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Love Shogun on Disney+? Visit real-life samurai locations in Japan
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Love Shogun on Disney+? Visit real-life samurai locations in Japan

If you’ve fallen in love with Japan after watching the smash hit Shogun TV series, then we have the destinations for you.

What is Shogun About?
Locations from Shogun You Can Visit
Five Samurai Districts To Discover
Bonus Recommendations


‘Shogun’ has been one of 2024’s most successful and critically acclaimed TV series. Set in Japan, starring famous Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada, and based on James Clavell’s novel of the same name, the series has been a smash hit around the world with viewers and critics alike. So much so that it has already been green lit for future seasons. If you loved ‘Shogun’ and want to visit historic locations featured in the series or the ancient Japan depicted by the show has captured your imagination and you want to experience it for yourself then we have the article for you. With your Japan Rail Pass to hand for unlimited travel to historic, samurai era destinations, you can take a journey back into the past with your favourite new TV show. Let’s get started.

What is Shogun About?

Shogun is the story of two men whose paths intertwine in 17th Century Japan, an English sailor called John Blackthorne who is marooned in the country after a shipwreck and Lord Toranaga, a powerful daimyo feuding with dangerous rivals to become ruler. Lady Mariko is another key character who acts as a translator and mediator between Blackthorne and Toranaga.

The story comes from author James Clavell’s 1975 novel, which was a bestseller on publication and was previously adapted for TV in 1980 - becoming the second most watched TV show ever at the time with more than 120 million viewers. Clavell’s novel was loosely based on the real-life figure, William Adams, an English sailor who became the first Englishmen to reach Japan when he was shipwrecked there in 1600 and who went on to become a samurai and advisor to shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu. From this point onwards, he became known as Miura Anjin (the pilot of Miura). When Adams was first shipwrecked, he was taken to Osaka Castle, and this is just one of the spectacular locations highlighted in the book and series. We have a longer list below with tips on how to visit each one with your JR Pass.

The latest adaptation of Clavell’s novel, starring Hiroyuki Sanada as Lord Toranaga, was first announced in 2018 and aired in the US, UK, and other territories in spring 2024. It has been a global success and one of the most critically acclaimed and universally loved series of the year so far, sparking news stories of millions more travellers wanting to visit Japan to follow in the footsteps of the characters. 

Locations from Shogun You Can Visit

For fans of the show, it’s very much possible to follow in the footsteps of John Blackthorne from his shipwreck off the coast of Japan to his summoning to Osaka Castle to meet Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo of Edo, which became modern day Tokyo.

  1. Usuki, Oita prefecture

Although Blackthorne washes up near Ajiro in Izu province in the novel, this actually isn’t historically accurate as records show that the real-life Adams was shipwrecked near Usuki, Oita (known as Bungo during that period). That’s where you’ll want to head for the real location and it has everything you could want, including former samurai residences. You’ll even find a model of Adams’ ship, ‘the Liefde’ on display at Usuki City Hall. Found on the east coast of Ōita Prefecture, the small city of Usuki is home to an equally small, but pretty, samurai district. The area is known as the Nioza Historical Road, as there are many samurai residences along this paved street. Everything about this traditional area feels completely unchanged, making it perfect if you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Two of the most popular stops for visitors in the Usuki samurai district are the Inaba Residence and the Marumo Residence. The Inaba Residence is probably more noteworthy though due to its traditional interior layout and garden. Elsewhere in Usuki you’ll also find its merchant district along the Haccho Oji Shopping Street.

2.  Osaka Castle, Osaka

After Blackthorne arrives in Japan, he is summoned (just like the real-life Adams) to meet the ruler of Japan. For this he is taken to the magnificent Osaka Castle, which was built around 1583. At the time of construction, it was the largest and most prestigious castle in Japan. Meant as the new seat of power for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the then de-facto ruler of Japan. The castle saw a massive renovation in 1997 and has since become one of the most modern castles in Japan, complete with elevators, outside light show and Wi-Fi. The castle today is an experience where you learn about the castle’s history, the unification of Japan and its founder Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In addition, visitors can go up the castle tower for a magnificent view of the Osaka skyline. Osaka castle would not be an authentic Japanese castle without its own castle garden. Known as Nishinomaru Garden, the garden is private but accessible for a small fee. Inside the garden are over 600 cherry blossom trees, a traditional tea house and there are plenty of great photo opportunities. Around the castle complex is Osaka Castle Park (Osaka-jo-koen), it’s the largest city park of Osaka with lots of activities in the area and certainly worth exploring on its own. The park is especially beautiful during the Sakura period. Highlights include: Hokoku Shrine, Illusion Museum, castle gate and the Peach Grove. Many festivals are held year round in the castle park and you might find yourself partaking in one of the many festivities during your visit. Osaka Castle can be reached from Osakajou-koen station, on the JR Osaka Loop line. You’ll step right into the castle park from the station, from where it is about 10 minutes on foot to the castle itself. The JR Osaka Loop line is covered by the JR Pass and JR-West Passes. As a bonus ‘Shogun’ destination also check out Azuchi Castle Ruins in Shiga Prefecture. The ruins can be found on a hill overlooking Lake Biwa with a full reproduction in Ise Sengoku Village.

