Asian Saga

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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

The novels, in chronological order, are:

  • 1600, Japan: Shogun (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)

Shogun, Tai-Pan, King Rat and Noble House have been adapted for film and television (with the Shogun miniseries/film starring Toshiro Mifune being the best known adaptation), and Shogun 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.

The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the Asian Saga franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Quillian Gornt 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.
    • His ancestor who founded the Gornt company is a big character in Gai-Jin, and while he isn't exactly evil, he wastes no time in trying to get Malcolm Struan's widow 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.
  • Author Avatar: Peter in King Rat and Noble House is based on Clavell himself.
  • Author Existence Failure: The series was allegedly supposed to continue, but Clavell died in 1993, not long after Gai-Jin was published.
  • Badass: Too many examples to list, but from Whirlwind the Finnish pilot Yokkonen who fends off a mob of protestors with a fire axe, punches his way through a road block, convinces his captors to follow him in storming a fortified compound and rescuing his wife. Also, the one commando who liberates the prison camp in King Rat.
  • Bank Run: Noble House attempts to avert this by seeking to have the overextended firm taken over in some form by a stronger competitor.
  • Benevolent Boss: Dirk Struan knows all to 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: 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...
  • Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: A mild item-related example: apparently the author insist 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 showed up as a supporting character in Noble House...
  • Continuity Nod: Noble House has countless:
    • The wife of an associate of Ian Dunross' had the maiden name Anjin. Anjin was the name given to John Blackthorne in Japan.
    • The love story between Dirk Struan and Mei-mei is a legend 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.
    • In Noble House, 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The coins
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Ishido's fate.
  • Doorstopper
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue
  • Face Before Reason: 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.
    • Being set in cultures where face is very important, quite a few characters from various books fall into this.
  • The Fundamentalist: Whirlwind is full of them (unsurprisingly, since it's set during the Iranian Revolution). Shogun also has quite a lot of fanatical Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) which again is to be expected due to the setting. Tai-Pan and Gai-jin have a few, but they're not really a plot point.
  • Gambit Pileup: Especially in Shogun.
  • Going Native: Blackthorne, to the point that he find his former companions "alien".
  • Gratuitous Japanese: Despite being 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]".
  • Historical Domain Character: The pre-20th century novels feature No Celebrities Were Harmed versions of many historical figures. In Shogun, these include Oda Nobunaga (under the name of Goroda) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (under the name Nakamura).
  • 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.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • May-December Romance: Mei-Mei and Dirk Struan.
  • Me Love You Long Time
  • Pretty in Mink: Venus Poon in Noble House complains about her lover promising her one, until he finally gives it to her.
  • Soap Opera: The adaptation of Noble House plays a lot like the nighttime soaps that were popular at the time.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Feature prominently throughout.
  • Ninja: Shogun features a ninja attack at one point. They fail to kill Mariko/Gracia Hosokawa only because she commits suicide.
  • No Name Given
  • Out with a Bang: One of the protagonists of Gai-Jin.
  • Privateer
  • Seppuku. Subverted by Blackthorne who attempts it but lives to tell, still getting benefits as it raises other people's opinion of him. Played straighter 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.
  • Stock Ninja Weaponry: In Shogun, 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 Bad Guy Wins: One possible interpretation of Shogun, depending on whether you consider Toranaga to be the bad guy or not. He is unquestionably power-hungry, ruthless, manipulative and has no regard for keeping solemn promises he made in the past, but his combination of genuinely caring for certain people coupled with being an all-round Magnificent Bastard of the highest order makes the reader more likely to overlook his bad aspects. It doesn't change the fact that he is arguably the darker shade of gray in the Gray and Gray Morality of the book.
  • The Tokyo Fireball
  • Translation Convention
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: All of his 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 Jardine House, and the events depicted in the novel as one week in the 60s were in fact several years in the same decade for Jardine.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Mariko Buntarou both subverts it (refuses her husband in private instead of being subservient to him) and plays it straight ( prefers death rather than renouncing to her ideals). Then again, she is an expy of Gracia Hosokawa who was an Ur Example of the trope.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Toranaga is never going to let Blackthorne leave Japan. Ever.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: In the 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!"