various British characters in the saga to be as stiff and stuffy as possible, usually in playful manner when dealing with their non-British friends. Probably best exemplified by Marlowe during his first contact with King in King Rat. Despite being malnourished, half-starved and being served perfectly made eggs, he calls them "not bad" and then has to explain to the enraged King he meant it as the highest compliment, rather than an insult.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Part of Horatio and Mary Sinclair's backstory in Tai-Pan, with Horatio initiating it at an age where she didn't understand what it means, but he already knew exactly what he was doing. It gets disturbing in the novel's present when it becomes clear that he still wants her and is willing to sabotage her relationship with Glessing to get it, all with the pretense of protecting her and abusing the fact he's her legal guardian, too.
  • Brownface: After being shot down by the Japanese, Marlowe from King Rat went into hiding. He spent a few months in a small village somewhere in Java, pretending to be local and always with his skin painted to hide his origins. As the chief of the village points out during their initial arrangement, his blue eyes would instantly betray him, but who knows, maybe from afar, anyone coming by could be fooled. Marlowe reminiscent this while being a POW in Changi, implying it ultimately didn't work.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Alan Medford Grant of Noble House is a self-acknowledged Conspiracy Theorist that sees communist plots everywhere - but he's also an incredibly accomplished spymaster, successfully identifying most of Sevrin and managing to unearth details on Crosse's leadership of it (though not his identity). Dunross even comments he'd have dismissed him as a kook long ago if his information and predictions didn't keep making Struans a fortune.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": A mild, item-related example: In Shōgun, Clavell insisted on calling the Kusarigama blades (which are clearly scythes) as "knives-with-curved-blades-and-very-long-wooden-handles".
  • Canon Welding:
    • King Rat was originally not part of the Saga; although it's set in Asia, it's different in style (and much shorter) than the others. Then the protagonist, Peter Marlowe, showed up as a supporting character in Noble House...
    • The later Gai-Jin welded things further, having an ancestor, John Marlowe of the Royal Navy, appear as a supporting character.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • Brian Kwok correctly deduces Crosse's role as head of Sevrin - but his own unmasking as a PRC mole means what he says is ignored after his capture.
    • As it turns out, every character in Shōgun who insist that Toranaga is intent upon subverting the Taikō's heir and achieving the titular position. The narrative itself misleads the reader as the characters who believe this are generally unpleasant, treacherous, and unreasonable, while the skeptical characters are comparatively admirable voices-of-reason. Toranaga's historical counterpart does indeed manage to suppress and eventually wipe out the heir and his clan a few years later.
    • In the same novel, the Catholics that insist Blackthorne is a major threat to their position in Japan, not a minor threat to be forestalled or converted, are, historically, proven correct: Blackthorne's inspiration William Adams would go on to become chief interpreter and trusted advisor to the Shogunate. Attempts to convert him fail; desperate offers to smuggle him out of Japan are dutifully reported, weakening their relations with the Shogunate; and ultimately, thanks in no small part to his influence, Catholicism is forbidden and banished from Japan 14 years after the events of the novel.
  • Catch-22 Dilemma: The Regency Council tries to catch Toranaga in one in Shōgun. They get the Emperor to order Toranaga to present himself at a certain time and place, where everyone knows the Emperor will order Toranaga to submit to the Council's authority. If Toranaga submits, his plans are finished. If he refuses to submit (or fails to appear at all), the Council can declare that he is in rebellion against the Emperor, and will have the leverage to turn all of Japan against him. Unfortunately for them, Toranaga manages to Take a Third Option: he shows up at the appointed time and place, but arranges for the Emperor to not be there. Since the Emperor is not there, the order to submit cannot be given, and since Toranaga wasn't the one who failed to show, nobody can officially take offense at his actions.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The coins are important in Tai-Pan, but absolutely crucial in Noble House, as it's how Linc aims to take over Struan's via John Chen, and consequently how Four Finger Wu and Paul Choy vault up the ranks of the criminal underworld.
  • Clean Cut: In the adaptation of Shōgun, Englishman John Blackthorne is shocked to see a samurai slice the head off an oldster who did not bow when he was supposed to. The audience gets a great look at Blackthorne's face (and that of the Jesuit priest accompanying him) and just a glimpse of a headless neck—and vertebra—before the body falls out of camera shot.
  • Closest Thing We Got: Downplayed. King in King Rat needs a Malay translator. Marlowe speaks perfect Javanese. Since the languages are extremely close to each other, it works like a charm and Marlowe easily works it out.
  • Combat Pragmatist: John "Anjin" Blackthorne of Shōgun may be an official samurai and hatamoto, and on the fast-track to assimilating with Japanese culture and bushido, but good luck catching him without his trusty pistol tucked in his sash. We are later introduced to ninja, whose reliance on stealth, traps, poison and explosives also run contrary to traditional Japanese combat; ironically this gives Blackthorne an excuse to bypass "proper" combat and simply begin popping off headshots.
  • Composite Character: In the Shōgun miniseries, Ferriera takes Bosun Manuel Pesaro's role as the one who tries to shoot Blackthorne, only to get shot by Kiyama archers.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The film adaptation of Tai-Pan is pretty infamous for just glancing over the surface of the epic novel it is based on and skipping entire plotlines, along with making other incredibly shallow. Notably, from all adaptations from the Saga, Tai-Pan has the dishonour of having the shortest runtime - even shorter than King Rat, which has half the page count, but is still a longer movie.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Essentially every Japanese character grapples with this in Shōgun, their lives are bound up in a complex web of obligations: To their lords, their family, their spouse, their status, bushido, religion, etc. Mariko might be the best example, juggling her Undying Loyalty to Toranaga, devotion to Catholicism, and love for the "heretical" foreigner Blackthorne.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Alan Medford Grant, the spymaster from Noble House is very much this, to the point a weary Dunross notes he sees communists under every bed. His saving grace is he's right most of the time, but he's also shown to believe several historical theories the books demonstrably show is wrong - such as that Dirk Struan was murdered instead of dying in a typhoon.
  • Continuity Nod: The later books have loads: following up on the fate of the Toranaga Dynasty and Struan family there are numerous references to the events and characters of earlier novels and their eventual fate. Noble House has countless:
    • The love story between Dirk Struan and Mei-mei, Struan's founding of Hong Kong and the rivalry between him and Brock are legends in Hong Kong.
    • Tess Brock, now known as Hag Struan, is used to scare children, and the knife she stabbed into her father's portrait is left there for fear that she return from the grave to wreak vengeance on those who would disobey her.
    • Several prominent Hong Kong brothels have a bidding war for Dirk Struan's great-great-great-great-great-grandson's virginity, believing Struan to have been the pinnacle of manhood.
    • The Struan empire is shown to have strong ties to Toda Shipping, and one of their Japanese associates is a woman named Riko Anjin. John Blackthorne was given the name "Anjin" in Japan, and Mariko Toda was his lover - and the story of Blackthorne being her ancestor is later mentioned as a story even Riko doesn't believe.
  • Continuity Snarl: While a lot of continuity problems in the series are explainable through the events of prior novels morphing into legends that add various things or just flat-out get it wrong, there doesn't seem to be any reconciling Dunross' description of Hag Struan's sons' deaths in Noble House with the very different fates revealed in Gai-Jin.
  • Contrived Coincidence: A huge one in Noble House; during the bank runs the police investigate an old woman, Ah Tam, for acting suspiciously with what turns out to be one of the kidnappers of John Chen (though they don't know that). Desperate for a lead, Armstrong has her tailed to her residence - where she turns out to have evidence of the real family history of Brian Kwok, which in turn leads the police to his being a PRC spy. Bear in mind, this is the one person in a Colony of well over three million that could do this, and the police stumble on her by pure chance.
  • Corrupt Cop: Large portions of the Hong Kong police, especially Donald C.C Smyth: head of the East Aberdeen precinct (who seems to be based on notorious real-life example Peter Godber, down to the background of distinguishing themselves in riots) and the Dragons: a group of Chinese officers who run a large portion of the illegal gambling in Hong Kong.
    • The attitude to this is zigzagged however; while Armstrong loathes Smythe for taking bribes, he doesn't object to Chinese constables doing the same as their salary is terrible anyway. He'd also rather have the Dragons run the gambling than real villains like Four Finger Wu.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Virtually all the Tai-Pans in Noble House, especially Gornt. Even Dunross sees no problem with maintaining a secret and none-too-legal business relationship with the local head of the Triads. Taken up to eleven by Linbar Struan in Whirlwind, where it's strongly implied he murdered his predecessor to become Tai-Pan.
  • Corrupt Quartermaster: An entire conspiracy of those is stealing food rations for all the POWs by using drilled weights during measuring in King Rat. And they get away with it, protected by the top brass, who are in the conspiracy, too.
  • Create Your Own Villain: It's implied Hag Struan does this with Angelique Richaud in Gai-Jin - her dead son Malcom's former fiancée. Fiercely opposed by Tess for her Catholicism and what Tess sees as her trying to marry into Struan money, Tess treats her incredibly badly despite Angelique being genuinely devoted to Malcolm. This winds up leading Angelique to help Edward Gornt destroy the Brocks and eventually marry him - knowing full-well he has a score to settle with the Struans too. By novel's end she's implied to be the reason the Gornts of the future hate the Struans so much, even coining Tess' "Hag" nickname.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Shōgun has quite a few; one of Blackthorne's crewmates is boiled alive, a punishment that other characters in the book mention occasionally and fear greatly. A samurai also ends up getting bayoneted in the gut and disemboweled, slowly cut at and mutilated, then left to be eaten by wild dogs for his dishonorable pleas for mercy. Worst of all, Ishido (Ishida Mitsunari's Expy) is buried up to the neck in mud after his defeat and capture by Toranaga, and random passers-by are invited to take turns sawing away at his neck with a bamboo saw. It takes three days for him to finally die.
    • Scragger's horrific death in Tai-Pan, with Wu Fang Choi cutting off his limbs one-by-one (making him think help is coming for the first few) before taking out his eyes and tongue. Even Dirk Struan is sickened by it.
    • The eventual reveal of how Wu Fang Choi killed Stride Orlov in Noble House – after kidnapping him, Wu Fang ties him to a stake on a beach and simply lets the tide come in, drowning Orlov very slowly as the water rises past his head-level.
  • Culture Clash: Occurs frequently in all Clavell's books, most famously Shōgun.
  • Cunning Linguist: In Shogun, there are a few cunning linguists. Most of them are seen as villainous by the (Protestant) hero, being Jesuit monks. However, one, the Lady Mariko, is gifted with languages, being able to speak Japanese, Portuguese, and Latin fluently. She translates for Blackthorne and teaches him enough Japanese to get along by the book's end. Blackthorne himself is a subversion: His native language is English, but he's fluent enough in Dutch to serve on a Dutch ship and fluent enough in Portuguese to learn another language through it. The subversion is that he initially doesn't know a word of Japanese (not to speak of cultural misunderstandings), rendering him unable to fill the Cunning Linguist's role as an interpreter for his crew. Whereas most Cunning Linguists go from mild-mannered to badass, he does it the other way around.
  • Death Before Dishonor: After being given a pheasant killed by Toranaga during a hunt in Shōgun, Blackthorne hangs the bird on a fencepost to cure the meat, and instructs the household servants not to remove it until the curing is complete. Unfortunately, Blackthorne forgets about the pheasant, which ends up rotting where it hangs, creating a serious health hazard. The household staff is caught in a Morton's Fork, and holds an urgent meeting to determine what should be done. The elderly groundskeeper, Ueki-ya, one of Blackthorne's favorite servants, volunteers to remove the pheasant; one reason for his taking the task upon himself is that he was growing increasingly ill and frail and considered himself no longer able to carry out his duties. As Toranaga (via Mariko) later explains to Blackthorne, Ueki-ya immediately reports what he has done to Blackthorne's consort Fujiko, who thanks him for doing what had to be done even at the risk of execution. The problem is a genuinely thorny one, and eventually has to be elevated to be determined by Toranaga. Toranaga determines that Ueki-ya should be put to death, but due to the extenuating circmustances, the old man is given a honorable execution, being beheaded with Toranaga's own sword, and various Japanese characters express their belief that due to his courage and readiness to do the right thing (by Japanese standards), he will be reborn as a samurai. As it happens, the incident ends up working very much to Blackthorne's advantage, as part of the problem was that it was uncertain whether Blackthorne, a foreigner, had the legal authority to give the order in the first place. Toranaga rules that because he had appointed Blackthorne as a hatamoto (senior adviser), the Englishman did in fact carry the legal status of samurai and therefore his order was a legal one. Just after Toranaga finishes his explanation of what happened to Ueki-ya and why, an earthquake occurs, Toranaga falls into a crevasse opened in the ground, and is rescued from certain death by Blackthorne. In gratitude, Toranaga formalizes Blackthorne's status as a samurai and hatamoto at a grand ceremony later that evening.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the Shōgun miniseries, Ferriera tries to gun Blackthorne down, forcing Dell'Aqua's bodyguards to shoot him.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Yabu from Shōgun is an overly-ambitious daimyo who has sex with a female and male prostitute at the same time while listening to the sounds of a guy being tortured to death on his orders.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Tyler Brock hits it when he casts Tess out of the family after she elopes with Culum (due to Struan's machinations).