3.  Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture

An onsen destination for weary samurai warriors and location of Ajiro village where Blackthorne is hidden after an assassination attempt, Atami is a seaside city in Shizuoka Prefecture near the start of the Izu Peninsula. The city and surrounding region have been known for their mineral springs as far back as the Nara period a thousand years ago as well as being a firm favourite of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu - the real-life basis for Shogun’s Lord Toranaga. This legacy has made Atami a leading hot spring destination whose appeal has only been helped by its proximity to Tokyo, which is just 50 minutes away by train. With many hot springs and onsen resorts in and around the city, this collection of establishments has become known as the Atami Onsen. The onsen in Atami are best known for their chloride springs that feel like hot seawater due to their heavy mineral content, although there are also some sulphur springs as well. Each type is known for providing different therapeutic properties. For instance, the chloride springs are meant to be especially good with easing muscle and joint pain. To reach Atami with the Japan Rail Pass simply hop aboard the Tokaido Shinkansen in Tokyo and it will take you right to Atami Station in less than an hour. Even better, you can also take the regular trains on the Tokaido line to get there if that works better for you. Another option for taking the train to Atami is to travel in style with the luxury Saphir Odoriko excursion train. Read to our Guide to Atami Onsen and Hot Springs for more.

4.  Nagasaki, Kyushu

In the TV show and novel, Osaka is depicted as the main trading port with European sailors, but it was actually Nagasaki, Kyushu, so that’s where you’ll want to visit for the real history. Nagasaki has occupied an important international role in Japanese history for centuries, largely due to its close proximity to the Asian mainland. From as early as 1570, this port city was trading with Portuguese sailors, Chinese merchants, and Jesuit missionaries. In the 1600s, by order of the Shogun, only Chinese and Portuguese traders were permitted, and the latter were restricted to a small area known as Dejima, which was built in 1639 and remains to this day. Dejima became the residence of Dutch traders who occupied this area for the next 200 years and brought European imports such as chocolate, coffee, as well as sports such as badminton and billiards. Even during Japan’s self-imposed period of isolation during the Edo Period (1603-1868), Nagasaki remained an international trading outpost, which has contributed to the city’s cosmopolitan character, welcoming atmosphere, and diverse culture, architecture, and cuisine. You can find out more in our full guide to Visiting Nagasaki

5.  Gifu Sekigahara Battlefield Memorial Museum

Referenced in the book without being directly featured, the famous battle of Gifu Sekigahara was said to be one of the biggest and bloodiest in samurai history with 170,000 warriors facing each other in a battle to the death to decide the ruler of Japan. A memorial museum can now be visited at the location of the battlefield in a valley in Sekigahara in Gifu Prefecture, Central Honshu.

We have a couple of bonus recommendations for you too. If you fancy a day trip to Hiroshima in the west with your JR Pass, then you’ll also be able to visit Toshogu Shrine. Established in 1648, the Toshogu shrine pays tribute to the first Shogun of Tokugawa Shogunate, Tokugawa Ieyasu - the basis for Shogun’s Lord Toranaga. Find out more by reading our guide to Toshogu Shrine here.

Visit Aizuwakamatsu, the Samurai City of Japan

Looking beyond Shogun for a moment, Japan has much more to offer lovers of samurai-era history, including the city of Aizuwakamatsu. The city in the Fukushima Prefecture earned the name because it was one of the last places in Japan to give up the feudal culture of samurai and shogun during the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. That warrior history has been carefully preserved in Aizuwakamatsu, with many of the best places to visit in Aizuwakamatsu related to this heritage. If your imagination has been captured by watching TV’s Shogun series, then a trip to Aizuwakamatsu is definitely recommended.

Five Samurai Districts To Discover

You’ll find many more well-preserved former samurai districts to explore across Japan.

  • Nagamachi, Kanazawa

One of the best preserved samurai districts in Japan is the Nagamachi district of Kanazawa. You’ll find many traditional attractions around Kanazawa and the former samurai district of Nagamachi with its distinct earthen walls is home to many of them. The district supported Kanazawa Castle as one of the most important feudal capitals during the Edo Period, but sadly Kanazawa Castle is mostly a modern reconstruction now. Not so for many of the residences found in Nagamachi like Nomura-ke which is a preserved and restored samurai residence at the heart of the district. Another popular attraction in the district is the Shinise Kinenkan Museum, one of many local museums, that is set inside an old pharmacy and showcases crafts from the city.

