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Inside the Incredible Life of Mariko’s Real-Life ‘Shōgun’ Counterpart

This story contains historical spoilers for FX’s.

Life wasn’t kind to women in . As details through the lives of Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), Ochiba (Fumi Nikaido), and Fuji (Moeka Hoshi), a woman’s life choices—if you can even call them that—consisted of wife, mother, housekeeper, or concubine. That said, we see Lord Yoshii Toranaga () pay significant interest in Mariko throughout the drama. He places great trust in her judgement and reasoning, often going to her for advice pertaining to his in Osaka. He also asks her to serve as his official translator.

Like many Shōgun characters, Mariko has a real-life counterpart: Akechi Tama. Her role in ‘s ascension to the shogunate played out similarly to what’s represented in the series. Naturally, there are some major differences when it comes to Mariko’s function within the story and her relationship to John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis). But if you’re looking for the true story of Mariko’s real-life counterpart, here’s everything you need to know.

Who Was Akechi Tama?

Born the daughter of general Akechi Mitsuhide, Akechi Tama was a highborn woman and a member of the aristocratic class in feudal Japan. Her father served under Lord , the first great unifier of Japan and the de facto ruler of the country in the early 1580s. However, everything changed for the Akechi family when Mitsuhide betrayed his lord and assassinated Nobunaga in 1582 during a tea ceremony at Honnō-ji temple. To this day, scholars and historians debate his potential motivations. Regardless of the reason why her father turned into a traitor, he was defeated at the Battle of Yamazaki and killed just a month later.

The events of this incident are depicted in Shōgun via a flashback in , which serves as the backdrop for Mariko and Ochiba’s strained relationship. Though Ochiba’s counterpart, Yodo-dono, wasn’t exactly Nobunaga’s daughter, Shōgun maintains that Mariko’s father, Akechi Jinsai, was still a turncoat general who mysteriously assassinated the former warlord. In fact, FX explains most of the information about Shōgun‘s real-life counterparts and how they match up within the story in a very helpful that even features a detailed family tree. The series even goes so far as to suggest that Toranaga secretly orchestrated the attack in episode 6, though Ochiba makes the allegation and it remains unproven.

Shōgun also borrows Akechi Tama’s marriage at the age of 16 to samurai Hosokawa Tadaoki, who is very loosely the basis for Buntaro (Shinnosuke Abe). Other than his relationship to Mariko, Buntaro is an original character in Shōgun. Still, Buntaro is able to save Mariko from death due to their marriage. His actions mirror how Akechi Tama survived the usual punishment for a traitor’s daughter in feudal Japan, even if she was mostly hidden and confined to the Hosokawa mansion in Osaka. According to FX, they actually shared a happy marriage and had five children together.

She Converted to Catholicism

During this time in seclusion, Akechi Tama turned to Christianity. The noblewoman wasn’t allowed much lenience, but she would look to Osaka’s church for refuge whenever she could. Christianity was already spreading among the lords of Osaka, with Spanish and Portuguese missionaries successful in converting some of their wives.

When the original Shōgun miniseries premiered in the 1980s, George Elison, a professor of East Asian languages and cultures at Indiana University, told , “There’s no doubt that she was a convinced Christian, almost a saint.” Akechi Tama took the Christian name Maria when she was baptized, and she officially changed her name to Hosakawa Gracia. In , viewers can even hear Father Alvito briefly refers to Mariko as Maria.

She Never Met Blackthorne

John Blackthorne’s real-life counterpart is William Adams, the first English sailor to reach Japan. He maintained a curious friendship with Lord Tokugawa, but never had a relationship with Akechi Tama.

According to , the two never even met. “The historical Will Adams never laid eyes on the historical Lady Gracia,” historian Henry Smith wrote back in 1981. He stated that their relationship—even as a translator and a foreigner—was not “conceivable in Japan” at that time. “The daimyo ladies of 16th-century Japan were strictly sequestered and rarely had the chance to meet any men other than immediate family,” Smith explained.

Also, Akechi Tama never served as Tokugawa’s translator, even though she was reportedly fluent in both Portuguese and Latin. Still, reported that her family still held close ties to Tokugawa. After Akechi played her part in the war, her husband joined Tokugawa’s side at the . We don’t want to spoil the events for Shōgun fans, but Mariko’s declaration of “I’m ready” in the ? It’s an indicator that this story is just heating up.