  • Determinator: Most of the main characters in each book go through hell and only come out in one piece thanks to this. It is noted in Tai-Pan that successful ship captains tend to be this by default.
  • Diabolus ex Machina:
    • Tai-Pan ends with a typhoon that kills Dirk Struan and Mei-Mei in the final five pages of the Door Stopper. And doing so right after he managed to set his company straight, sort various personal issues, cure Mei-Mei's malaria and was on top of the game with his political plans. To a lesser degree, Skinner, the journalist running Oriental Times earns this way the ownership of the newspaper... only to find the printing machine completely destroyed and with nobody to pay for a new one.
    • A very similar instance occurs in Whirlwind, wherein Tom Lochart and Sharazad, having seemingly overcome most of their obstacles to happiness, are blissfuly marching off into the metaphorical sunset only to be jostled by a crowd, slacking the former's grip on a primed grenade which kills them both.
  • Diagonal Cut: In Shōgun, the westerner Blackthorne is accepted as a samurai and issued an old heirloom sword as a mark of Toranaga's esteem. While riding in the country with other samurai, they encounter a peasant oil seller who does not step aside to let them pass. Omi respectfully asks to borrow Blackthorne's sword, and performs the diagonal cut on the hapless peasant. He hands the sword back, explaining that a new sword must be bloodied for good luck...
  • Didn't Think This Through: In Noble House Suslev gets rid of his executive officer by selling him out to the Hong Kong police - except he fully expects him to commit suicide before being caught. He doesn't, spills some details to the British and Suslev is left in a seemingly impossible dilemma: confirm Sevrin to the Western agencies and set Russia back in Hong Kong by decades, or stay silent and have the British inform the Soviets of his actions, and the inevitable death sentence that will entail.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: In Shōgun, when Blackthorne and Mariko enter into their affair proper while noting their lives depend upon keeping it secret. The following passages involve nearly everyone around them asking this question.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Mariko and another samurai in Shōgun, ignorant of European attitudes towards sex, innocently suggest fetching Blackthorne a girl, which he declines. Then a boy, which he also declines. Then they inquire if he's impotent, which he denies, vehemently. Luckily the mystified Japanese decide not to risk bringing up dogs or ducks.
  • Dirty Communists: An omnipresent fear in Noble House and Whirlwind. AMG's constant fear of Soviet infiltration leads to his files becoming the MacGuffin of Noble House, and we get a good look at Hong Kong's intelligence service and the CIA reacting to this. They're not unfounded though - through Suslev and Robin Grey we see the lengths the Soviets are willing to go through to bring Asia and the Middle East into their sphere. Almost ends up a Deconstructed TropeNoble House takes pains to lay out the differences between Russian and Chinese communism and why the former was a lot worse than the latter.
  • Dirty Coward: Katsumata, the shishi master from Gai-Jin, is caught alive after being trapped by Toranaga Yoshi's men and proceeds to beg for his life and blame absolutely everyone else for the earlier attempt on Yoshi's life. Everyone who hears of this is utterly aghast at his cowardice. Particularly notable as he is a samurai - and both getting caught alive and pleading for one's life are regarded as the height of dishonor for them.
  • Dirty Old Man:
    • Aristotle Quance. The man talks constantly about how 'delectable' the younger European ladies are, and when he's forced to hide out in a brothel to avoid his wife, he runs up a spectacular tab for services rendered. Not to mention that the Tai-Pan himself considers Quance completely trustworthy in regards to which brothels are good or not. Later on, in Noble House, we find out that four of Hong Kong's best families are descended from him.
    • Less affably, Pugmire in Noble House who continually pesters and attempts to cajole Orlanda into bed, then spreads rumours she's a tramp when she rejects him for the umpteenth time.
  • Domestic Abuse: Several characters are this by modern standards, but are completely normal for the time.
    • In Shōgun, Buntaro is well within his rights to hurt or even kill Mariko by samurai law, but Toranaga is still angry with him for beating her up because she's his only interpreter, and when he chastises Buntaro he criticises him for his short-sightedness and lack of self-control rather than saying it's wrong for him to beat his wife. Buntaro is also a somewhat sympathetic case, as he does genuinely try to control himself and reconcile with her, and Mariko explicitly says that she deliberately angers him with her eternally polite and icily deferential behaviour.
    • The Victorian-era Tyler Brock (of Tai-Pan) is shown to occasionally threaten his wife with violence, but they nonetheless have a very close relationship and are very happy togethernote .
  • Doorstopper: All of the books save for King Rat.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: In Noble House, Roger Crosse is the chief of British Intelligence for Hong Kong, who pretends to work for the KGB but really reports to London and earns money and commendations (by selling information to and selling out agents from) from both sides. Unluckily for him, Whirlwind confirms the Soviets eventually caught on and had him killed.
  • Double Standard: Tai-Pan is rifle with those, to no small part thanks to the overall hypocrisy of the Victorian morals. Various characters routinely call each other over this, too, sometimes even across cultural barriers.
  • Drawing Straws: Near the beginning of Shōgun, the local daimyo orders the Dutch sailors to choose one of their number to be executed, and they use this method.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sean Jennison of King Rat, twice. First, when Peter Marlowe, his best friend, confronted him over his "deviancy". He's barely rescued. Second time, when the war is over, Sean goes to the nearby beach, dresses up one last time, and simply walks into the sea.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Iranians in Whirlwind, who seem equally dedicated to death behind the wheel as they are to martyrdom.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him:
    • Whirlwind's Captain John Ross, Erikki Yokkonen's rival for Azadeh, is unceremoniously killed off by a roadside bomb in Tehran after completing his mission.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: In Gai-jin, Ori the young shishi rapes Angelique Richaud while she's under the influence of an opiate sedative. Ironically, while he'd intended to assault her regardless to outrage the Europeans, her condition leads her to respond unconsciously as if it were an erotic dream; this enamors him to her so much he becomes obsessed, leading to his death sometime later.
  • The Dung Ages: The filth of the 16th century Europeans (confirmed by the Real Life accounts of the Elizabethan Age) is shocking to their Japanese contemporaries, while things hardly improved until the 1840s (the timeframe of Tai-Pan).
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: King Rat is written in a totally different style to the rest of the series, and doesn't get referenced at all until Marlowe and Grey reappear in Noble House.
  • Earthquakes Cause Fissures: Blackthorne in Shogun gets a very powerful friend in Toranaga by saving him from falling down one such fissure during an earthquake.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue:
    • Shōgun goes both ways with this trope, with some Japanese speaking English poorly, and Blackthorne struggling and even getting in trouble trying to speak Japanese.
    • Likewise, Tai-Pan has this with various Chinese characters speaking broken pidgin English or a slang they were taught by low-born thugs. All while in the same time cutting to their internal monologue that often goes in the most nuanced and elaborate language possible.
  • Enemy Mine: Dirk Struan and the Catholic Church may despise each other in Tai-Pan, but the Church puts a secret missive concerning Russian expansion into Asia into his hands regardless, reasoning that someone as powerful and well-connected as he can get the British Empire to sit up and take notice before it's too late.
  • Enlightened Self-Interest:
    • It is purposefully unclear how much King from King Rat adheres to this trope or is a genuine friend to Marlowe. He did initially employ Marlowe solely due to his fluent Malay and Wide-Eyed Idealist tendencies, making him an easy mark. But the biggest test of whether they are friends or just business partners is when Marlowe is dying from gangrene and King faces the prospect of losing all the money Marlowe had hidden somewhere in the jungle before becoming sick. The book never explains what King's ultimate motivation was.
    • Dirk Struan from Tai-Pan is a more clear-cut example, as he weaponises being Nice to the Waiter. His crews adore him and men fight to join him, because he treats them in a humane way and always pays their wages on time. He gains support and allies in the form of various minor characters, who feel obliged to pay back for his various, often small, acts of kindness and support he showed them in the past.
  • Ensemble Cast:
    • Shōgun, which frequently switches character viewpoints without warning as we get to know everyone involved in the Gambit Pileup going on in Japan in 1600.
    • It's pretty much a staple of Clavell books. The first chapter of Tai-Pan flips between Cooper/Tillman/Brock, Struan/Robb/Glessing, Quance, Horatio/Mauss and Gordon Chen before going back to Struan in a matter of pages to introduce and characterise them all for the reader in the space of 24 pages.
  • Eternally Pearly-White Teeth:
    • Rodrigues, the Portuguese navigator in Shōgun, is said to have them—justifiably, as he is not only married to a Japanese woman (who would have emphasised hygiene) but being Southern European, likely had a far better diet in vitamins growing up (more fresh fruit), not to mention that forms of dental hygiene had been practiced in the Mediterranean countries since the Romans.
    • InTai-Pan Dirk Struan is the only European to have them. Proof of his moral degeneracy, as he learnt tooth care from the Chinese, who consider European teeth to be disgusting and evidence of un-necessary neglect. Most Europeans live for the day they can have the whole lot pulled out and replaced with dentures; one rival dies when stoically ignoring an abscess, which develops into blood poisoning.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Kasigi Omi of Shōgun is certainly a cold, ruthless, dangerous man, and a cruel taskmaster when it comes to exploiting his peasants, but when faced with a man being slowly boiled to death he's actually glad to discover that he can't abide sadistic torture, that it removes dignity from both victim and executioner, and he's disgusted with the torturer for relishing in his task.
    • Tyler Brock, the nominal antagonist of Tai-Pan, insists that he and his sons live by a code - he genuinely loves his family, insists that his nemesis Dirk Struan be broken "regular" (i.e not assassinated or knifed in the back), rebukes his mad son Gorth for taunting Struan when he's down and refuses to take advantage of his daughter Tess' love for Culum Struan. In this he actually shows more standards than Struan, who takes full advantage of it to manipulate Culum and Tess into eloping, knowing it would enrage Gorth into attacking him so he could challenge him to a duel and kill him legally - and even after that, Brock stops himself from killing Struan when he realises that as Gorth had tried to knowingly infect Culum with syphilis, Struan had cause to try to kill him.
      • Averted by the time of Gai-Jin (22 years later), where he happily gatecrashes his own grandson's funeral and celebrates the death with champagne to spite Tess and Dirk's legacy.
    • His descendant Quillan Gornt, after a verbal confrontatation with Ian Dunross, compliments and shows great charm towards Dunross' wife Penelope. When called on it by a baffled Casey, he explains that just because he loathes Dunross that's no reason to be rude to his wife.
    • In Noble House Donald "the Snake" Smythe may stand as the pinnacle of police corruption - but he's patriotic enough to be genuinely enraged when the traitor Brian Kwok tries to offer him a handshake.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": In Shōgun, only the ruling class have actual names: everyone else is called things like "Old Gardener" (except prostitutes who take the names of flowers). Blackthorne ends up being called Anjin-san, which is a reference to his job as Pilot of a ship (the samurai who first calls him that makes absolutely sure that Blackthorne understands that the name isn't meant as an insult, but as a practical solution to the fact that the Japanese cannot pronounce his actual name). Blackthorne requests for "-san" to be added. That the appellation is meant to be polite is emphasized by the fact that the Japanese honorific "-san" is used. "Anjin-san" can be translated as "Honorable Pilot".
  • Everyone Can See It: In Shōgun, pretty much everyone catches on to Blackthorne and Mariko's mutual attraction.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • In Gai-Jin Toranaga Yoshi lets Koiko's mama-san commit a graceful and dignified suicide, despite knowing full-well she was involved in the assassination attempt on him that got Koiko killed, solely because of her good manners in asking.
    • In the same novel, Edward Gornt is of dubious morality at best, and manipulates everyone for his own ends - but he's distinctly uncomfortable with Norbert Greyforth insisting on duelling Malcolm Struan, despite his being crippled, even before he starts secretly working with Struan. When Malcolm dies, a brawl erupts between Greyforth and Jamie McFay after the latter insults Malcolm, and Greyforth tries to shoot McFay in the back. Gornt kills him without mercy, noting that among other reasons Greyforth had no personal honour.