  • Kakunodate 

Kakunodate Is a town in the Akita Prefecture of northern Honshu and in fact is perhaps best known for its wonderfully preserved samurai district full of weeping cherry trees. In its heyday, around 80 samurai families lived in the district and the homes here were relatively generous in size with large courtyards. While many samurai homes in Kakunodate have been preserved, only six are open to the public to visit, Aoyagi, Ishiguro, Odano, Kawarada, Iwahashi, and Matsumoto. The Aoyagi House is one of the best to visit due to its scale and displays full of family heirlooms. Over in the Ishiguro House you can see a collection of samurai armour and clothing, but not as much of the house, as much of it is still used as a residence today.

  • Hagi

Many samurai districts outlive the castles they once supported, as is the case in the town of Hagi where little of its signature castle remains. Situated on the coast of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Hagi may be small, but it’s a fantastic place to visit if you like historical settings. Because many of its local samurai transitioned to merchants, the town almost has a blended samurai/merchant district, and just as many samurai residences as old merchant homes. You can see this at the Kikuya Residence, which once belonged to a samurai turned merchant family, and is now a major local historical landmark. There are other residences to visit as well like the Kubota House and Kido Takayoshi House, but if you’re interested in the local history then head to the insightful Hagi Museum.

  • Kitsuki

Finally, we have the two samurai districts within the city of Kitsuki in Ōita Prefecture. Either side of the city’s merchant district you’ll find two distinct samurai districts that have been carefully preserved and left free of modern touches like power lines. As such, walking through both of these areas is a real treat thanks to their air of authenticity. The northern samurai district is best known for two impressive residences, the Ohara Residence and the Nomi Residence, which offer charmingly traditional interiors and gardens. As for the southern samurai district, there you can visit the Kitsuki Castle Town Historical Museum, which features artefacts from the city’s feudal past. 

Japan’s Most Historic Locations

Japan has done a wonderful job of preserving much of its history for contemporary visitors. Its temples, shrines, pagoda, castles, and palaces, are a joy to beyond and a chance to step back in time. Here are a few suggestions if you’re looking for more history to discover during your stay in Japan:

  • Grand Ise Shrine

Known as the spiritual home of the Japanese people, Ise Grand Shrine (or Ise Jingu) dates back almost 2,000 years and remains the most important and culturally significant shrine in all of Japan. If you’re fascinated by Japan’s spiritual history and the beauty of its shrines and temples, then Ise Grand Shrine should be at the very top of your list. The shrine is the home of the sun goddess Amaterasu, Japan’s supreme deity, and the location of the Sacred Mirror of the Emperor. One of the most fascinating facts about Ise Grand Shrine is that every 20 years, the inner and outer shrines as well as the Uji Bridge, are taken down and completely rebuilt in keeping with Shinto beliefs of rebirth and renewal. Ise Grand Shrine is not just spiritually and culturally important to Japan, it is also one of the most beautiful shrines you could ever hope to visit.

  • Narai and the Nakasendo Way

A beautiful and historic post town, Narai in Nagano Prefecture is one of the best-preserved of the Edo period towns on the famous Nakasendo Trail. This Edo period walking trail connects modern day Tokyo (formerly known as Edo) with Kyoto and includes a wealth of stunning scenery along the way. The Nakasendo was created during the Edo period as one of five official routes for Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu to control the country. It was travelled by lords, merchants, pilgrims, monks, samurai and more, including the famous haiku master Matsuo Basho. The five routes, including the Nakasendo, were restored from pre-existing highways and pathways that dated back more than a thousand years by edicts introduced by the Shogun in 1602. As it took several days to complete the 332-mile Nakasendo trail, the route included a number of Juku (rest stations) post towns for travellers to stay overnight. Originally, there were a total of 69 of these post towns along the route - Narai, which we mentioned above is just one of them. While modern roads and railways eventually reduced the political importance of the Nakasendo, the trail exists today as a scenic journey into Japan’s feudal past. The most historic sections that remain, particularly those in Gifu Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture’s Kiso Valley, are where you’ll find some of Japan’s most charming and picturesque former post towns such as the aforementioned Narai, Tsumago, and Magome. Read our guide to Walking the Nakasendo Trail for more. 

  • Kanazawa

Higashi Chaya is Kanazawa’s geisha neighbourhood, with expertly preserved historic homes and buildings. Beyond its pretty scenery, Higashi Chaya also flaunts many local teahouses where you can experience the local teahouse culture. In some teahouses it’s even possible to witness a geisha performance involving traditional dances and songs, something that is normally reserved for very select audiences. 


For more, read our full guide to the Best Places To Visit To Experience Japan’s History.

Bonus Recommendations

Whether you’re excited to experience samurai era Japan, looking for more TV shows about Japan, or keen to find out more about the country’s literary connections, we have a number of fascinating articles on related topics in our blog. Here are a few recommendations:

  • For a very different kind of TV show about Japan, read our article on the recent return of cult Japanese TV series, Takeshi’s Castle.
  • How about more about Japan on the big screen? From Memoirs of a Geisha to Black Rain, read our guide to Japan on Film for more.
  • Clavell’s novel might be one of the most famous books about Japan, but did you know the country is said to have published the world’s first novel? Find out more by reading our Literary Tour of Japan.  

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