    • Tyler Brock from Tai-Pan might be a ruthless competitor to Dirk Struan and his company, but he wants the competition to be resolved by means of conducting business. When his son proposes simply killing Dirk - which he eventually attempts on his own for unrelated reasons - the old Brock gives him a talk about what honour and competition mean.
    • In King Rat, Lt. Robin Grey is a bootlicking Social Climber who is abusing his power as a MP for purely personal reasons and with the goal of hurting King simply out of spite. But when he finds out the conspiracy of quartermasters to steal food meant for all the POWs, he is both furious and disgusted that anyone could do something like that for their own personal comfort. And after he finds out that the top brass of the British officers was in it, too, he gives Colonel Smedley-Taylor "The Reason You Suck" Speech after the colonel attempts to bribe him.
  • Exact Words:
    • Used to demonstrate the culture clash in Shogun. Now Hatamoto (a trusted advisor) and head of a household, Blackthorne catches and guts a pheasant, intending to have a Western-style feast and leaving it out to ripen. Trouble is, with events unfolding with Toranaga, Omi, Mariko and Yabu, he forgets all about it and it starts to rot and attract flies - a cardinal sin in Japan as it upsets the village's harmony. As Blackthorne has given orders no-one touch it bar him, one old gardener volunteers to dispose of it, knowing full well he must then commit seppuku for disobeying Blackthorne's instructions. Blackthorne is aghast and wracked with guilt and rage when he finds out, but Toranaga makes clear that not only was the old gardener in immense pain from arthritis and proud to serve Blackthorne to the point of death, he even dispatched one of his own samurai to make the death as swift and honourable as possible.
    • Later used to show the more malicious side of Toranaga: it is mentioned early in the book that a prophecy states Ishido will "die an old man with his feet firmly planted in the earth, the most famous man in the land". When he's captured alive after Toranaga's final victory, Toranaga has him executed by having him buried up to the neck in an upright position, with passers-by invited to saw at the most famous neck in Japan.
    • Shows Dirk Struan's savvy as backstory in Noble House. In Tai-Pan one of the pirate Wu Fang Choi's conditions when presenting the half-coin is for a Clipper ship as in Struan's fleet - one which will be the terror of merchant shipping in the area. However, while Fang Choi specifies the build, crewing and delivery time involved, he doesn't specify what's to happen after the ship is delivered, which Struan realises in the novel and we later find out in Noble House his successor Culum acted on and sank the ship after delivery. Notably, in an odd case of Graceful Loser, Wu's descendant Four Finger Wu considers it his fault for not making his deal with the coin absolutely perfect and forseeing such an eventuality.
    • At one point in Whirlwind things get nasty for Erikki Yokkonen when the tribal sheik he's ferrying home in his helicopter turns on him and demands he take him all the way home instead of partway as agreed. When Erikki protests the sheik gave his word before God, the sheik notes he indeed did - but the dozen armed tribesmen also being taken home didn't...
  • Excrement Statement: Shōgun had one of the samurai forcing Blackthorne to lie on the ground, and subsequently urinating on him, as a punishment for disrespect. Specifically for saying the words: "I piss on you and your stupid country."
  • Extended Disarming: In both the original novel and the TV adaptation of Shogun, Rodrigues (John Rhys-Davies) has come to murder the protagonist in his home, but the household staff insist on searching him despite his protests, removing one concealed weapon after the other even though Rodrigues keeps insisting he's just there for a friendly chat. (In the book, this is ordered by Mariko, who suspects Rodrigues' real motives.)
  • Eye Scream: In Tyler Brock's backstory his ship was badly damaged in a storm. The rigging came loose, and a flailing rope took out Brock's eye. Proving his serious badass cred, his reaction is to just pour brandy into the socket to sterilise it, then yell at his crew to get things fixed or else.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Yabu in Shōgun, to the surprise of everyone – he manages to not only perform the three cuts to the gut himself without the need for a second (something noted as extremely rare even for samurai due to the horrendous pain) but leave a death haiku Toranaga can't help but admire. Even Hiro-matsu, who's despised Yabu for the entire novel, comments it was the best seppuku he'd ever seen.
    • Kin-Pak in Noble House is sold out by his fellow Werewolves to save their own lives, and instead of begging just curses Four Finger Wu's men one last time. Goodweather Poon gives him a quick, painless death because of his courage, as opposed to the cowardice of the other two.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • The landslide at the conclusion of Noble House leaves everyone thinking Suslev is dead, including his erstwhile ally Crosse. He's still alive, but uses this to flee back to his ship and escape the Hong Kong police's threat to sell him out to the KGB if he doesn't give them information.
    • Whirlwind reveals that Alan Medford-Grant, the intelligence expert whose intelligence files were the major MacGuffin of the spy subplots of Noble House, had the death reported in that novel faked by MI6.
  • Faux Fluency: Yoko Shimada knew very little English when cast as Mariko in the Shōgun miniseries and relied heavily on acting coaches to learn her lines. Filming took so long that by the end of filming she was much more fluent and able to do her lines with little trouble. Ironic since she was playing a translator.
  • Feed the Mole: As a means to placate Grey, King in King Rat not only kept feeding the mole with real information from time to time, but even hand-picked the man for the job himself. Grey never figured out why he was a minute too late for all sorts of deals the King was making, until Marlowe told him the truth when they were about to leave the camp after the war.
  • Femme Fatale: Tai-Pan comes with entire host of them, but most notable example is Mary Sinclair. She's in the same time playing a role of God-fearing, money-strap plain Jane among the British and other Westerners... and a sexually free high-class courtesan for the Chinese rich enough to afford her company, solely to manipulate them and collect information for her own goals. Dirk Struan is the only character fully aware of her real self and she willingly helps him in many instances on her own, but never stops being a dangerous vamp in the process.
  • Foil: Kasigi Yabu and Captain-General Ferriera serve this purpose: The former is a Japanese *daimyo* who hates Christians, the latter a Portuguese Catholic who hates the Japanese. Both are in way over their heads concerning the political intricacies they face, yet serve as a vital The Heavy to far more astute players. Both are obsessively over-eager to watch their enemies suffer a terrifying, agonizing death. In the end, however, Yabu might seem slightly more admirable, as while Ferriera (as Blackthorne notes) isn't brave or honorable enough to face him man-to-man without dozens of soldiers behind him, Yabu is able to Face Death with Dignity and perform a fearless, flawless seppuku that even his enemies can't help but admire.
  • Forced to Watch: In the beginning of Shogun, the Japanese are surprised to learn that Blackthorne isn't vulnerable to personal humiliation, and even more surprised to learn that he is vulnerable to this trope. Abuse and mistreat him all you want, and he won't break; but touch one of his companions instead...
  • Foregone Conclusion: As Noble House both details the historical fall of the Brock family and features Quillan Gornt as a major antagonist, it's pretty much this that Edward Gornt will win out by the end of Gai-Jin. More broadly, as the books are loosely based on real events, anyone with knowledge of these events can guess what's going to happen.
  • Friendly Enemy: Blackthorne and Rodrigues in Shogun. Both have enormous respect and genuine liking for the other based on personal honour and the code of the sea - both save the other's life more than once. Yet every time the two meet Rodrigues (reluctantly) attempts to have Blackthorne killed (at one point immediately after saving him!). When Rodrigues is caught hiding weapons with which to kill Blackthorne on orders of the Church - however little he actually wants to - there's great regret on both sides, knowing it marks a turning point from this into enemies proper.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare:
    • Part of the backstory of both Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock in Tai-Pan, both going from small-time merchants to the largest and most powerful China traders in 20 years - so powerful that they eventually break the British East India Company's hold on trade, leaving each other as their main competition.
    • In Noble House Paul Choy starts the novel as an intelligent but easily cowed Butt-Monkey working for his father, Four Finger Wu, who wants nothing better than to get out of Hong Kong. By novel's end he's the undisputed head of the Wu crime family after Four Finger's death and enters into a very profitable business relationship with Dunross after presenting the half-coin. By the time of Whirlwind he's angling to be married into the Struan family and is implied to be the Man Behind the Man for Linbar Struan.
    • In Shōgun it's often mentioned that the Taikō, who dominated Japan and whose shadow looms over the plot, was born a lowly peasant before his rise to power. This made him Genre Savvy enough to enact laws preventing it from happening again.
  • Full-Name Basis: In the text Donald C.C Smyth a.k.a. "The Snake" is often referred to in full rather than just his fore- or surname like all the other characters.
  • The Fundamentalist: Shogun has quite a lot of fanatical Christians (both Roman Catholic and Protestant), which is to be expected due to the setting. Tai-Pan and Gai-jin have a few, but they're not really a plot point. Whirlwind is full of them (unsurprisingly, since it's set during the Iranian Revolution).
  • Gambit Pileup: A staple of Clavell books.
    • In Shōgun, Toranaga is scheming to defeat Ishido and vice versa, Blackthorne is scheming to defeat Jesuit influence in Japan (and survive), the Jesuits are scheming to convert all of Japan (and kill Blackthorne), and then countless more plots from the supporting cast.
    • Tai-Pan brings it to the next level, because the pile-up has lasting consequences for the rest of the saga, generations later. By itself, it still includes Dirk Struan scheming against other merchants and British government (on few different levels), Chinese scheming against Westerners and Westerners scheming against Chinese, Triads scheming against Westerners and Manchu dynasty... and then there are various personal plots different secondary characters have against each other or entire factions.
  • Generation Xerox:
    • Gai-Jin subverts this a few times. Malcolm Struan initially looks to be this for Dirk Struan (his grandfather), being described as very physically similar and looking to likewise destroy the Brocks. However his injury, love for Angelique and untimely death mean it never comes to pass. Similarly, while Toranaga Yoshi is leagues ahead of the other Japanese characters for intelligence and Manipulative Bastard tendencies, he's not the chessmaster his ancestor Lord Toranaga was, and never develops the latter's control over events.
    • While things don't play out exactly the same way, Dunross and Gornt in Noble House are basically this to Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock, with both attempting to destroy the other in the face of tumultuous events in a specific period of Hong Kong history. Dunross is even mentioned as bearing a striking resemblance to Dirk on several occasions, and Gornt's initial description when he meets Bartlett also heavily resembles Brock.
  • Genius Bruiser: Quite a few characters need to be this in order to survive the intrigue and violence of the settings. Dirk Struan probably takes the cake, being a very big yet very quick man who is also a Magnificent Bastard.
  • Glad You Thought of It:
    • In Shōgun, Toranaga is notorious among both his allies and enemies for his skill at this. During the massive Gambit Pileup that makes up the book, his enemies are constantly trying to figure out whether such-and-such a player is working with Toranaga, acting independently, or simply believes himself to be the latter when he's actually the former. Yabu and Omi also rid themselves of an enemy by manipulating Toranaga's son Naga (who is well-known for being unintelligent and impulsive) into deciding to kill him. When Toranaga arrives he sees through it immediately and admits it probably helped his cause in the long run – but cautions Naga that it's better to recognize when people are trying to manipulate him and act for himself, not as a puppet.
    • Blackthorne pulls off a less-subtle but still effective example: When he realizes Kasigi Omi is in love with the courtesan Blackthorne recently visited he takes steps to curb hard feelings by indirectly giving him an idea that would gain favor with Toranaga, then acting like Omi had come up with if himself. It's pretty obvious to Omi what's going on, but the point is less to fool him than to give him a chance to accept the olive branch without losing face.
    • Dirk Struan is also pretty good at this in Tai-Pan, frequently making it part and parcel of his manipulation of Longstaff and later using it to maneuver Culum into giving Struan's knoll to the church, thus avoiding Brock's trap to drive up the bidding for it until buying it would ruin him. Longstaff amazingly manages to pull it off in the same novel, making Horatio think the idea to import seeds from China to India, and thus break the Chinese opium/tea trade, is his own idea.
  • Glory Hound: Expect from various characters that are in the military or the navy to be those throughout the saga. Expect them being also the most reviled characters of the book they are in, being either stupid, incompetent or just greedy - and usually all three at once.
  • A Glass in the Hand: When Shōgun's Gyoko extorts Mariko for favors based on knowledge of her infidelity, she euphemistically, indirectly - yet pointedly - reminds Mariko that her son will suffer the fallout of such information. Both are too intent upon the exchange to notice the haft of Mariko's fan snapping under her grip.
  • Going Native:
    • In Shōgun, John Blackthorne, to the point that he finds his former companions "alien". His real life counterpart, despite asking for and eventually receiving permission to return to England, ultimately stays in Japan for the rest of his life; and Dutch and Englishmen who arrive years later note his embodiment of Japanese self-possession and tranquility, as well as hints of discomfort in the presence of fellow Europeans (though still polite and amicable).
    • Dirk Struan as Tai-Pan plays with this – while he certainly prefers a lot of Chinese practices and customs (especially those relating to cleanliness), he never learns Chinese (though it is mentioned he has tried) and tries to bend the ways of China to his will wherever possible, instead of being bent to them as Blackthorne was in Japan.
    • In Gai-Jin a reverse example occurs with the rebel samurai Hiraga. Initially he hides out in the foreign Yokohama settlement solely to avoid being caught by Shogunate samurai, learning Western ways to further his role as Tyrer's language teacher, but as he begins to understand them more fully he realises he has to learnt their ways as fully as possible, as the only way to ensure Japan's safety is to adopt Western technology and industry to establish themselves as a power in their own right. Near the end of the novel he escapes on a ship to England.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Horatio Sinclair acts markedly unstable after learning his sister was secretly a high-class courtesan for the Chinese whose recent illness was in truth a botched abortion.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: Zig-Zagged. Characters will often use "fornicating" or "God-cursed" as adjectives or simply be described with a Narrative Profanity Filter, but still use actual swears from time to time. The Chinese characters in Tai-Pan and Noble House frequently use the phrase Dew neh loh moh! as a curse or imprecation; while it's never translated in the novels, it basically means "motherfucker" or "fuck your mother!" in various Chinese dialects. Similarly, male Chinese characters will sometimes address female Chinese characters – usually their lovers – as "little oily mouth"; while the meaning of the phrase is also not explained in the books, it's probably a reference to the female genitalia. Clavell is fond of using non-English profanity without translating it; in Whirlwind, a French character sometimes uses the phrase espece de con, which is usually translated as "kind/species of a cunt".
  • Gratuitous Japanese: All over Shogun, unsurprisingly, but used incorrectly sometimes; in one egregious case, one character of Shogun wants to beg another not to kill someone, but she uses "dozo", which means "please [suit yourself/ go ahead]" instead of "please [don't do that]".
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: The Struan/Brock feud, and later the Dunross/Gornt one, can come across as this. While both sides do have a moral code they adhere to, Struan and Brock are willing to do near-anything to destroy the other and make very dubious moral decisions throughout. Making this more complex than normal, we see both men's viewpoints throughout the novel and from the facts they have available there's no question they believe what they're doing is right for them and their families.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Sevrin and the KGB in Noble House. Their shadowy presence drives many of the subplots, most notably Jacques being a communist spy and everyone's hunt for the AMG files.
  • Groin Attack: Blackthorne of Shōgun fends off an early assassination attempt with a solid kick to the attacker's Precious Pearls.
  • Hates Baths: In Shōgun, Blackthorne was afraid of baths at the begining of the story. Notably, Blackthorne is an adult, but comes from 17th-century England where a bath a month was considered overdoing things (in one scene, he quotes an adage from his grandmother to the effect that a bath when one is born and another when they're laid out for burial is enough to see them through the Pearly Gates of heaven). He's changed by the end of the novel as he adopts more Japanese characteristics.
    • For his first bath in the novel, Blackthorne has to literally be beaten up by his hosts because he's struggling too much.
  • Hellhole Prison: In Shogun, John Blackthorne ends up in such a prison. The prison is described as a room, where dozens of men are all stripped to their undergarments. The floor is covered in filth, the air is hot with a terrible stench and the men themselves only have enough room to stand in very close proximity, with those who lie down being too sick and near death to stand. Sick men die during the night and the rest are willing to kill each other for a bowl of rice. It's enough to drive Blackthorne into a Heroic BSoD.
  • Hidden Weapons:
    • One scene in Shōgun has Blackthorne, prior to acting as a distraction in the plan to liberate Toranaga's ship, borrow a few knives and start stashing them under his belt, strapped to his arm and so on. The surrounding samurai seem vaguely appalled. He also takes to wearing a hidden pistol under his sash. Later he's visited by Friendly Enemy Rodrigues, who he orders searched, turning up knives and pistols hidden in his boots, sleeves, pockets and even in the band on his hat.
    • Dirk Struan in Tai-Pan has this down so well he can make knives appear in his hand as if by magic.
  • Historical In-Joke: A few come to light when Shōgun is compared to historical records such as William Adams' (i.e. Blackthorne's) letters. One example is their reactions to Ieyasu Tokugawa's (Toranaga) request to build a Western-style ship for him: Blackthorne is noted to be a trained shipwright (indeed, Toranaga counts on this) and jumps at the opportunity; Adams lampshades "I'm not a carpenter, I'm a sailor", so the Shōgun tells him to wing it.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Commented on in Noble House. The Gornts villify Dirk Struan as, in Gornt's words, the most evil man to have ever lived while the Struans and Dunrosses do the same with Tyler Brock. However, Dunross, savvy to the myths and legends of Hong Kong, makes clear that he realises at least some of what the Gornts say must be true, but that with so much time passed and the two families well into their blood feud, the particulars really don't matter by that point.
  • Honor Before Reason: Being set in cultures where face is very important, quite a few characters from various books fall into this.
    • In Tai-Pan, one of Dirk Struan's most notable characteristics is that he'd rather die or have his family hate him than lose face in front of his colleagues and enemies. His methods for getting around this problem is one of the things that qualify him as a Magnificent Bastard.
    • Can also apply to Scragger in the novel, as he's appalled Wu Kwok made him give his word of honor in a situation where neither Struan nor Wu Kwok ever expected Wu to keep it, and sells out his boss in revenge by giving Struan his base's location. As Scragger was the only Westerner to have contact with Struan in their dealings, it leads to Scragger being horrifically tortured to death when Wu Kwok survives.
  • Horror Hunger: Played with in Shōgun, as from the Japanese perspective, Blackthorne's appetite counts. Most of the Japanese characters are (or were raised) Buddhist, and thus the only meat they eat is a bit of raw fish. When Mariko and her guard discover a European-style dinner that Blackthorne risked his life for - including rare beef, a half-eaten chicken, etc. - they're bewildered and disgusted. Later he accidentally traumatizes his household by butchering a rabbit, shocks his dinner guests by leaving a pheasant out to rot to prepare it for cooking, and when the rabbit stew is served he's ultimately forced to dump it as the sight and smell are too revolting for those present.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: While many of the romances are between Westerners and East Asians, and so some difference in size is to be expected, Blackthorne, Dirk Struan, and Erikki Yokkonen are explicitly stated to be big even by Western standards, and some of their lovers are small by Eastern standards. Malcolm Struan and Angelique Richard in Gai-Jin also have this dynamic even though they're both European, so the author seems to be fond of this trope.
  • Hypocrite:
    • At one point in Shōgun Mariko is staggered to discover that the Portuguese sailors of the ship she's on contemptuously refer to all Japanese as monkeys. When Rodrigues gently calls her on this, pointing out that Japanese call Westerners barbarians to their face and have MUCH worse terms for Chinese, Indians and Koreans, Mariko's instant internal reaction is that Japanese are the children of the Gods, superior to all others and are basically divinely allowed to do this.
    • In the same book, a ninja leader is disgusted with Blackthorne's "cowardice" in fighting his men with a pistol. This from a mercenary (a profession Japanese despise) who employs tactics such as stealth, poison, and explosives, all of which spit in the Japanese understanding of "honorable" combat.
    • In Noble House the ossified British upper-class that essentially rules Hong Kong strongly discourage open, loving relationships with Chinese or Eurasian women, to the point newspaper editor Christian Toxe's Chinese wife dodges Dunross' party so as not to cause her husband to lose face in front of his European peers. Despite this, most of them are perfectly happy carrying on affairs with Chinese or Eurasian girls - Dunross being the only exception.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: In Shōgun, the samurai Buntaro nails a gatepost that is behind him with an arrow fired from inside a house. (Admittedly the walls were only paper, but still...) Not only does he hit the gatepost several times, the arrows are stated to all go through THE SAME HOLE in the ricepaper walls. He's also been drinking heavily. Blackthorne's so impressed (despite hating him for his abuse of Mariko) that he orders the arrows left as is as a monument to Buntaro's sheer skill.
  • Indirect Kiss: Invoked and averted in Noble House, where Quillan Gornt stubs out a cigarette given to him by his ex-mistress, because he does not want "the taint of her lips". When he said the relationship was over, he really meant it.
  • Info Dump: One of the primary storytelling strategies in Shōgun involves characters behaving in bizarre, illogical ways, then explaining why at great length a few pages later. The most flagrant example comes at the very end of the book, in which Toranaga takes several pages to finally lay out all of his plans and motivations.
  • Informed Ability: An unusual example in Shōgun. Toranaga is repeatedly stated to be a military genius and an amazing battle commander who has never lost a battle in his life, yet the reader never actually sees him leading in a battle, and the moments when we see him planning a campaign are very brief and not particularly detailed (possibly because the author was not an expert on samurai warfare strategies). However, because we get many, many examples of his brilliance in political chessmastery and manipulation, we don't really have any reason to doubt the people who say he's a great general, so he gets away with it better than most examples of this trope. It also helps he's based on the real Tokugawa Ieyasu, who really was a respected and highly capable general in the years before becoming Shogun.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Played straight, downplayed, then eventually averted in Shōgun. Early on Blackthorne is bewildered and embarrassed by the Japanese attitude towards casual nudity. After learning and adjusting to their culture after several weeks, however, he's able to interact normally with Mariko (whom he's smitten with) even physically while both are nude with a little effort, though internally he's breath-taken. Near the end, he's adjusted well enough to casually share a bath with her and feel nothing unusual or imprudent about it.
  • Inspector Javert: Lt. Grey in King Rat is a rather unsympathetic example, since his obsession with nailing King and Marlowe derives more from his all-encompassing resentment than from any principled commitment to the law.
  • Instant Messenger Pigeon: Played with. When Toranaga wants one message sent out, he sends six pigeons, fully expecting at least half of them to fall to arrows, hawks, or any other number of things. When his household is captured, the guards miss a single pigeon that had been treated for sickness. By a million-to-one chance, it comes to Toranaga with its letter.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Royal Navy vs. the Army in Tai-pan, with never-ending conflict between the general leading the troops and admiral commanding the navy. This is a massive headache to all the officials in Hong Kong and other Britons at large, since the two commanders act like petulant children and in their one-up-man-ship of the other consistently threaten the well-being of the colony or the outgoing trade. Except, of course, Dirk Struan, who as a result has two useful idiots to play as pawns in his schemes and machinations.
  • Irony:
    • A painful bit in Whirlwind. As the revolution heats up a helicopter carrying numerous escaping generals, piloted by an Iranian Air Force official called Ali, is shot down by F-14 fighters. A few chapters later we're introduced to an Iranian captain who is one of the few left that is friendly to Westerners, whose adored brother Ali is a helicopter pilot - and who happened to be scrambled that morning to shoot down a fleeing helicopter...
    • Gai-jin: On her wedding night, Angelique takes care to surreptitiously nick herself to draw some blood for the sheets and cover up that her hymen had already been ruptured. She wakes up the next morning on sheets soaked in Malcolm's blood, having bled out in his sleep after their lovemaking ruptured his recent injury.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Toranaga pulls a variant off in Shōgun. When the regents present him with an order to present himself at Osaka by a certain date - and a second ordering his seppuku should he refuse - he appears completely trapped, as to obey means delivering himself to enemies who will order his seppuku anyway, and to refuse would mark him an oath-breaking traitor. So he accepts the invitation, to the shame, rage, and disbelief of his allies... only for them to gradually realize as the days go by that he simply lied and was never going to show up. Thus every day until that date is an opportunity to scheme further while his opponents sit complacent assuming him already defeated.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • Nobody from Tai-Pan except for Dirk Struan has any hopes for Hong Kong as British colony or a "window to China". People openly talk how the island is both useless and worthless and how much better deal could be negotiated as a result of the (Opium) wars.
    • Dirk himself has nothing but contempt toward steamers, considering them nothing but a disgusting fad that has no chance against tea clippers in the long run. And that while being a big enthusiast of railway and other application of steam engines.
  • Japanese Christian: A recurring plot issue in Shōgun.
  • Japanese Politeness: A scene plays out in the Shogun miniseries where Rodrigues points out to Anjin-san how the Japanese are all about ceremony, and how breaking it has serious consequences, as a samurai beheads a peasant right there on the beach as they stroll by.
  • Kangaroo Court: Whirlwind has a huge number of people executed by the hastily set-up and completely untrained religious courts, who often don't even understand their own religious laws particularly well. In one case, the victim was actually set free by the court, but the guard escorting him out applied his personal interpretation of God's will to a random occurrence and led him to the firing squad instead. To be fair, once the court found out about this, a high-ranking representative goes to the man's family to sincerely apologise and restore all their confiscated property, and likely would have punished the guard were the situation not too chaotic to find out who it was.
  • Karmic Death: From Tai-Pan:
    • Gorth Brock is assassinated shortly after plotting to have Culum infected with syphilis, as well as beating and raping at least two prostitutes to death.
  • Knowledge Broker: Gyoko from Shōgun seems to know everything, and has a network of courtesans who supply her with information. It's taken to the extreme that she's the first to uncover Toranaga's fake-defeatism act based on the number and manner of thrusts during sex. In a society that values titles and military power, she manages to do much with the use of information only.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Pretty much all officials, officers and "high society" characters from Tai-pan are clueless at best, maliciously bigoted at worst. No matter what, they absolutely refuse to accept that China might operate differently than Europe or India, never listen to advice of people with years of experience in the actual field and always insist on openly counter-productive measures, because "they were already tested" (even if bearing poor results in their original context, too). Best exemplified with the general, who not only acts, but thinks he's still in India, to the point Brock ends up calling satisfaction in a duel just to stop the stupid buffoon from getting Great Britain into an impossible to win or even wage war.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Omi's mother in Shōgun repeatedly tries to dominate and manipulate her son, tyrannises his wife and treats her terribly - and while this is expected among Japanese mothers/daughters-in-law of the time, she's noted by several characters as being especially cruel about it. During Yabu's last testament before his seppuku, he orders her to shave her head and become a nun for exactly these things, so she'll stop distracting Omi as he moves up the Japanese political ladder. Omi is, needless to say, pretty happy about this turn of events.
    • In Gai-Jin the Chinese retainer Lim pretends not to understand Sir William's warning (as a way of making the Western barbarians lose face) that the Japanese delegation might speak some English, referring to them as monkeys. Unfortunately, one of the Japanese DOES speak English, and Lim later ends up decapitated by samurai, with a monkey head left in place of his own.
  • Leonine Contract: After Noble House is apparently bankrupt in the opening of Tai-Pan, Jin-Qua makes an offer to Dirk Struan: a massive pile of silver bullion, one that could easily cover all his debts and then some, in exchange for four favours that whoever is the tai-pan of the Noble House will carry over to whoever brings a specific half of a broken coin. While Dirk has some alternatives, none of them is even remotely close as good as this deal, and he ultimately agrees on it.
  • Like a God to Me: A non-humorous example occurs in Tai-Pan, when Mary Sinclair tells Dirk Struan that he is God to her. He doesn't actually like hearing this, as he is a devout Christian, has been trying to have a mentor-relationship with her, and probably recognises such a declaration as the result of her slavish admiration and unhealthy obsession with him.
  • Long-Dead Badass:
    • Dirk Struan is strongly considered this way in Gai-Jin and Noble House, as the legacy of what he achieved while alive overshadows and influences everything his descendants do. Ian Dunross, an impressive Magnificent Bastard in his own right, is frequently shown to be in awe of all his ancestor accomplished.
    • In Gai-Jin Yoshi Toranaga considers the original Toranaga (of Shogun) to be this.
    • In Noble House, tales of Tess "Hag" Struan's long, cunning, and ruthless rule-behind-the-throne through successive Tai-pans (chief executives) of Struan's Trading Company, and her dealings with hers and the company's enemies, were commonly discussed by the main characters with both reverence and a hint of dread.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Although King has to share a hut with his team, he has an almost unthinkably comfy corner to himself, complete with a shaving kit, a mosquito net, a box full of rice and tobacco, and two easy chairs. It ultimately gets torn down when the camp is liberated.
  • The Mafia: One of the many subplots of Noble House deals with the Mafia in the form of Vincenzo Banastasio. John Chen is heavily in debt to him (leading to him stealing the half-coin and attempting to give it to Bartlett) and he owns a huge chunk of Par-Con stock, leading to him attempting to intimidate Bartlett and Casey into going with Gornt. He's also involved with gun-running with Four-Finger Wu.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In the backstory of Shōgun, the dictator Nakamura had been unable to sire an heir despite having dozens of official wives and consorts, plus hundreds if not thousands of other liaisons on the side. To everyone's great surprise, and late in his life, his consort Ochiba bore him a son, then another after the first died. Pretty much everyone finds this highly questionable, even Nakamura, but at least on paper it solves the succession, so asking questions is not encouraged. The second son was not Nakamura's - he was conceived when Ochiba, riding in the forest one day, encountered a handsome peasant and had sex with him on the spot - and the first probably wasn't either, but not even Ochiba knows for sure on that one.
  • Man Behind the Man: Kasigi Yabu of Shōgun believes himself an exceptionally intelligent player, but the truth is the vast majority of his clever ideas actually came from nephew Omi and wife Yuriko, who frequently have to hold his hand to guide him through difficult situations while he panics.
  • Married at Sea: In Gai-Jin Malcolm Struan and Angelique Richaud are married by Captain Marlowe of HMS Pearl. They are still minors (20 and 18, respectively) and Tess Struan forbade the marriage suspecting that Angelique was a Gold Digger, so church wedding was not an option. On the other hand, Naval Regulations do not mention limit of age or parental consent in its section on shipboard weddings...
    • Tess is a bit of a hypocrite here, since she married Culum Struan in exactly the same way in Tai-Pan.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: While the Murasama swords seem to be nothing but steel, the normally unflappable Toranaga notes uneasily to himself that the one owned by Yabu was once used to kill his grandfather, a second was used to kill his son, and a third almost killed him.
  • May–December Romance: Tai-Pan's May-May (20) and Dirk Struan (43).
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted in Shogun. While John Blackthorne does eventually integrate into Japanese society, he has a lot of difficulty learning the new ways, becomes only moderately competent, does not impress people, and is usually irrelevant, except as a Spanner in the Works who unwittingly derails everybody's schemes, save for Toranaga, who plays him like a fiddle. This is played a bit straighter as the novel goes on, however, as his natural bravery, coupled with his grasp of the language and Japanese culture improving, gains the respect of many Japanese characters. Also basically justified in that Blackthorne is a world-class expert in several fields and the Japanese think they need to learn from him - and they also have respect for various other impressive Europeans like Alvito because they're talented, not because they're white. In general the Japanese characters are not impressed with the Europeans they encounter, finding them dirty and uncouth.
  • Mirror Character: Various characters in Noble House comment that Dunross and Gornt are quite alike in a lot of ways. Orlanda speculates that both need the other to counterbalance them and prevent one from getting too powerful. In the finale, when Dunross is caught in a mudslide when trying to rescue Bartlett, Gornt just stands and watches as Dunross desperately tries to heave himself out a sinkhole. Once he's collected his senses, Dunross privately admits he'd do the same thing if Gornt was trapped as he was.
    • It's Played for Laughs in the miniseries: at one point Gornt describes Dunross to Casey as a manipulative, greedy bastard. When pressed by Casey as to what he himself is like, Gornt concedes with amusement he really isn't any better.
  • Mistaken for Gay: In Shōgun, Blackthorne is asked if he might like to "pillow" a boy after politely refusing the company of a woman. His hosts are completely baffled by his resulting explosion of rage, and wonder if he prefers animals instead; one samurai recollects how he once heard of someone who liked ducks as sexual partners, and suggests that Blackthorne be offered one; his interlocutor starts to agree, then takes a look at the still-furious Blackthorne and hastily changes his mind.
  • Modern Major General: In Tai-Pan the British official in charge of the fledgling Hong Kong, William Longstaff, first appears to be an imbecile who knows absolutely nothing about Chinese culture or trade, and the only reason he doesn't completely ruin everything is because he takes the advice/gets manipulated by Dirk Struan. However, when a Russian Archduke turns up unexpectedly, Longstaff is an excellent diplomat and his insight into European politics far surpasses Struan's, and he also comes up with the idea to shortcut the expensive business of buying tea from China by sneaking tea seeds to British territories in India where they can grow their own, and plays into his reputation as an out-of-his-depth buffoon to ensure that neither the Chinese nor the traders realise that he's tricked them into putting themselves out of business. He's not an idiot, merely in the wrong place for his skillset.
  • The Mole:
    • Several in Noble House. John Chen is one in Struan's for Linc. Sevrin is a Soviet network of moles in the Hong Kong police and businesses (including Jacques Deville in Struan's), while Brian Kwok is one in the police for the PRC.
    • Robert Armstrong's subplot in Whirlwind involves hunting down information on Soviet moles in the UK government - which are confirmed to include Robin Grey and Julian Broadchurch, Labour MPs who appeared in Noble House.
    • Shōgun has Kasigi Omi's village headman Mura, who is secretly a spy for the Jesuits. Except he's actually a samurai named Akira Tonomoto, and ultimately loyal to Toranaga.
  • Morton's Fork: The Catholic hierarchy faces one of these in Shōgun – they're being pressured by both Ishido's faction and Toranaga's faction for support, with it being made clear that failure to commit or backing the losing side will result in the loss of their power and influence. Since Ishido openly dislikes them and will restrict them anyway if he wins, they decide to back Toranaga – who secretly dislikes them and will restrict them anyway if he wins.
  • My Greatest Failure: Peter Marlowe from King Rat is by all means a paragon of all virtues and one of the most compassionate characters in the whole saga, bordering on Incorruptible Pure Pureness. Yet he hates himself and has enormous regrets, because he made Sean, his flight mate from their squadron, attempt suicide after confronting him over his "deviant girl act". Even if Sean ultimately lived and Marlowe helped save him, he feels like shit for the entire story about it, regretting it more than anything else.
  • Near-Rape Experience: Blackthorne from Shōgun suffered one at twelve, which he frnds off by means of knife-through-throat. He's dimly aware that his prejudice against homosexuals stems mostly from this event and the guilt of killing his first man in fighting it off.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Yabu is shown as such as a bit of a Establishing Character Moment in Shōgun. When one of Blackthorne's men is being boiled alive, most everyone else is kept awake and made very uncomfortable by the screaming. Yabu, meanwhile, is described as not just enjoying it but it is all but blatantly stated that he is getting aroused by listening to them. Almost immediately afterwards, he has a threesome with a woman and a boy and on a few occasions thinks back fondly on "The Night of the Screams". He even thanks Blackthorne for the memory of it before he commits ritual seppuku.
  • Ninja: Shōgun features a ninja attack at one point. They fail to kill Mariko/Gracia Hosokawa only because she commits suicide. Toranaga later hires one to burn Blackthorne's ship.
  • Noble Bigot: Given that one of the main interests of the series is the clash between vastly different cultures, it's no surprise that there are many very prejudiced characters who are highly admirable in other ways. Some of them grow out of their prejudices (to one extent or another), while others don't, but are still fundamentally good people.
    • Blackthorne from Shōgun is an interesting example, in that, among his other prejudices, he's violently homophobic, and unlike the rest this flaw is never really softened or addressed by his time in Japan. But, while this attitude would certainly be common for the time, he's also semi-consciously aware that the religious stigma is bolstered heavily by a Near-Rape Experience he suffered as a child, exacerbated by temptation to slake the omnipresent sexual frustration of life at sea with other men. Of course, a man of the time would be highly unlikely to have the language, attitude, or resources to come to terms with such issues, so there's an excuse to somewhat forgive this particular Deliberate Values Dissonance.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: The pre-20th century novels features Expy's of many historical figures. In Shogun, these include (in the backstory) Oda Nobunaga (under the name of Goroda) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (under the name Nakamura). Yoshi Toranaga is loosely based upon Tokugawa Ieyasu and John Blackthorne is an expy of Wiliam Adams, the first Englishman to arrive in Japan. Mariko, Blackthorne's lover, is based on Gracia Hosokawa, the daughter of Oda Nobunaga's assassin Akechi Mitsuhide (called Akechi Jinsai in the novel).
  • No Man of Woman Born: The method by which Ishido is executed. It has been prophesied that Ishido will "die an old man with his feet firmly planted in the earth, the most famous man in the land". So Toranaga has him executed by being buried up to the neck in an upright position, and passers-by are invited to saw at the most famous neck in the land. "Ishido lingered three days and died very old."
  • Not Big Enough for the Two of Us: Tai-Pan:
    Dirk Struan: Hong Kong is big enough for Struan's and the other British traders. It's big enough for Britons and Americans. Whether it's big enough for the Brocks and the Struans is a different matter.
    Tyler Brock: I'll tell you this, boy; China isn't big enough for the two of us.
    • Given an Ironic Echo by their descendants Ian Dunross and Quillan Gornt in Noble House.
    Casey: Surely Asia's wide enough for the both of you.
    Dunross: The whole world isn't.
    Gornt: No.
  • Not Completely Useless: William Longstaff from Tai-Pan, while on paper being the highest ranking British official and governor of Hong Kong, is your classic case of an Upper-Class Twit - almost completely brainless, almost completely spineless and almost always manipulated or outright played like a pawn. Almost. He is still a distinguish diplomat that knows how to handle big European politics when needed, and, more importantly, is behind the scheme to get tea seeds smuggled to India, breaking Chinese monopoly.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: In the miniseries of Shōgun, Richard Chamberlain plays the lead, an early 17th-century English sea captain, in his natural American accent.
    • Then again, the stereotypical, r-dropping British accent—known as Received Pronunciation—is younger than the United States, having mostly evolved during the Victorian era. 17th-century English accents would have sounded a bit closer to modern American accents (especially on parts of the East Coast) than to RP, with a bit of Talk Like a Pirate mixed in (reasonable, given Blackthorne is a sea dog after all).
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The reputation of Outram Road Prison is so fearsome that even The King flinches when Lt. Grey threatens to send him there, but what exactly goes on there and why it is so terrible is never outright stated.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: In Noble House Dunross' brother-in-law turns out to be Robin Grey of King Rat. Given that Dunross is the head of Hong Kong's oldest and largest trading house while Grey is a rabid socialist determined to bring down Hong Kong's position as a unique trding hub to China (not to mention a secret Soviet spy), the two do not get on, to the point Dunross and his Arch-Enemy Gornt briefly end up uniting to rubbish some of his more dangerous ideas. Dunross' wife Penelope point-blank refuses to acknowledge her brother exists.
  • Odd Friendship:
    • Peter Marlowe and the King in King Rat. One is an upper class British officer that's very stiff and has almost impossibly straight (and highly unpractical) moral backbone. The other is a somewhat crude American corporal that's running their POW camp's black market, while scheming and cheating on every step. Yet they would jump into fire for the other.
    • Casey and Gornt in Noble House. One helps save the Noble House from its downfall, the other is actively trying to bring it about, yet Casey can't help but be charmed by him. They end the novel on friendly terms, with Gornt insisting he take her to dinner when she returns to Hong Kong and Casey even trying to secure him a Steward's box at the races from Dunross.
    • Also, it's at one point revealed that while Dunross and Gornt are arch-enemies their daughters are very good friends.
    • In Shōgun, Toranaga admits the primary reason he wants to keep Blackthorne around is because "[he] makes me laugh and I need a friend". The oddness stems not just from their being extremely Japanese and English, respectively, but also Toranaga's definition of a "friend" lying somewhere between "pawn" and "pet" (with a sprinkle of Sacrificial Lion for spice).
  • Of Corset Hurts: Trying to win the contest during the ball in Taipan, Shevuan Tillman is brute-forced by her maid into a corset to look even slimmer than she's already. The end result is Shevuan crying in pain and barely capable of breathing, the maid speaking obscenities when using a foot to help herself with the laces and Shevuan's waistline being only 44 centimetres (just above 17 inches).
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: The four coins from Tai-Pan and thus rest of the saga. Thanks to a Leonine Contract between Jin-Qua and Dirk Struan, whoever brings a specific half of four broken coins to whoever currently is the tai-pan of the Noble House can ask for anything and the tai-pan will be forced to fulfill that demand. This is used against Dunross at the end of Noble House, when Paul Choy threatens to substitute Four Finger Wu's "favour" (making him party to gun-running and drug smuggling) for his own (mostly) legal demands if he doesn't accept them - knowing that for all his bluster Dunross has to accept no matter what.
  • Offered the Crown: At the end of Shogun, Toranaga notes that he probably could seize the title of Shogun by force as all his rivals fear, but his rule will be much more stable if he manipulates things so that he can humbly accept the post after the emperor "offers" it to him rather than claiming it for himself.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: This unsurprisingly happens a lot, given that the threads of the characters are often related in future-set books as near-myth.
    • All of Shogun builds up to the decisive, climactic battle between hundreds of thousands of samurai that historically decided the fate of Japan—and the novel ends just before the battle begins.
    • An odd one from the same novel, given the circumstances, but while we spend a lot of time on his blustering denials and then gradual acceptance, we don't actually see Yabu's seppuku. Yet it is described as being the best everyone who saw it had ever seen (even Hiro-Matsu, who despised Yabu), and even Toranaga admires Yabu's death poem. In Whirlwind, it is this graceful and dignified death that the Japanese remember, not the string of attempted betrayals that led him there.
    • Tess Struan going from meek, lovely girl in Tai-Pan to The Hag, the puppetmaster of most of the Struan Tai-Pans and the one who kept the company safe from its enemies. We never see her do this in-person, as her exploits are related as legend in Noble House.
    • Dunross' investigation and seeming uncovering of the truth behind David MacStruan's death, and Linbar Struan's role in it in Whirlwind.
  • Off with His Head!: The 1980 Shōgun miniseries was noted as being the first American network production to actually show a head being cut off on screen. The VHS version of the mini-series is gorier than the broadcast version and shows the blood spurting from the neck.
  • Old Soldier: Tyler Brock is in his 70s by the time of Gai-Jin (and is grandfather to all Tess' children, not that either side likes to admit it) and is still viewed as being as dangerous and formidable as in his heyday.
  • One-Man Army: Britain deploys Captain John Ross and just two Gurkhas to destroy abandoned CIA listening posts in Whirlwind they quickly and ably destroy all opposition.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Casey Tcholok is visibly rattled when Ian Dunross, seemingly off-handedly, addresses her by her given name (Kamalian Ciranoush) and she, in a near-panic, wonders just how good Struans' intelligence operation is if they managed to dig that up.
  • Only Sane Man: Toranaga Yoshi of Gai-Jin. Where the other members of the Toranaga dynasty seem content to ensure Japan remains exactly the same as it has for centuries, Yoshi is the only one who realises the arrival of the foreigners and their technology has changed everything, and that the Toranaga family needs to modernise to survive the legion of threats that assail it (hostile foreign powers, rival Lords, the Sonno-Joi movement, the Imperial Family's manipulations, etc). His enemies notably recognise him as such, and the Sonno-Joi movement tries to assassinate him several times, knowing that without him the Toranaga Shogunate is ripe for overthrow.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In the Shōgun miniseries, all the actors wind up using their normal accents. This results in Englishman John Blackthorne speaking with Richard Chamberlain's Mid-Atlantic-affected Californian accent, while most of the Portuguese and Dutch characters sound British, with the exception of Vladek Sheybal (Ferreira) who instead sounds Polish.
  • Out with a Bang: Malcolm Struan of Gai-Jin dies like this after the strain re-opens injuries sustained at the beginning of the book.
  • Papa Wolf: Quite a few. Tyler Brock castrates and beats to death a sailor who was having relations with his daughter, Dirk Struan is openly prepared to beat Gorth Brock to death with a fighting iron after it looks like he's deliberately had Culum infected with syphilis and Ian Dunross threatening to shoot or beat up his daughter Adryon's boyfriends is a Running Gag in Noble House.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Shōgun's Mariko and Gyoko, the mama-san and Knowledge Broker, never speak a word to one another without an undercurrent of honeyed antagonism, particularly after the latter begins blackmailing the former for Toranaga's favors based on knowledge of her affair with Blackthorne. Their verbal duels are a rich stew of Shame If Something Happened, Implied Death Threat, I Know You Know I Know, and other indirect methods.
  • Personal Seals: Show up and become plot points in the expected fashion.
  • The Peter Principle:
    • Culum's thrust into the role of Tai-Pan after Dirk's death in a typhoon. Gai-Jin indicates the role was beyond him, with his wife Tess proving the true backbone of the family against the Brocks.
    • Linbar schemes, connives and even commits murder to become Tai-Pan, but Gavallan and Dunross both consider him arrogant and out of his depth, with the former relating a string of poor decisions during Linbar's tenure that have left the Noble House a laughing stock during a stormy meeting between the two.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Sean from King Rat, who is all but named trans. He's so good at not just playing, but being a woman, the entire camp is lusting after him. To keep things safe, he keeps all relationships purely platonic, including seduction.
  • Playing Both Sides: Linc and Casey arrive in Hong Kong trying to do this with Struan's and Rothwell-Gornt's. Not only are Dunross and Gornt both well aware of this, they consider that Bartlett would have to have been a fool not to try it.
  • Plot Coupon: The four broken coins given to Dirk Struan by Jin-Qua. Each half coin allows the bearer to ask one favor of any size of the Noble House. One of them was used to protect Sun Yat-Sen during his exile, then support him in his drive to unify China. Another becomes the MacGuffin of Noble House.
  • Posthumous Character: The impact of some of Clavell's characters - Toranaga and Dirk Straun most notably - is such that in the novels concerning their descendants they're practically this. Notably, Bartlett and Casey are told at one point in Noble House that in doing business in Hong Kong they're not just dealing with Dunross and Gornt, but the constant shadow of Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock as well.
    • Intelligence expert Alan Medford Grant is killed at the start of Noble House, with everyone's desire to get his files driving much of the plot. Except it turns out he's Faking the Dead in Whirlwind.
  • POW Camp: King Rat tells the story of a WWII Japanese camp for multi-national POWs. The story focuses around the elaborate schemes and followings of one of the American POWs.
  • The Power of Hate: In King Rat, Lieutenant Grey, the MP of the camp, is dying out of malaria. He's so sick, he can barely keep his eyes open... but when he's carried on a stretcher to infirmary to die in peace, he sees King: well-fed, groomed, in clean clothes. Grey is so enraged by the prospect of his sworn enemy getting away scot-free in case of his death, he musters himself to get back to health. In fact, it's his burning hatred toward King that kept him alive throughout the entire war, but he has very hard time admitting it in the end.
  • Precision F-Strike: Actual swearing is rare across the saga (see Goshdang It To Heck above), but F-bombs are sometimes dropped for effect at dramatic moments, such as Jamie McFay telling Greyforth to go fuck himself just before delivering the news about Malcolm Struan's death.
  • Pretty in Mink: Venus Poon in Noble House complains about her lover promising her one, until he finally gives it to her. It's also mentioned that many of the women attending the horse race are wearing mink for the glamour, even though it's the middle of summer. (Truth in Television, as fur items like stoles were a standard part of the well-dressed,well-to-do woman's wardrobe until the early 1960's.)
  • Privateer: John Blackthorne in Shōgun. It's also mentioned to be a part of Dirk Struan's backstory in Tai-Pan.
  • Protagonist-Centred Morality:
    • Subverted in Tai-Pan: despite being the protagonist, Dirk's well aware he's no angel and never tries to pass off what he's doing as morally right, instead viewing his dodgier actions as I Did What I Had to Do regardless of personal distaste. In one notable instance, when Culum rages about having Brock hanged as a pirate for trying to sink their bullion-carrying lorcha, Dirk calmly observes he'd have done the same thing in Brock's position, and that Brock's only sin was failure - leaving Culum utterly flabbergasted.
    • Played straight when Struan descendants like Malcolm Struan and Ian Dunross look back on and romanticize Dirk's deeds, simultaneously demonizing Brock. When we see Quillan Gornt's POV, we see the same is true from his standpoint, regarding Dirk as the most evil man ever to have lived.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Gorth Brock is a real piece of work: brutal, crude, aggressive and always scheming. However, all of this is within the limits of a family feud his father has with Dirk Struan, so it's at least somewhat acceptable and understandable. What isn't is Gorth also being a rapist that then beats his victims to death.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: In the miniseries version of Shōgun, when Blackthorne is around and the Japanese characters are speaking in Japanese, there's no subtitles.
  • Reckless Gun Usage:
    • Averted in Shōgun; Rodrigues carefully inspects the armoury on his ship, and is furious when he finds a musket with an improperly maintained flint that would cause it to be dangerous. However, many other characters are somewhat careless about pointing muskets, pistols or cannons at people while they're still considering whether or not to kill them.
    • It's also pointed out that the unreliable nature of early firearms meant that it was virtually impossible to be safe around them anyway; in Tai-Pan an unfortunate pirate blows off his own hands when he fires an old musket.
    • All over the place in Whirlwind by the Iranian revolutionaries, unsurprising since they are armed (and trigger-happy) civilians rather than trained soldiers. One such instance is when one of them finds his gun jammed, looks down the barrel, and then bashes the rifle butt against the ground with the barrel pointing towards him. At the same time there's another revolutionary who's attached grenades to his belt by their pins. The helicopter pilots (most of them ex-military,) are naturally horrified and try to stay as far away as they can. It's not totally clear whether the lack of care is simple stupidity or whether it's part of their fanatic belief that everything happens at the will of God, so either they'll be fine anyway, or they'll die and there would be absolutely nothing they could do to prevent it.
  • Red Baron: Smuggling chief Wu Sang Fang is always referred to as Four-Finger Wu in Noble House, even by his own family.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: In Tai-Pan, mention is made of how the muskets the Chinese use are ancient and poorly kept, more likely to kill the shooter than the person they are trying to shoot. Sure enough, not long after this mention, Dirk Struan is in a fight with some Chinese sailors when one attempts to shoot Dirk. The gun blows up in his hands, taking his hands with it.
  • Revenge:
    • It's strongly implied that the racing accident that has crippled Dunross by the time of Whirlwind was Gornt's payback for nearly being ruined in Noble House, given that book details Gornt being involved in an identical but unsuccessful plot there.
    • Regarding Shōgun, it's strongly implied that Mariko's dedication to serving Toranaga stems from a desire to revenge the death of her whole family on the Taikō, as she knows Toranaga will ultimately become Shōgun and usurp and/or kill the Taikō's heir.
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • Quillan Gornt is so determined to destroy Struan's in Noble House that he doesn't care in the slightest when the bank run he started on the Ho-Pak goes colony-wide and threatens to wreck Hong Kong's entire financial system – potentially including his own company.
    • In Whirlwind General Petr Oleg Mzytryk (Suslev from Noble House) travels to Iran to exact revenge for his son's torture and murder by Iranian Intelligence. Iran being in the throes of armed revolution, with many blaming foreigners for everything, he's inevitably betrayed and left to burn to death by his Iranian once-lackeys.
  • Sacred Hospitality: When the Javanese deny him shelter, not wanting to harbour a white man under the Japanese occupation, Marlowe from King Rat invokes this out of desperation. Specifically, he quotes The Qur'an, knowing he's facing a Muslim. The chief reconsiders and, after a heart-to-heart exchange, decides to let Peter stay under a strict set of rules.
  • Samurai in Ninja Town:
    • In Shōgun, everyone believes that the target of the ninja attack is Blackthorne. In reality, its the Lady Mariko, as she urgently tells Blackthorne when, believing the ninja promise that the other people in the room with him will be let alone, begins to open the fortified door. Not that it matters, because the castle is full of samurai, and the ninjas are attacking in force. Mariko pushes Blackthorne aside and stands in front of the door, deliberately letting herself be killed when the ninja blast it open.
    • An earlier example, when the very ninja-like Amida Tong assassin attacks the castle where Toranaga is staying at, it is assumed the assassin was going after Toranaga. The real target is later determined to be Blackthorne/Anjin-san and the assassin's employers are hinted to be the Portuguese. This was when Anjin-san was just a Funny Foreigner, not samurai.
  • Sand Necktie: The death of Ishido in Shōgun.
  • Self-Made Man:
    • Works against Ishido in Shōgun. As a general who clawed his way up from the ranks, he's 100% this, but is looked down on by every lordly character as a peasant. Several characters support Toranaga instead, solely because he's descended from one of Japan's ancient noble families.
    • Both Dirk Struan and Tyler Brock started with nothing and worked and schemed their way into being two of the most powerful men in Asia. Their backgrounds and attitudes put them at odds with many of the upper class politicians and soldiers they have to deal with, and their exasperation with their blinkered social superiors is one of the few topics on which they completely agree.
    • Played straight with Linc Bartlett but zigzagged with Casey Tcholock from Noble House – while Casey's background fits this to a tee, nearly all the British characters (with the exception of Dunross and Gornt) refuse to take her seriously as a businessperson because of her gender, despite the fact she's far more able than most of them.
  • Self-Punishment Over Failure: In Shōgun, there is an early exchange when Toranaga is a "guest" in the castle of his sworn enemy, Ishido. Ishido deliberately provokes Toranaga with incivility and rudeness, hoping to goad his enemy into a reaction that will provoke a fight and justify wiping out his rival. A young Toranaga samurai falls for the ploy and draws his sword. Toranaga is forced to order the youth to die for his impetuosity. Knowing he has failed his master and belatedly realising why his death has been ordered - to save everyone else's lives - he submits, surrenders his swords, accepts he is no longer samurai, and crawls to the place where common criminals are executed. (For in raising a sword to the great Lord Ishido, he has made himself a common criminal.) Incidentally, this samurai was the husband of Lady Fujiko, who is later assigned to Blackthorne as his consort (i.e., mistress).
  • Seppuku: In Shōgun:
    • Early in the novel, at the end of a battle a small group of samurai found themselves surrounded by the victors, and having no chance to escape or even cause meaningful damage. Thus, they quickly paired off and began performing a hasty form of seppuku, with the survivors then pairing off until only one remained. At that point, one of the victorious samurai stepped forward and helped the last maintain his honor. The victors treated this with full respect and the bodies were treated with full honor for their act.
    • Subverted by Blackthorne who attempts it but lives to tell, still getting benefits as it raises other people's opinion of him and saves a bunch of villagers as well.
    • Played straight by Mariko, who commits suicide before being killed by ninjas, and before killing herself she states that her death shall be seen as seppuku. It does, and since her master Toranaga's Batman Gambit depended on her commiting suicide, he wins his bets and becomes shogun.
    • Also played straight by Yabu, who has his treachery revealed at a time when he has also ceased to be useful, and is ordered to do this by Toranaga. For all his many faults, everyone who attended the suicide said his was the most dignified and graceful they had ever seen. By the time of Whirlwind, over 400 years later, he is still remembered among his family for the quality of his suicide and the gracefulness of his death Haiku.
  • Sexophone: In the adaptation of Noble House, this is Venus Poon's (Tia Carrere's character) leitmotif.
  • Shipwreck Start: Shogun starts with the wreck of a Dutch ship on the coast of largely unknown Japan. Its navigator, the Englishman Robert Blackthorne, is then faced with adapting to a completely foreign country very quickly or dying in the attempt.
  • Sinister Minister:
    • The Dominicans from Shōgun are more of a combination of a spy agency, merchant charter, and a state within a state than actual priests and missionaries. Whatever it will take to Christianise Japan, they are willing to do it.
    • Chaplain Drinkwater from King Rat is a particularly nasty example. He's by no means malicious or evil, nor does he try to stir up religious frenzy - instead, he's an enormous coward. He seeks deeply religious POWs, befriends them, letting them assist him during the mass service... and possibly share their food ration with him, the poor shepherd. He never asks them to give him any, he just hides behind his white collar, doing the "feeble pious man" act and waits. Eventually, his current "altar boy" always ends up with beri-beri or a similar condition due to malnutrition, and Drinkwater, well-fed, moves on to find another kind soul to help him.
  • Situational Sexuality: Since King Rat is set in a POW camp, it's more than expected. It ranges from purely situational homosexuality to openly queer men working as prostitutes. And then there is Sean, who perfected the role of a woman so well, everyone lusts after him, even King, who routinely sneaks out and has sex with prostitutes outside the camp. Notably, once the war is over, those same people go 180 degrees and act as much homophobic as feasible, ultimately driving Sean into suicide.
  • Sketchy Successor: Dirk Struan sets the bar for his successors as tai-pan so high, pretty much everyone down the line dwells in the mere shadow in his legacy. However, Culum Struan, his very own son, is just plain incompetent in this role and almost ends up ruining the company.
  • Slave Galley: Played with in Shogun. When Blackthorne sees the galley that will transport him to the capital, he panics thinking its a slave ship and is willing to die in order not to be a galley slave. It is revealed that the rowers were all full samurai doing their duty rather than slaves.
  • Smug Snake: Quite a lot of examples from every book, which is unsurprising in a series where virtually everyone, regardless of competence or intelligence, gets involved in the Gambit Pileups. Probably the best example is Yabu in Shogun, who is repeatedly shown to believe that he is stronger and cleverer than Toranaga. He is very wrong.
  • Soap Opera: The adaptation of Noble House plays a lot like the nighttime soaps that were popular at the time.
  • Spanner in the Works: In Shōgun, Blackthorne unwittingly disrupts years of carefully laid scheming by various characters, especially the Catholic Christian ones. There's also Friar Domingo, a Spanish priest who insists on coming to Japan and stirring up trouble with the Daimyo, despite knowing next to nothing about the local situation, as well as Japan being in Portugal's official sphere of influence.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Variation. William Longstaff has his name written out in Chinese characters, not knowing that his translators are getting back at the round-eyed foreign devil by transcribing his surname with the characters for "Odious Penis". Much hilarity is had by everyone who reads Chinese, until one of Longstaff's translators reveals the ruse.
  • The Sociopath: Mariko essentially describes Lord Yabu as such and nobody disagrees. He is a Consummate Liar, has an endless capacity for bloodshed, disregards the time-honored bushido, has a zest for stimulation (most often at the expense of others), and doesn't have an ounce of loyalty for anyone but himself. At one meeting with Toranaga, he freely admits that he would sacrifice all his family and retainers if it would make him Shogun. One aspect of sociopathy, an inflated sense of self-worth, actually works against him as Toranaga lets him underestimate him, taking advantage of his skills and eventually sentencing him to seppuku.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Ori, a young shishi samurai in Gai-jin, develops a frothing obsession with Angelique Richaud after raping her while she was drugged unconscious. He becomes single-mindedly focused on tracking her down, convinced she's a supernatural being who has enchanted him, and flips manically between intending to sleep with her, murder her, or both.
  • The Starscream:
    • Yabu is determined right from the start to betray Toranaga and take his position. Toranaga is fully aware of this, and plays him expertly to keep him loyal, at least until he doesn't need him any more and is provided with a convenient reason to get rid of him... His nephew Omi, in turn, plays this role for Yabu himself.
    • Noble House has two different cases, both from the Chen family. The entire Chen family turn out to have been a benign form of this to the Noble House since the beginning, on orders of its founder, recording every single dirty deed the Struans ever did as a form of protection, in case the Struans ever turned on them. John Chen then uses this to become a full-fledged version to the Chens, stealing the half-coin to deliver it to Bartlett for money, a position in his new Asia company and erasing his own gambling debts in the process.
  • Stealth Mentor: A non-antagonistic example, but May-May to Dirk Struan in Tai-Pan. As she's his mistress, she's ordered by her grandfather Jin-Qua to teach Stuan the Chinese mindset without his knowing he's being taught, so he and the other Chinese merchants can deal with someone "civilised" to facilitate the destruction of the Manchu regime.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Taken to ludicrous extremes by Gornt during the floating restaurant fire in Noble House, who makes a point of very calmly sitting and sipping a whisky as fire breaks out all around him and everyone else is running like hell.
  • Stock Ninja Weaponry: In Shōgun, the shinobi aiming at Mariko's life are described wielding poison-covered shurikens, swords and "scythe-like knives connected to long weighted chains" (aka: Kusarigama).
  • The Strategist: Toranaga, definitely. Dirk Struan and Ian Dunross as well.
  • Stupid Evil: In stark contrast to the subtle machinations of the local Chinese gangsters or the immense charm of Gornt, Mafia boss Vincenzo Banastasio (a major shareholder in Par-Con) threatens Linc and Casey moments into their meeting to go with Gornt or else. Not only does it immediately make enemies of them, he does it in Hong Kong, where they know representatives of both the local Special Branch and CIA to help them out.
  • Talk to the Fist: In King Rat, after the war is over and all the Americans are evacuated from Changi prison camp, Grey decides to gloat to Marlowe about King being put in "his place", treated like a common corporal. Marlowe warns Grey to stop, and when he doesn't, he decks him to the ground.
    Marlowe: I've warned you.
  • Taught by Experience: Marlowe's Malay. He had some grasp of it, but achieved his current, near-native fluency after spending a few months among Javanese locals, learning a close variant of the language, and then applying that experience to Malay.
  • Teasing from Behind the Language Barrier: In Tai-Pan, the mandarins—the Chinese officials—"renamed" the highest British official His Exellency Longstaff: they translated his last name into Cantonese as "Obvious Penis". This nickname was used in all official letters addressed to Longstaff for more than a year.
  • Teeny Weenie: Toranaga in Shōgun speculates that this is why people like Yabu and Kiyama are so testy and short-tempered.
  • Thanatos Gambit: In Shōgun, Ishido unsuccessfully attempts one; he tries, by insulting the noble families of Japan, to goad one of his archenemy Torunaga's retainers into murdering him, which would completely destroy Torunaga's reputation and political career. One of the samurai does come at him with a sword, but thinks better of it at the last second.
  • They Call Me Mr Tibbs: In Shōgun, the name "Blackthorne" is all but unpronounceable to the Japanese. The local lord assigns him the status-neutral name Anjin (Pilot) to simplify communication. As soon as he's learned enough Japanese to understand honorifics he runs with this and gets a lot of leverage out of insisting on being referred to as Anjin-san ("Mr. Pilot") instead of just Anjin: the samurai he encounters can't really argue against it without being seriously impolite, and once they comply, they've implicitly conceded that he has a legitimate place in their society.
  • Too Important to Walk: In Shogun, all of the important female characters (and not a small number of the important male characters) travel this way when going long distances.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • Many characters throughout the series, notably Blackthorne in Shōgun (who starts out a mere ship pilot and by the end is hatamoto samurai and advisor to Toranaga), Tess Struan from Tai-Pan (who goes from a meek, unassuming girl to the iron fist that keeps the Struan empire together in later books, albeit offscreen) and Angelique Richaud (who starts Gai-Jin as Malcolm Struan's beautiful but naive fiancée and ends up a Manipulative Bitch destined to be married to Edward Gornt - and implied to be the reason the Gornts end up hating the Struans so much).
    • Subverted with Culum Struan - he seems to take one at the end of Tai-Pan, but later books reveal it didn't stick.
  • To the Pain: The death of Ishido in Shōgun. Toranaga has him buried up to his neck and invites passersby to saw away at his neck with a bamboo saw. He lasts three days, and dies "very old."
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Shōgun's Blackthorne really likes pheasant.
  • Translation by Volume: In the Shōgun miniseries, Blackthorne's first interactions with the Japanese all involve him speaking very loudly and very slowly.
  • Translation Convention: In Shōgun, the narrative makes clear that the characters are speaking in various languages — mostly Portuguese, but also Japanese, Spanish, and Latin — but all the dialogue is rendered in English. In the TV miniseries adaptation, all the dialogue which is really taking place in Portuguese is rendered in modern English. In moments of intimacy, the two main characters speak in Latin; this is rendered in archaic English, recognisable by the use of singular second-person pronouns (thou) and the "eth" ending.
  • Tranquil Fury: Crops up time and time again in Shōgun. Japanese emphasis on manners and politeness demand that individuals address one another with not just civility but amicability, even if the involved parties' deepest wish is to see one another flayed alive. Those who cannot are viewed by all - even their own allies - as low-class and uncivilized.
  • The Triads and the Tongs:
    • Feature prominently throughout Tai-Pan, where the Triads in Hong Kong are a persistent thorn in Dirk Struan's side.
    • Four Finger Wu is the leader of one in Noble House, controlling much of the smuggling into Hong Kong, but also proves effective in doing some dirty work for the Struans, the Snake's police and even Gornt at one point.
    • Philip Chen holds a hereditary position as a Red Pole in the 14K Triad.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Toranaga pulls this off using Mariko in Shōgun. One way Ishido ensures his allies' loyalty is holding their wives and families hostage in Osaka Castle; everyone involved understands this and the dangers of attempting to leave, yet as long as the veneer of their being "honored guests" is upheld, nobody can take offense. By sending Mariko to Osaka with specific orders to leave a couple days later, Ishido is trapped: Either he lets her go, setting a precedent for anyone to leave, or she'll commit seppuku in protest to being forced to disobey her lord, proving that they are indeed hostages and thus A) Their lords are honor-bound to take offense and retaliate, and B) The rest of the samurai hostages are honor-bound to also commit seppuku, ridding Ishido of a vital piece of leverage.
  • Troll:
    • In Tai-Pan, Dirk Struan; he throws a lavish ball with a huge prize for the best dressed woman in the then near-cultureless Hong Kong, knowing that every female European on the continent will do nothing but nag their husbands into insanity for weeks before hand about buying dresses/getting their hair done etc.
    • His descendant Ian Dunross seems to have inherited this trait – he knows Casey is a woman well in advance, knows his lieutenants will be utterly out of their depth dealing with her – and sends her into a meeting with them anyway, leading to maximum frustration for everyone that isn't him.
    • Orlanda at one point notes that Dunross' nemesis Gornt owns the penthouse apartment of the building she lives in, which had the best views in all Hong Kong – until Dunross had another apartment block built directly in front of it to spoil it for him.
    • Gornt invites arch-enemies Peter Marlowe and Robin Grey to the same boat party - partly so he can feign outrage at Marlowe's past and acquire Grey as a political ally, but also because he finds their mutual hatred hilarious.
  • True Companions: Marlowe, Mac and Larkin from King Rat went through hell and high water together. They trust each other with their lives and survive all sorts of crap together. Even if they end up arguing about something - which they almost never do - they almost instantly appologise, sorry for emotions getting better over their friendship.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Invoked in-universe in Noble House, when Casey internally notes Bartlett's version of how they met is equal parts truth, lies and what he wants to believe happened. Interestingly, we never do find out which bits are which.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Erikki Yokkonen's defining character trait. When a group of assassins burst in to kill his prospective father-in-law, he kills all of them, initially armed with only a knife, and doesn't stop seeing red until he knows his love is safe. The Khan, who hates foreigners, is impressed enough by this he consents to Erikki marrying his daughter.
  • Unwanted Gift Plot: Done deliberately in-universe. In Tai-pan, Dirk Struan pays his debt to Tyler Brock with not only cash, but the very silver bulion Brock failed to take or at least sink from him. As a result, Brock is in a frenzy, for now all of Hong Kong knows he has massive sum of silver on him and the very next day pirates try to rob him.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Pretty much all the high level officials from Tai-Pan, regardless if British or Chinese, are someone's pawn, or even pawns for few various schemes. Most prominently, the opium wars themselves are portrayed as a massive gambit of Chinese merchants to both hurt Qing dynasty, maybe even overthrow it in the process, while also making a fortune in the process, while both mandarins and British diplomats are just clueless about being played and think they are not only doing the best things possible, but also that those actions are their own. In the same time, the exact same people are played on different level by Struan and Brock to help them make massive fortunes and use the wars to be as profitable as only possible, but also resolved as fast as possible to never hurt their businesses.
  • Upper-Class Twit: William Longstaff from Tai-Pan is not totally brainless, but he is very set in his upper-class English mindset and not very decisive, and as such is completely out of his depth when dealing with self-made traders and Chinese ambassadors in the fledgling Hong Kong. When he has to deal with European politics, he is noticeably more adept. Dirk Struan even comments that he would be as out of his depth at any court in Europe as Longstaff is in Hong Kong.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: All of Clavell's books (with the possible exception of Noble House) are based on real historical events, and their protagonists on real people, but the names have all been changed, along with anything else that got the way of the story.
    • The Noble House is based on the Jardine Matheson company, and the events depicted in the novel as one week in the '60s were in fact spread over several years in the same decade for Jardine. Similarly, Rothwell-Gornt is based on Jardine Matheson's real-life rival Swire.
  • Vetinari Job Security: The Taiko in the backstory of Shōgun, to a degree where after his rather unexpected death the whole of Japan has descended into chaos. While he was alive, the major daimyos wouldn't have dreamed of turning on him. Of course, since he died two years before the protagonist came to the scene, the book depicts the daimyos taking political scheming up to eleven.
  • Villainous Legacy: Admittedly depends how you see both characters, but...
    • When he eventually wins out in Shōgun, Toranaga establishes near total control over Japan, ensures all other Daimyo in Japan pay tribute and hostages to him and his family, that the position of Shogun is limited to his family, outlaws Christianity and cuts off Japan from all foreign contact. All of this sets the stage for Gai-Jin and the problems and unrest these acts have created in the long-term are what Yoshi has to maneuver around.
    • Dirk Struan creates an actual Legacy all future Tai-Pans have to abide by, which details the consolidation of power for the Struans and the total annihilation of the Brock family's descendants - even the ones that don't know they're Brock's descendants.
  • Villainous Rescue: In Whirlwind Eriki Yokkonen and his wife Azadeh are saved from a furious mob by the KGB agent Rakoczy. Granted, it's so they can be used for his own ends later, but it still counts.
  • We Need a Distraction: In Shōgun Toranaga is trying to sneak out of Osaka Castle and is in danger of being stopped by Ishido, Blackthorne does an Obfuscating Insanity act, complete with manic dancing and wild shouts.
  • Western Samurai: From Shōgun, there's John Blackthorne, an English pilot that survived the shipwreck of his ship on Japanese coasts and eventually captured, but eventually he became close to the future Shogun Toranaga, gaining the title of samurai.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: Dirk is mentioned to have very striking, bright green eyes, to the point that the Chinese refer to him as the "green-eyed devil". It's even referenced on his Personal Seal.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • While the circumstances on the destruction of Tyler Brock's company and family are expounded on by Peter Marlowe in Noble House, Brock's ultimate fate after swearing vengeance on the Struans and disappearing is unknown.
    • Unlike the other book protagonists, whose final fates are known (even if obscured by myth in later books in some cases), it's never established what happened to The King after the events of King Rat. Brought up in-universe, when Marlowe admits he tried repeatedly to find him after the war but never could, with even his enemy Grey being surprised Marlowe doesn't know where he is. A sympathetic Dunross suggests it's a case of military culture, with all debts and friendships cancelled once the events bonding them were over.
  • What You Are in the Dark: The saga is rife with this
    • King Rat examines the extreme situation of being a POW in a Japanese camp and how various character behave under the circumstances. Short for Marlowe, it's a rather bleak examination of human nature.
    • Tai-Pan has Wilf Tillman, who is somewhat reasonable guy that's clearly a product of his era, but doesn't seem to harbor any ill intentions. However, when he's in his death bed and all inhibitors are off, he shows his true colors as a massive tyrant and racist asshole, erupting like a volcano toward all people present.
    • All hell lets lose once the revolution goes into full swing in Whirlwind and people use the resulting chaos to settle their personal feuds.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: In the backstory of Blackthorne and his men in Shōgun. Comes back in Tai-Pan as background for the main characters, while an arrival of a steamer is considered End of an Age.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Blackthorne and Father Alvito clearly view each other as this by the end of Shōgun, both having considerable respect for the other despite their religious and personal differences.
    • Dunross and Gornt from Noble House are acknowledged by several other characters as this, but they themselves have far too much personal emnity to really notice. Dunross seems to have caught on by Whirlwind, where it's noted that he retired as tai-pan soon after Gornt drowned in a boating accident, as there just wasn't any excitement to things any more.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Being good at this is definitely a hallmark of a Clavell protagonist – Toranaga from Shogun, Dirk Struan from Tai-Pan, Toranaga Yoshi and Edward Gornt from Gai-Jin, and Ian Dunross from Noble House are all shown to be able to navigate through umpteen unforeseen setbacks while keeping their goals firmly within reach. Those who aren't don't tend to have a good survival track record.
    • Toranaga and Ishido are playing it against each other all the way through Shōgun. Ishido seems to be better at it, as during much of the second half Toranaga mainly just goes through desperate attempts to buy more time and needs the help of several others to figure out how to counter Ishido's latest move. But in the end it's enough...
    • Dirk's so good at it that in Tai-Pan Gordon Chen automatically assumes that May-May's proposed assassination of Gorth Brock is his idea, played out subtly and in secretive Chinese style. In reality Dirk has no idea about it, and May-May even notes he'd have her, his own mistress, arrested and hanged if he knew what she was doing.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Mariko Buntaro both subverts it (refuses her husband in private instead of being subservient to him) and plays it straight (preferring death rather than renouncing her ideals). Then again, she is an expy of Gracia Hosokawa who was an Ur-Example of the trope.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In Shōgun, Toranaga is never going to let Blackthorne leave Japan. Ever. And the ship Blackthorne is lovingly planning? It's never meant to sail: It will be burned or traded for leverage, just like its predecessor. "So sorry."
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe:
    • In the Shōgun miniseries, used as a Translation Convention. Portuguese (and/or Japanese and Dutch, depending on the POV character) is rendered as contemporary English. When Blackthorne and Mariko slip into Latin, however, it's rendered as Ye Olde Butchered Englishe. "I say thou art beautiful, and I love thee!" It also occasionally crops up in translations of Farsi in Whirlwind, particularly during declarations of love.
    • In Tai-Pan the old English speech patterns of Brock and his family really stand out as old-fashioned compared to other characters. Culum is even shown to be teaching Tess more modern speech later in the book.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Lots of characters try this, with varying degrees of success. One instance which works, is Toranaga offhandedly ordering Yabu to commit seppuku.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: A staple of the series and featured from all cultural sides, since one of the series' primary themes is the interaction between Western and Eastern cultures.

Alternative Title(s): Shogun, Noble House, Tai Pan, Gai Jin, Whirlwind, King Rat, King Rat 1962

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